What’s New At American Cruise Lines.
By Anne Kalosh.
U.S. river cruising is getting more and more interesting.
With European powerhouse Viking poised to enter the Mississippi market, there’s going to be a wider choice of brands. And with American Queen Steamboat Co. (AQSC) growing its paddle-wheel fleet and American Cruise Lines its modern-style vessels, travelers can pick classic or contemporary.
American Cruise Lines recently announced the acceleration of its new build program on strong demand for the modern-style boats and continues a “Cruise Close To Home” marketing campaign.
This comes as AQSC introduces its fourth paddle-wheeler, American Countess, in late March and as Viking is ready to reveal its long-awaited plans for the U.S. (Check back here after April 7 for details.)
American’s reaction to Viking’s entrance?
“It’s good. It just brings more exposure to the market and increases the visibility of river cruising in the country,” said Charles B. Robertson, who succeeded his late father as CEO of American in February. “We’ve built our own market and will continue to define our own market. We’ve got a different market and there’s enough business for both of us.”
AQSC, he added, “has a different product also and is attracting a different segment.”
Small Ships, Big Appeal
The fact that multiple brands are thriving stateside shows “There’s such a big market out there … People are realizing river cruises are available and are fantastic in this country.”
One challenge when American started was just educating people that about cruising on America’s rivers. Now, with availability of modern boats like those in Europe, “There is more appeal. We’re really getting the message out,” Robertson said.
American Jazz begins sailing the Mississippi in the third quarter this year, bringing the fleet to 12, and the decision was recently made to add two new builds — up from one — in 2021. American Melody’s inaugural was moved forward to June from September next year, and construction just began on a sister vessel.
Though nothing has been announced, Robertson wouldn’t be surprised if two more new builds also follow in 2022.
A competitive strength for American Cruise Lines is the ability to build at affiliated company Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland. The facility has five hull fabrication buildings and more than 1,000 feet of deep-water bulkhead to build and outfit multiple ships at the same time.
Robertson said American continues tweaking things with each new build, making small improvements. Passenger capacity will stay under 200, though, an “important threshold” to enable the delivery of the small-ship experience the line’s known for.
(And this fits nicely into the QuirkyCruise focus on vessels carrying up to 300 passengers.)
Big Rooms, Lots of Glass
Robertson said accommodations on American’s modern-style boats are 70 percent larger than the average European river vessel, while suites may be double the size. Balconies have gotten larger, and have more furniture (table and chairs), with the bigger suites adding chaise lounges.
The real distinction, though, is the design aesthetic. There are large glass areas to let in light and provide better views — so vital for river cruising. The colors are more contemporary, the exercise room is larger and a yoga venue added. Besides the single-seating dining room, a top deck café serves casual fare like burgers, salads and pizza.
Pricing is inclusive. Mississippi, Columbia/Snake rivers and Alaska programs include an excursion at every port; more extra-cost tours are available in New England.
No More Paddle-Wheelers for Now
American doesn’t currently plan to build more paddle-wheelers, having switched focus to the modern-style boats with American Song in 2018, continuing with American Harmony in 2019.
“We love the paddle-wheelers we have and will continue to operate them, and there’s a fabulous market for them,” Robertson said. “But the modern riverboat style is where we see a concentration of demand and market appeal.”
This type of vessel better appeals to the younger end of American’s market, where future growth lies. But Robertson was quick to state it’s “critical we don’t alienate the older end of the market, and we’ve seen they’re comfortable with either style: traditional or modern. We were concerned our loyal passenger base might not like the modern style as much and are thrilled that’s not the case.”
Two by Two
Next year American will field two modern-style boats and two paddle-wheelers both on the Mississippi and in the Pacific Northwest.
American Harmony will shift from the Mississippi to the Columbia/Snake, joining American Song and a pair of paddle-wheelers. American Melody will replace American Harmony on the Mississippi, joining American Jazz and two paddle-wheelers.
Cruise Close to Home
Many lines have stopped advertising due to uncertainties surrounding coronavirus. American continues its “Cruise Close To Home” marketing begun in November.
Ninety percent of the U.S. mainland population can drive to an American cruise within a “reasonable amount of time,” according to Robertson. That cuts out the need to get on a plane.
“We are definitely affected by [coronavirus], but it’s having less impact than on the rest of the industry,” he said. “We’re insulated a bit by virtue of the smaller ships and entirely domestic itineraries. We’re dealing with it like the rest of the industry and, yes, we take it absolutely seriously.”
American adheres to Cruise Lines International Association policy and procedures to avoid transmission of the virus.
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