At the recent Cruise Shipping Miami, which took place in March in Miami Beach, it was noted that U.S. river cruising is among the hot cruise destinations for 2014. Makes sense then that American Cruise Lines, the largest U.S. cruise company and one that has been experiencing an annual growth of more than 25 percent in each of the past three years, is building four new ships. Did you read that correctly? Four new ships….that’s going to be a pretty impressive fleet for a small ship cruise line when it’s all said and done, if you consider that the line already has six ships sailing the inland waterways and rivers of the United States.
Charles A. Robertson, president of American Cruise Lines, sees U.S. river cruising growing in popularity, especially for passengers who are affluent and well-traveled. “I think people graduate, so to speak,” he says. “More people are exposed to cruising when they are younger and as they get a little bit older, they really aren’t interested in cruising with 5,000 passengers, so they really like the more intimate and personalized service we provide.”
Pent-up demand, of course, means more ships, and that’s where the four new ships come in, entering service between 2015 and 2017. “We have four new vessels that are scheduled to go out,” explains Susan Shultz, director of sales, American Cruise Lines. “The first [ship will be ready] in the first quarter of 2015 and it will be an authentic paddlewheeler sailing on the Mississippi. There is such a demand for the Mississippi, so that’s where it’s going to go. It will be very similar to what we have with the paddlewheeler, the Queen of the Mississippi.” Although, adds Robertson, there are some differences including “more single staterooms, and more connecting staterooms and suites to accommodate the growing multigenerational family market.”
The second newbuild, which has a planned capacity of 175 passengers, will operate in the Pacific Northwest on the Columbia and Snake rivers, where the line already operates the Queen of the West. All new ships will carry approximately 150 to 200 guests, and will have the largest staterooms ever with sliding glass doors for panoramic views, room service, and other amenities.
Also new for 2015, Shultz says, is “a southbound trip along the Mississippi River that goes from St. Paul to St. Louis, St. Louis to New Orleans, so passengers can actually do the entire Mississippi in two weeks. There is nobody else that can do that and it’s because of our vessels that we are able to do that kind of trip going southbound. I think it’s a real highlight for 2015 and a lot of passengers are looking to do the whole entire Mississippi River, and now they can in 14 days.”
And because American Cruise Lines is not one to rest on its laurels, another new program that it has introduced is the Cruise Local. Eat Local. It’s a new dining initiative for locally sourced produce, meats and ingredients, which means that passengers will be dining on the fresh catch of the day, homemade ice cream topped with locally grown berries, and even artisanal cheese sourced from dairy farms and creameries in Wisconsin. “We think it’s really our responsibility and our duty, because we are in these ports of call and really do help them [local vendors] out, to introduce cuisine and these fresh local ingredients to our passengers as well,” Shultz says.
Editor’s Itinerary Pick: 10-night Grand New England Cruise on the 49-passenger American Glory that takes in the seafaring heritage of the area’s coastal towns and quaint island villages, with their whaling and maritime museums, scenic bluffs, beaches, cobblestone streets and unique shops. Ports of call include Providence, RI; Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, and Gloucester, MA; and Bath, Boothbay Harbor, Belfast, Camden, Rockland and Portland, ME. Departure dates run June through September, with rates starting at $5,210. ●