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Cruising U.S. Rivers

Written by  Lillian Africano

Last year I wrote that U.S. river cruising was continuing to grow in popularity, especially with Americans who perceive it as a safer and more stress-free choice than cruises on Europe’s rivers. And in spite of the proposed travel bans, some international travelers who are interested in the cultural and historic richness of our rivers share that sentiment. This growth is reflected in new ships and refurbishments, new itineraries and added sailings.

Ted Sykes, president and COO of the American Queen Steamboat Company (, now in its sixth year of operation says that the line’s ships are sailing full. “We continue to find not only North Americans - but also international travelers (particularly from English speaking countries - UK, Australia, New Zealand) are choosing to cruise in the US because they perceive it to be “more safe” than other options. And, they mention that access to health care also provides considerable peace of mind. Lack of long haul air travel, no foreign exchange or foreign language component remain high on their list of reasons to stay closer to home. Awareness has certainly grown as more customers are finding out about us either through word-of-mouth or by reading comments posted on social media by past guests. They are learning there is now a high quality US alternative to international river cruising. We have established ourselves with several key USPs; fine dining, spectacular entertainment and very well received shore excursions.”

The line’s 166-passenger American Duchess, the first all-suite paddle-wheeler (with some lofts) on U.S. rivers, is set to launch in June of this year. The boat, described as one of the most luxurious in the U.S., debuts with a 23-day Mighty Mississippi cruise from New Orleans to Minneapolis and then, for the rest of the summer and fall season, sails 9-day itineraries on the Illinois River to Chicago, the Cumberland River to Nashville and the lower Mississippi from Memphis to New Orleans. All itineraries have a theme, some similar to those on the American Queen, some unique, for example, the Chicago Blues Cruise from Chicago to St. Louis and Nashville Holiday roundtrip from Nashville. In 2018, the Duchess’s 49 sailings will mirror the route of the American Queen.

Prior to this season, the American Queen was dry-docked for maintenance and inspection in Gretna, LA, where eight of her interior cabins were converted into four new luxury suites, which can accommodate larger groups and families.
In March of this year, the line’s American Empress, launched her third season, with 38 sailings in the Pacific Northwest and stops along the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The season ends with a roundtrip Portland itinerary highlighting the wines of the Washington and Oregon regions.
Connecticut-based American Cruise Lines ( , the largest U.S. cruise company, operates four coastal cruise ships and four vessels on the country’s rivers.

The new 187-passenger America, which launched last year, sails 8-day itineraries along both the Upper and Lower Mississippi, an 8-day roundtrip from New Orleans along the lower Mississippi and an 11-day Mississippi River Gateway cruise from New Orleans to St. Louis, MO. The boat also does a short 5-day roundtrip from New Orleans. Longer itineraries include the 15-day, 10-state Grand Heartland trip that starts in St. Paul, MN and travels down to the river basin in New Orleans-and the 22-day version of the trip in reverse, starting in New Orleans.

The 150-passenger paddle-wheeler Queen of the Mississippi cruises the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers from New Orleans to Minneapolis or to Cincinnati, Oh. The recently renovated 100-passenger Queen of the West paddle-wheeler sails 8-day Columbia and Snake River cruises along the route pioneered by Lewis and Clark. The 150-passenger American Pride sails the same itinerary. The Queen of the West also sails a 5-day Highlights of the Columbia River itinerary, roundtrip from Portland; it includes the Columbia River Gorge, a national scenic area and the only navigable route through the Cascade Mountains.

ACL recently announced the details for the first of five new riverboats which will combine the modern styling of European vessels with premium comfort.
The first in the series is scheduled to begin passenger service in 2018 and will carry 200 guests. The new riverboat will feature the largest staterooms in the United States, with private balconies and hotel-size bathrooms. At 345 feet long, the new riverboat will include all the modern design features that today’s travelers have come to expect.
Because American Cruise Lines has proprietary access to the Chesapeake Shipbuilding shipyard in Salisbury, Md., it is the only company that is able to build new riverboats; other lines can only refurbish existing vessels. (The Jones Act, states that vessels which transport passengers directly between U.S. ports must be built in the U.S. and wholly owned and crewed by U.S. citizens.)

French America Line (, which purchased the former Columbia Queen and spent $3.5 million to create the stylish French-accented 150-passenger Louisiane, was originally slated to begin sailing last October. What followed were delays, the last being in March, when for the second time in less than four months, the line had to cancel sailings for the Louisiane, due to a series of repairs.

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