This "cruising cat" under construction will begin cruising next year. Photo courtesy of American Cruise Lines.

Eastern Shore Shipbuilder Readies “Coastal Cat” Multihulls for Spring Cruise Season

Chesapeake Shipbuilding has been busy churning out new river cruise boats on the Wicomico River at an ambitious pace. And its first catamaran, built for sister company American Cruise Lines, is set to debut in the spring.

“We’ll be able to explore the Chester River to Chestertown, or the Wicomico, and a lot of other places, or even check out hidey-holes around Tangier Island,” says Charles “Charlie” B. Robertson. The president and CEO of American Cruise Lines.

The new modified catamarans, or “coastal cats” being built at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury will join the existing American Cruise Lines fleet of 15 boats with a maximum of 190 passengers.

“The new boats will offer an intimate guest experience and will be able to access shallow waters, lakes, rivers, bays and coastlines, combining the best of small-ship and luxury river cruising. It’s really about the smallness of the ships and the local aspect of our cruising,” Robertson says.

The “smallness” of the ships allows cruisers to reach smaller ports and harbors than a typical cruise ship—both at home on the Chesapeake and across America’s waterways.

“Our itineraries will ake guests to less-visited destinations around the country that are overlooked by, or are inaccessible to, ocean cruise lines. To date, we visit 100 ports around the USA and we think there’s more than 500 potential ports for us to visit,” says Robertson.

Each boat will be 241 feet long with a 56-foot beam and feature a hybrid catamaran design that
enables both shallow draft access and stable sailing.

They’ll accommodate 109 passengers in 56 staterooms, nearly all with private balconies, and 50 crew members. Interiors were designed by Miami-based Studio DADO design firm, a company well-known in cruising décor. The boats will be powered by ultra-low-sulfur diesel so they meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Tier 3 and Tier 4 emission requirements.

Observation and sitting areas will be available at the bow, both inside and outside, and each ship will showcase an expansive forward lounge with 270-degree views. The ships will also feature two dining venues, as well as room service, a rarity for small ships of this size.

The first of a dozen identical boats, American Eagle, is scheduled for its first 8-day Chesapeake Bay cruise on July 15, 2023, before heading to New England for a series of Cape Cod and Maine coast and harbor cruises.

The American Glory is set for four 11-day cruises of the Chesapeake beginning on October 29, 2023. It’s due to return to the Chesapeake, like the migratory birds along the Atlantic Flyway, in March 2025.

The recognizeable white boats currently running Chesapeake cruise itineraries start from Baltimore (and can include a night before the cruise stay at the Four Seasons, with breakfast and a Charm City bus tour) and may visit Norfolk, Yorktown, Cambridge, St. Michaels, Oxford, Washington, D.C., Mount Vernon, Crisfield, and Annapolis before returning to Baltimore.

American Cruise Lines has been running small-ship cruises along American waters for 30 years. Cruises include live entertainment and lectures by local experts and historians. The itineraries are particularly geared toward history buffs.

Nathan Richardson brings insight as a Frederick Douglass historian. Lori Gross, crab specialist, talks about the industry and brings a bushel of steamed crabs for an afternoon treat. Robert R. Yonskie presents many of the lectures on the Bay itineraries and even sings.

As Chesapeake Shipbuilding churns out the new additions to the American Cruise Lines fleet, Robertson is trying to constantly improve upon existing capabilities. Next, he’s set his sights on being able to use shore power with the small cruise ships.

“We’re really excited to be working with several ports around the country to try and make that possible,” says Robertson, noting that all new ships will be built with shore power capabilities and some existing vessels will be retrofitted. He adds that much less power is needed for a small ship, and “so in many places it is pretty doable.”

-Judy Colbert