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Captain Mike Kiernan in the pilot house.Captain Mike Kiernan in the pilot house. Max Hartshorne photos

A Small Ship Adventure up New England’s Coast

I’m the first to admit I’m not really a cruise ship type of guy. The .75 cents per minute Internet, the big bar tabs, the incessant 
Block Island beach day
lotteries and ‘revenue enhancers’, traveling with thousands of others disembarking at port, it all just feels like something I wouldn’t enjoy.

But put me on a small ship with less than 100 people, and take me to familiar places I’ve always loved visiting—well, where do I sign up?

In July we joined a group of people about our age on a cruise up the coast of New England. What was unique about this cruise was the size of the ship and that there were only 81 passengers and 15 crew aboard the vessel.


Welcome to small ship cruising with the Blount family of Warren Rhode Island. I came away with a belief that small is really better when it comes to cruising.


Our first stop on this six-night, seven day journey was the tiny island of Cuttyhunk, so small that no cars can be ferried over, just golf carts, and consisting of a few small docks and scattered houses in a stark landscape. We arrived right after our first evening’s dinner and as the sun was setting over the harbor we walked off the gangplank and onto Cuttyhunk.

It’s a peaceful island to be sure---and after walking the streets we ended up back at the dock where we had tied up, just in time to watch an outdoor screening of the movie Jaws, which after forty years still thrilled us. It was also fun seeing the setting—the fictional town of Amity--because the next morning we’d wake up in nearby Martha’s Vineyard.

Vineyard Haven

Our cabin 55A on the Grand Caribe.Our cabin 55A on the Grand Caribe.The Blount Small Ship Adventure vessels include two twin ships of 184 feet each, the Grande Caribe and the Grande Mariner. The ships were built next door at the family’s Blount Boats, and feature a seven-foot draft and 44 small to comfortable small cabins on three decks.

On the top deck is a lounge stocked with magazines and today’s newspapers and a bar where mixers and snacks are free. Their BYOB policy was perfect—there is even a big refrigerated case to store our pre-labeled Chardonnays cold. There would be no ‘bar tab surprise’after this journey was done!

M/V Grande CaribeM/V Grande Caribe
These ships even come with a ramp that tilts down from the bow that is used in the Bahamas to allow passengers to disembark right onto the beach. During Blount’s trips from Rhode Island to Chicago, they traverse rivers and then the Erie Canal, and to get past the 15’ bridges they lower the entire pilothouse so the ship can squeeze under with inches to spare!

On Martha’s Vineyard, the Grande Caribe docked in downtown Vineyard Haven harbor; we walked off a gangplank and right into the town. Not having to take the tender boat in and out of a port is a real time saver, and it gives us more freedom to roam. It’s also nice to be able to come and go on our own.

At dinner one night we met a couple from Ohio who were on their second back to back trip. First they had been to Nova Scotia, and despite a bad fall in the shower, John and Meredith were on board the cruise without a pause! He and his spry wife Meredith were not going to let the fall keep them from doing the cruise.

People like John and Meredith are the classic Blount cruisers—looking for adventure, fun, and maybe somewhere soft to sit with a glass of wine!

A group of boat-owners from Alabama--all 17 of them--took the cruise together and their raucus fun and wonderful accents added to the light tone that lasted the duration of the trip. Fun people like them and great weather for the entire six days had a great effect on everyone onboard.

Mobility on the Ship

New friends. The best part of a cruise!New friends. The best part of a cruise!Mobility can become an issue that becomes more and more important as we age. 

Passengers learn safety practices aboard the vessel. Passengers learn safety practices aboard the vessel.

The Blount staff are experienced in working with seniors and they deftly got even the passengers with limited mobility off the ship into tenders and made sure they could enjoy everything on the ship’s three decks.

A stair lift is installed on the two stairways so that people can ride up and down the stairs with room for others to pass by while the rider is gliding up or down. Strong deck hands make sure nobody stumbles on the gangways and nobody rushes anyone.

It’s clear that they know their clientele and how to make things easier. There are also grab bars in the showers and the toilets and drawers to stow clothing so that when the ship rocks everything doesn’t go flying sideways.

The beach from the Surf Hotel on Block Island.The beach from the Surf Hotel on Block Island.New Friends at Dinner

After just a few nights, we settled into a pleasant routine at mealtime, sitting with our favorite two other couples, Marlene and George from Upland California and Stephanie and Gene from Austin.

Then we’d have a fourth couple join us which varied depending on who sat down. We were among the youngest cruisers at age 55 and 60. One couple, Fred and Alma, were on their eighth Blount adventure, they are 86 and 87, and took part in many off shore excursions, just at a slightly slower pace.

While many of Blount’s small ship cruises are 13 or 15-day trips, our journey was just under a week, and we called on Cuttyhunk, Nantucket, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, New Bedford and Newport RI.

The days began with island tours, which are classic ‘tourist traps’ yet each one gave me new information about these places where we both spent our childhood. New Bedford, a revitalized port city, was a real eye opener, as was its marvelous whaling museum.

In the evenings, simple entertainment was provided. A sea shanties singer, a lecturer on New England fishery, an age-Helping to launch on Nantucket.Helping to launch on Nantucket.appropriate movie (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel), and finally a jazz trio entertained us in the lounge.

Nothing was glitzy or spectacular, instead, it was simple, enjoyable and left plenty of time for us to share stories with our new friends and most of all take delight in being at sea with perfect July weather and the comforts of the ship. The stories people shared after long lives well lived provided us with endless enjoyment, and the salt air made us all just that more relaxed. The free wine and beer at dinner helped too!

Blount Small Ship Adventures offers a full range of cruises from 7 to 15 days. They are headquartered in Warren RI. Visit for interaries and more information.

The Islands of New England cruise cost $2999 for a category 4 cabin (55A) with deck-facing large windows, private shower and separate toilet and two single bunks. They also have smaller cabins starting at $1999 and optional shore excursions add about $200.

Mary Gilman and Max Hartshorne.

Max Hartshorne
is the editor of GoNOMAD Travel and writes a daly blog for the Gazette at

Small Ship Sailing up New England's Coast

A lobster bake on Martha's Vineyard.A lobster bake on Martha's Vineyard.
Nantucket harborNantucket harbor

Charming little houses in Oak Bluffs, MA.Charming little houses in Oak Bluffs, MA.
CliffwalkCliffwalk below the Newport mansions, recently repaired after Hurricane Sandy storm damage.
Newport's Cliffwalk, which winds 3 1/2 miles along the shore next to mansions.Newport's Cliffwalk, which winds 3 1/2 miles along the shore next to mansions.
Gay Head, Aquinnah, Marthas Vineyard. Gay Head, Aquinnah, Martha's Vineyard.
New Bedford Whaling Museum.New Bedford Whaling Museum.
Nantucket vendors at the farmers market.Nantucket vendors at the farmers market.
Ferry to Cuttyhunk in New Bedford, MA.Ferry to Cuttyhunk in New Bedford, MA.
cruise director jenCruise Director Jenn McDaniels, who does a great job!

The ship's dining hall where meals are served family style and meals are BYOB.The ship's dining hall where meals are served family style and meals are BYOB.

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