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Exploring the American Experience
Fireworks explode over the Old Courthouse in St. Louis, Missouri. (Courtesy of Flickr user Dave Herholz)

How America’s Gem Cities Celebrate Independence Day

American Cruise Lines highlights four exciting and historical Fourth of July celebrations

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Fourth of July is the day that marks America’s independence from Great Britain and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. It is the National Day of the United States and one of the most important milestones in our country’s history. Independence Day is celebrated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, picnics, concerts, and more. How far back does this the celebration of the Fourth go? Let’s take a look at some of America’s gem cities, their deeply rooted history and celebrations around this holiday.

Baltimore, Maryland

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Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Maryland (Richard T. Nowitz/CORBIS)

It was the summer of 1814 when the rockets' red glare near Baltimore inspired Francis Scott Key to launch an enduring patriotic anthem. Two centuries later, the red glare most associated with this Chesapeake Bay keystone city is cracked with mallets on dinner plates in dandy eateries surrounding the Inner Harbor. Baltimore today is home to museums, music, heirloom baseball and crustaceans galore. It is one of those stellar cities that somehow manages to strive for the future while keeping one foot firmly planted in its exuberant past. That is why the place to be this July 4th is the historic Fort McHenry National Museum. Take the water taxi from downtown and rest assured that you’ll have an easier time getting there than when the British Navy tried so unsuccessfully. You’ll see the fortified escarpments that were so resolutely defended by U.S. troops and which inspired Key to craft his indelibe lyrics. Fort McHenry tours conclude with the playing of a stirring U.S. Naval Academy choir version of the anthem in the park museum where a curtain is pulled back to reveal Old Glory, answering the question Key asks — and note that our anthem ends in a question, not an exclamation point — “Oh, say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” At Fort McHenry, the answer is an emphatic yes.

Sightseeing includes baseball at Oriole Park at Camden Yards and dining in Little Italy, Federal Hill and Fell’s Point. All in all, Baltimore is a city with enough attractions to keep you up until the dawn’s early light. A unique way to experience Baltimore is by small ship cruising. One particular line, American Cruise Lines, offers various six- and seven-night itineraries from Baltimore, including a round-trip from Chesapeake Bay. The ship docks right in the heart of the Inner Harbor, providing easy accessibility to all that Baltimore has to offer. Onboard, July 4th festivities keep guests entertained and informed while they explore the earliest settlements of the New World and step onto legendary battlefields as well as other significant sites in American history.

Juneau, Alaska

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Humpback whale group gulp feeding, Auke Bay, Juneau, Alaska (Flip Nicklin/Minden Pictures/Corbis)

What better place to celebrate July 4th than America’s last frontier, a place that urges you to celebrate “Independence Day, the Independent Way.” It is the Alaskan capital and a town so eager to celebrate our nation’s birthday that the first fireworks are launched precisely one minute after midnight on July 3. In a state and city that take pride in an independent lifestyle, this holiday foremost of all resonates with Alaskans. People all over America will tilt their heads in a northerly direction to watch fireworks, but people in America’s most northern capital see wonders no matter which direction they look. There are whale watching tours, glacier visits, grizzly bear viewings and—everywhere you look—some of the most gorgeous and stunning scenery on the planet. Juneau today is different from what it was in 1880 when most visitors came to see not what was above the ground, but below it. One hundred and thirty-four years ago, Juneau became the site of one of America’s greatest gold rushes. The mines combined for a spectacular haul of what some estimates say exceeded $146 million in precious metals. Today, mining is mostly a memory, but Juneau is still enjoying a different sort of gold rush: The capital of the 50th state is one of the world’s most popular cruise ship ports and a bucket-list destination for tourists from all over. Not sure how to get there? Here’s an idea. Hop on an American Cruise Lines’ ship in Seattle for a 12-day adventure up to Juneau. Or you could also opt for the line’s eight-day round-trip cruises from Juneau. Take your pick, but know that on either itinerary, you’ll discover wildlife, untouched glaciers, gold rush sites and of course, an opportunity to view the traditional July 3 fireworks. Celebrating the Fourth from America’s last frontier will make this holiday an even more memorable one.

New Orleans, Louisiana

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French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana (Bob Krist/Corbis)

For a city with so many eager to embrace so many types of fun, New Orleans has for decades labored under an internationally recognized slogan that’s downright restrictive: “Laissez les bond temps rouler!” or “Let the good times roll!” In New Orleans the good times do more than roll. They dance, amble, stroll, saunter, ramble and boogie straight down Bourbon Street. Experts at the American Pyrotechnics Association declared New Orleans’s “Go Fourth on the River” celebration one of the “Top Five Fireworks Displays in the U.S.” For a city so devoted to play, it also features a patriotic homage to war. The Crescent City has been home to National World War II Museum since its opening on June 6 of 2000. Why New Orleans? It was in New Orleans that 20,000 Higgins LVCP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) boats were built under the stewardship of local boat builder Andrew Higgins. The boats were deemed so pivotal in the D-Day landings at Normandy that Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said Higgins was “the man who won the war for us.” During peak production, more than 30,000 loyal Louisianans helped earned their paychecks building Higgins boats. When they helped win the war, many of them picked up their instruments, ladles and drink mixes and got back to work on what will always be New Orleans primary occupation: living it up. In New Orleans, having a good time never gets old. No city is as closely associated with the Mighty Mississippi as New Orleans. That’s why no cruise line is as closely associated with New Orleans as American Cruise Lines. The liner offers jazz, pleasure and historical cruises that lavish attention on New Orleans. It’s a perfect pairing.

St. Louis, Missouri

St. Louis celebrates the Fourth of July. (Buddy Mays/Corbis)

This July, St. Louis will not only be celebrating America’s birthday, but also its own landmark 250th birthday! The city’s annual Fourth of July bash will be taking place right in front of the monument to Louis XIV—the city's namesake. Fair Saint Louis, as the celebration has been called, has been anchored on the banks of the Mississippi and illuminating the Gateway Arch for more than 30 years. Since 1981, the Fair Saint Louis Foundation, in partnership with the City of St. Louis and the National Park Service, has hosted a spectacular celebration featuring live music, educational activities, air shows and fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend. So how did St. Louis become the thriving city that it is? St. Louis became part of America in 1804 when the Louisiana Purchase was made for a sum of about $15 million dollars. Today, the city is well known for being home to Anheuser-Busch and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Shopping, dining and leisure entertainment are fulfilled at the Delmar Loop, a six-block downtown extravaganza of hip bars, eclectic dining and shopping and other city amenities that keep the city humming. Of course, what visit to St. Louis would be complete without a visit to the world-famous St. Louis Arch? It’s a 630-foot ride nearly straight up to see one of the world’s tallest freestanding monuments. Visitors are offered an opportunity to enjoy an excursion on the Mississippi River in a boat similar to the one Lewis and Clark employed after they dispatched from St. Louis. Of course, more discriminating travelers would prefer the many American Cruise Line ships that visit St. Louis, especially for the opportunity to enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks from on deck. Like Lewis and Clark, several of the company’s ships use St. Louis as a departure point, including ones that voyage to Cincinnati, St. Paul and New Orleans.

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Every year these celebrations and others take place across America. The nation and its waterways pulse with not only pride, but with commerce, history and now, thanks to American Cruise Lines, unparalleled front row seats. The line has six ships with four new ships on the way, two of which will be authentic paddle wheelers. Americans and discriminating travelers from around the world are beginning to look at river excursions as the most entertaining way to see the United States and a wonderful way to celebrate the Fourth of July as well as other staple American holidays. 

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