The Joy of Cruising | New England from the Water

Cruise ships can transport you in more ways than you think. Mel Allen reflects on a memorable New England cruise experience spent with his mother shortly after his father’s death.

By Yankee Magazine

Apr 06 2020


Illustration by Martin Haake

A note from the editors: This story was published before travel operators began adjusting their plans in light of COVID-19. Please contact businesses directly for the most up-to-date information on offerings and schedules.

Illustration by Martin Hakke

Some summers ago, I sailed the shoreline of New England aboard the America, an American Cruise Lines ship that carried fewer than 100 passengers—small enough to get to know the other people on board as if we were all residents of the same little neighborhood, big enough to stay steady in the swells. I was with my mother, not my usual traveling companion. She had grown up on a Caribbean island, and the sea had always been her place of peace and happiness. That winter my father had died, and I wanted to not only show off to her the New England where I had settled, but also nudge her back into a world where people smiled and where scenery took your breath away; where instead of the night being a time of loneliness, it was when you could stand on deck and see stars shooting across the sky.

I discovered that it doesn’t matter whether a cruise ship is large or small: When its whistle blows while departing one port and again when arriving at a new one, your heart beats faster. I have friends who speak of cruise ships as if they’ve found the perfect vacation—the security of a floating hotel, the freedom to roam when they come ashore. They describe their dinners with the captain, the all-inclusive cocktail hours, and the luxury of gliding from meal to meal as if in a culinary dream. They talk about the entertainment, the attentiveness of the crew, and how a day seems to dissolve as the land disappears and the ocean is everywhere around you.

All of that is true. But I have long forgotten what we ate (though I am certain there was fresh seafood—lobster and clams and everything else you’d expect when living with the Atlantic out your window), or what the cabin looked like, or the names of any of the good people we met. Instead, I remember seeing islands grow more distinct as we grew nearer; standing on the deck, tight to the railing; the crowd onshore waiting to see us step off; and a feeling not so different from the first day at a new school, that here is a place just waiting to be discovered.

Our weeklong New England islands cruise began on the Connecticut River. We passed Gillette Castle, high on its palisade in East Haddam, and a flotilla of harbor swans at Essex; right before entering Long Island Sound, we got a peek at Katharine Hepburn’s seawall-sheltered home. On Block Island, we walked on beaches and through a wildlife refuge that was a riot of beach roses. We put ashore on Martha’s Vineyard, with its famously colored clay cliffs, and walked the cobblestones of Nantucket Town. In Newport we visited Hammersmith, where Jackie Kennedy grew up and where she danced with her husband on their wedding night. That was an especially poignant moment, as my mother was not simply touring a historic home—she was stepping into a story both romantic and heartbreaking, a story that in a different way she herself was emerging from.

Just a few years later, during my mother’s final days, we rented a house on the Connecticut shore and put her bed by the window looking out to the sea. I had taken many photos of our cruise with my Instamatic, and together we relived the time when a ship called America was able to carry her to places where sadness slipped away and she slept to the sound of waves lapping against the hull. —MelAllen

American Cruise Lines continues to offer weeklong cruises of New England islands, as well as many other destinations across the U.S. For details, go to

Illustration by Martin Haake

Couch Trips
Who needs a boat when you have a TV?

A visit to the Mayflower II plays a starring role in season four of Weekends with Yankee, which landed on public television stations across the country this spring. But it won’t be the first time that Yankee’s TV show has taken a nautical turn. Among the ready-made adventures from past seasons:

Episode 104: “Celebrating Tradition”
Hoist the sails and dig into a gourmet feast on the Maine windjammer J&E Riggin.

Episode 107: “Land and Water”
Set out on New Hampshire’s Squam Lake in search of the magnificent loon.

Episode 202: “Into the Wild”
Feel the thrill of the chase during a shark research expedition off Cape Cod.

Episode 301: “Adventure”
Visit a puffin colony with the man who almost single-handedly brought the birds back to Maine.

Episode 302: “The Next Generation”
Soak up a perfect summer day on a ferry ride to the Isles of Shoals.

Episode 306: “Land and Sea”
Join the crew of a classic racing yacht in Newport, Rhode Island. 

Episodes are available to subscribers at or by purchase on iTunes and Amazon. To find out where to watch the new season, use the station finder on

Get our full list of 25 inspired ways to see New England from the water” in “Float Your Boat,” our guide to top New England windjammer cruises, scenic ferry rides, adventurous animal tours, and more.