The year was 1966 when Rhode Islander Luther H. Blount became a pioneer of the small-ship cruising industry.
He founded American Canadian Caribbean Line "with a vision to deliver dreams wrapped up in maritime experiences," said his daughter, Nancy Blount, president of the three-ship company, which is based in Warren, R.I., and now operates under the name Blount Small Ship Adventures.
"My father died in 2006, at age 90, but his spirit is definitely with us," said Blount. "When my father founded this company [he wanted] to take our passengers to destinations that the big ships simply couldn't reach. Last year, we changed our name to Blount Small Ship Adventures to honor my father, and I'm so pleased that we can celebrate the success of his business with exhilarating new cruise itineraries and special onboard opportunities for our guests."
New itineraries this year include: Journey through Central America: Belize to Guatemala; Gems of the Virgin Islands; Caribbean Spectacular: St. Maarten & Antigua; Bahama Beachlovers: Caicos to Nassau; Skylines and Islands: New York City to Toronto; Discover Ontario: Scenic Georgian Bay; Charming Chesapeake Bay; and Cultures and Traditions: Charleston to the Chesapeake.
More excursions will be offered in 2011 along with guest lecturers, wine tastings, culinary demonstrations, onboard naturalists, photography workshops and other activities, said Blount.
The line's two 98-passenger ships, the Grande Mariner and Grande Caribe, and its 68-passenger Niagara Prince have been recently refurbished for "maximum guest comfort and relaxation," the company said.
We asked Nancy Blount how she feels the small-ship market has evolved over the years.
"I think the most important change has been the consumer's mindset. From a consumer-awareness standpoint, small-ship cruising is just now beginning to see more widespread recognition and interest," she said.
"We hear everyday how tourists don't want to be herded among thousands, that they want to sail into ports and docks where private sailboats and yachts go, that they don't want casinos and Vegas-style shows. Instead they want to cozy up to the people and places in a way that allows them to understand a destination better."
Blount said it was her father who coined the phrase that serves as the company's slogan, "Go where the big ships cannot" and who invented and patented the retractable pilothouse, a device that enables the Blount ships to pass under low bridges. Past passengers remember him, she said, "for his witty and sometimes mischievous personality and always for the adventurer that he was."
The line attracts mainly the baby boomer and mature markets, she said. "However, I was on a Blount Virgin Islands cruise last month, and we had some 20-, 30- and 40-somethings onboard. I believe that small-ship cruising is more a state of mind and less a matter of age," Blount added.
A sample eight-day Belize to Guatemala cruise starts at $2,399 per person, double. Agents can see all Blount cruises on line at www.blountsmallshipadventures.com. They also can email [email protected] or call (800) 556-7450.