One of the great things about river cruise ships and other small vessels is the opportunity to locally source food, beer, and wine. Unlike large cruise ships, which haul aboard tons of frozen foods at the start of each voyage, smaller ships can pick and choose from local and regional farms, breweries, and wineries along their itineraries, buying what they need for a smaller number of guests.
One of the leaders in this concept is the American Queen Steamboat Company, which has just launched its newest river paddlewheeler, the 223-passenger American Empress.
Sailing from Vancouver, WA (just across the river from Portland), the ship's Pacific Northwest route along the Columbia and Snake rivers enables its culinary team to take full advantage of the region’s fresh seafood and produce, including sustainable fish, free-range chicken, and artisan cheeses along with seasonal fruits and vegetables.
“The farms and rivers of Washington and Oregon are home to a diverse bounty of ingredients unlike any other area of the country,” says American Queen Steamboat Company President and COO Ted Sykes. “We pride ourselves in sourcing local from the community the American Empress calls home, and the menus continue to receive rave reviews from our guests.”
Menu highlights include pepper-encrusted quail, cold-smoked salmon, Oregon trail beef brisket, and wild forest mushroom crepes. And along with local foods, guests have the opportunity to taste the top local beers, wines, and liquors, such as Deschutes Black Butte Porter beer and Waterbrook Merlot and Expedition Pinot Gris wines. Through mid-November, the ship operates nine-day journeys between Vancouver and Clarkston, WA, calling at Astoria, OR; Stevenson, WA; The Dalles, OR, and Sacajawea State Park, WA.
Another small cruise line where vacationers can enjoy locally sourced goods is Blount Small Ship Adventures. This summer, two of its ships, Grande Mariner and Grande Caribe, each accommodating just 100 guests, will embark on Food & Wine Discovery cruises in New England, visiting Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, Cuttyhunk, and New Bedford, MA, and Block Island and Newport, RI. The ships sail from Warren, RI. Here, fresh lobster is featured each day, and shore excursions take passengers to local wineries and vineyards during each port call. Tours will highlight the Cisco Brewery in Nantucket, and Westport Rivers Winery in New Bedford.
In Newport, travelers will have the opportunity to join a walking tour with Newport Gourmet Tours, where guests will visit the town’s best restaurants and enjoy samples at gourmet shops. Just three departures of the discovery cruises are offered: June 24 and July 13 aboard the Grande Mariner, and July 18 aboard the Grande Caribe.
American Cruise Lines, based in Guilford, CT, and sailing a fleet of six river ships in the U.S., recently introduced its “Cruise Local, Eat Local” program, which pledges to source and serve produce, fish, and meats as close as possible to each cruise. Ships sail the Pacific Northwest, the Mississippi, New England, and coastal Maryland.
“This program not only enhances the culinary experience for our guests, but also supports local economies and a balanced environment,” says Timothy Beebe, vice president of American Cruise Lines. “Nothing makes a menu more appealing than knowing it was developed based on well-informed decisions and a conscious effort to source locally.”
On Mississippi River cruises, for example, guests can expect to dine on Berkshire pork from Berkwood Farms in Des Moines, artisan cheeses sourced from Wisconsin, and pralines from New Orleans. Along coastal Maryland, local blue crabs are a specialty, along with wild-caught Georgia shrimp. American Cruise Line sails 35 itineraries in the U.S. through mid-fall, with ships carrying between 90 and 150 passengers.