American Cruise Lines has become the latest small-ship company to fill the void left by Cruise West.

Following news that Alaskan Dream Cruises had bought two former Cruise West vessels and would start a new cruise line for 2011, the long-awaited entry into the Alaska market by ACL in 2012 represents another choice for cruise passengers who enjoy the small-ship experience.

ACL is a U.S.-based line headquartered in Guilford, Connecticut, which previously operated mainly on the East Coast, but has recently expanded into the Pacific Northwest and the Mississippi River system. The company builds its own small ships in a Maryland shipyard that are more spacious than typical small ships, with big-ship amenities like elevators, multiple lounges, glass-enclosed dining salons and large cabins with spacious bathrooms and satellite TV. Many of their staterooms feature private balconies. The capacity of an ACL ship is typically around 100 passengers.

ACL’s inaugural Alaska season begins on June 2, 2012, with a 12-day, one-way voyage from Seattle to Juneau, stopping in small, out-of-the way ports and harbors like Anacortes and Friday Harbor in Washington and Wrangell and Angoon in Alaska. From July through August, eight day roundtrip cruises from Juneau visit Skagway, Glacier Bay, Icy Strait Point, Sitka, Petersburg and Tracy Arm. ACL’s inaugural Alaska season ends on September 1 with a 12-day return voyage from Juneau to Seattle.