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River cruises in the Pacific Northwest explore emerald mountains, deep gorges, waterfalls, forests and vast plains. If you can imagine it all without any sign of civilization, you'll wonder how explorers Lewis and Clark made it through on a similar route. Modern-day diversions include eight dams and some of the country's finest wineries. On American Safari Cruises' October and November wine-focused sailings, you can learn from the pros about handcrafted wine production as you intimately cruise from Lewiston, Idaho, to Portland, Oregon, on the 22-passenger Safari Quest. Tour and taste at family-owned boutique wineries representing the Walla Walla, Red Mountain and Yakima Valley appellations. You'll even have the chance to blend your own creation.
PHOTO BY: Joe Sohm/Aurora Photos
After a dry period, river cruises on the Mississippi are back, with opulent sternwheelers such as the American Queen, the world's largest steamboat, again traversing the legendary waterway. Operated by the Great American Steamboat Company, the 436-passenger vessel is home-ported in Memphis, but the calendar of three-to-10-day sailings also includes river cruises from New Orleans, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Vicksburg and St. Paul on the Mississippi and its tributaries, the Ohio and Tennessee. Several of the river cruises focus on Civil War sites, with visits to historic places, including Vicksburg and Chattanooga, and lectures by renowned historians.
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Erie Canal to Saguenay River
During the glorious September and October fall foliage season, Blount Small Ship Adventures positions its 96-passenger Grand Caribe on 12-night cruises between Manhattanand Montreal. You travel from New York Harbor along the Hudson River to the Erie Canal — where, thanks to an unusual design feature, the ship's pilothouse lowers to clear the bridges. You pass Amsterdam, New York, on the banks of the Mohawk River, and cruise through the scenic Thousand Islands region. Crossing into Canada, there's time on the fascinating St. Lawrence Seaway, the gateway from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes, with its locks, canals, channels and waterside communities. After a stop in Quebec City, you head north along the St. Lawrence River to a trip highlight: the beautiful Saguenay River, a tree-lined fjord cutting through what might be the oldest rocks in the world. If you're lucky, you'll spot the river's other big attraction: beluga and even blue whales.
PHOTO BY: Jeremy Woodhouse
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Great Rivers of Florida
American Cruise Lines has built a reputation for unusual American itineraries, and its eight-day Florida river cruises from Jacksonville are no exception. With 2013 being Florida's 500th anniversary, there's no better time to explore the serene St. Johns River, designated an American Heritage River and one of the few north-flowing rivers above the equator. Before the advent of railroads, this waterway was how 19th-century sun-seekers visited tropical Florida. The river cruises also take you through a natural paradise of creeks, lagoons and lakes — home to some 200 species of birds, including the bald eagle and wood stork. You'll visit the Ocala National Forest to observe the resident alligators and manatees, and Green Cove Springs, which might be Ponce de Leon's fountain of youth. You'll also cruise the Tolomato River, an inland waterway with the Atlantic Ocean visible over barrier islands. The St. Johns River cruises are offered in March and April and again in November and December on the 49-passenger American Glory.
PHOTO BY: Jonkmanns/Laif/Redux
Departing from New York City, spending a week on the Hudson is a great way to experience the famous waterway's beauty, trace America's roots and more. American Cruise Lines offers just such opportunities with its October river cruises on the American Glory, American Star or Independence. You'll explore New York's capital city, Albany; the United States Military Academy at West Point; the 19th-century mansions and beautiful valleys of the Catskills, on the western shore; the palatial estates of the Astors and Vanderbilts, near Poughkeepsie; and the Home of Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site in Hyde Park. There's even time in the town of Sleepy Hollow, made legendary by Washington Irving. The cruise includes an overnight in New York, so you can take in the Big Apple's sights and sounds.
PHOTO BY: Robert Harding/Digital Vision/Getty Images