The American Queen Steamboat Co.(www.americanqueensteamboat
company.com), which operates the 436-passenger American Queen and the 223-passenger American Empress added several cruises to its lower Mississippi season last year to accommodate increased demand. President & COO Ted Sykes has noted that the American Queen sees bookings from Europeans interested in learning more about the American south, especially on the Civil War cruises, which visits battlefields and cemeteries. The line’s two ships sail the Upper and Lower Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Columbia and Snake rivers.
Beginning March 5, 2017, the American Empress, the largest riverboat west of the Mississippi, launches her third season sailing the Pacific Northwest, with stops along the Columbia and Snake Rivers, including Multnomah Falls, Mt. St. Helens and the Walla Walla Wine Trail. The season begins and ends with two roundtrip Portland itineraries highlighting the wines of the Washington and Oregon regions. There will be 38 departure dates sailing between Portland/Vancouver, Wash. and Clarkston, Wash.
The American Queen steamboat embarks on her sixth season on February 19, 2017, sailing 44 itineraries along the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, with such themes as the Antebellum South, Music of the 50s and 60s and the Civil War. Nashville, Tenn. and Chattanooga, Tenn. have been added to the Queen’s ports of call.
Also new for 2017: the “Chairman’s Cruise,” where guests can join American Queen Steamboat Company Chairman and CEO John Waggoner and his wife Claudette onboard the American Queen for a round-trip cruise from their hometown of Louisville, Ky.
The popular three-week “Mighty Mississippi Voyage” will sail once in the 2017 season, traveling the entire length of the river with a southbound itinerary.
Commodore Services have been extended to both vessels. Guests staying in suite-level accommodations will have special access to the pre-voyage hotel’s club lounge, access to private voyage check-in and pre-boarding privileges, a bottle of wine from the region or fruit basket upon arrival, preferred dining arrangements, reserved balcony seating in the Grand Saloon theater or the Show Lounge theater, a private reception with senior officers of the ship and River Butler services for those staying in Luxury Suites.
Connecticut-based American Cruise Lines (www.americancruiselines.com) operates a fleet of small ships that sail U.S. rivers and waterways. Their paddlewheeler, Queen of the Mississippi (launched as American Eagle in 2015), cruises the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers from New Orleans to Minneapolis or to Cincinnati, OH. The line’s extensively renovated Queen of the West paddlewheeler sails 8-day Columbia and Snake River cruises along the route pioneered by Lewis and Clark. The American Pride sails the same itinerary. The Queen of the West also sails a new 5-day itinerary called Highlights of the Columbia River, roundtrip from Portland and includes the Columbia River Gorge, a national scenic area and the only navigable route through the Cascade Mountains.
ACL’s 100-passenger coastal ships, the new 163-passenger American Constellation, the 100-passenger American Star and the Independence sail 8-day roundtrip from New York City fall foliage cruises along the Hudson River.
The line’s brand new 183-passenger paddlewheeler America 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.
Seattle-based Un-Cruise Adventures (www.uncruise.com) operates a single ship, the replica turn-of-the-century coastal steamer S.S. Legacy on the Columbia and Snake Rivers. In 2017, the line offers two 7-night itineraries, roundtrip from Portland: the Legacy of Discovery, focused on Lewis & Clark and the Rivers of Wine trips, which include winery tours and tastings in Washington and Oregon.
The newest arrival in the U.S. river cruising industry is the French America Line (www.frenchamericaline.com), which purchased the former Columbia Queen and spent $3.5 million to create the stylish French-accented 150-passenger Louisiane, which begins sailing trips of five to 10 days on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Red Rivers on October 1, 2016. She will travel areas that were once known as French America at the time of American colonization and visit places that larger riverboats
The Louisiane is a member of the French Heritage Society, an American organization dedicated to the preservation, restoration and promotion of French heritage throughout the US; she offers itineraries and experiences that embrace the French heritage of the Mississippi River region.
Viking (www.vikingcruises.com) had previously announced plans to build six riverboats to enter the Mississippi River market over a three-year period, starting with two in 2017, to be docked near New Orleans’ French Quarter. The ships, with projected costs of $90 million to $100 million per vessel, would not resemble the traditional paddlewheelers that currently ply the river; they would instead resemble the company’s longship design and have a maximum capacity of 300 passengers. However, Viking has had to delay its Mississippi debut until 2018, due to the need to comply with the Jones Act, which 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.
At the present time, only American Cruise Lines launches new riverboats because the line has proprietary access to the Chesapeake Shipbuilding shipyard in Salisbury, MD.; other lines instead refurbish existing vessels. So for Viking to carry out its ambitious plans in the U.S., the company will need to find a shipyard that can build their boats-and at a cost that will enable the competitive pricing and value that has made for success in Europe.