Sailing America's Rivers

Few would dispute the fact that river cruising has become on of the hottest travel products around, with river cruise companies expanding at a furious rate and new itineraries springing up from the Mekong Delta to the Amazon.

But while river cruising armadas grew globally, many river cruise companies sailing domestic rivers, were closing one after the other, except American Cruise Lines, which just boasted a record fourth quarter in 2009 and added two new ships to its fleet.

Still, according to Jennifer Cody, marketing manager for American Cruise Lines, the proliferation and popularity of river cruising in Europe, Asia and even South America has had a positive affect on her company’s river cruising product in North America, as well. “Because people enjoy river cruising and maybe they’ve gone over to Europe and done river cruising and found they really enjoy it. But so many people also want to stay domestic. So, here we offer the same kind of product, but right in their own backyard. And yeah, there are wonderful things to see in Europe and all over the world, but just think about what we have in America to offer.”

Apparently, travelers agree with Cody because the company’s sales are doing exceedingly well, way beyond their expectations in 2008. “We were really worried last winter, but things went okay and this winter, it went even better. We just had a record fourth quarter for 2009 and our bookings are going great for this summer—the Queen of the West, in fact, is close to being sold out and all our other cruises are doing well, too,” Cody says happily.

The Queen of the West just joined American Cruise Lines after being purchased from the now defunct Majestic America Line, and will be sailing its first Columbia & Snake River (priced from $3,395 to $5,985) itinerary later this summer from Aug. 7 to Oct. 30. Right now, the ship is undergoing a renovation and expanding its staterooms so there won’t be as many as there were before.

- Advertisement -

“We’re going to take the passenger capacity down because one of the things we’re known for is personalized service and we don’t want to crowd too many people on because we want to make sure they get the highest possible service. We’re also adding private balconies to it,” and, she adds, “we’re also bringing our style of service and food—everything that we do on our other ships, we’re bringing that style to the Queen of the West…. Certainly looking at our comment cards, people seem to like what we do.”

Still, another big change is the itinerary. Previously, the ship sailed roundtrip from Portland to Portland, but because of the distance, that necessitated a lot of time cruising and less time on excursions and opportunities for passengers to spend more time in the various ports.

“What we’ve done is still utilize the same amount of days, but we’re covering just half of the distance because we’re just going one way and that will give them more time in each port and we think that will really enhance the passenger’s experience. We’ve kind of re-evaluated, looked at the excursions they did in the past, looked at what other companies are doing and trying to pick the best of everything. What we will offer is a return back to their departure port that will be on motor coaches and will include lunch on the way and another excursion where we’ll stop somewhere—a kind of day extension of the cruise, bringing them back to where they started from.”

Another new product for 2010 is the 8-day Philadelphia and Potomac cruise (priced from $3,295 to $5,885) with port calls in historic towns and sights such as Annapolis, Mount Vernon, and Alexandria and excursions to historic sites in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

The first one departs mid-June and will run through July. “Since we’re going from a large metropolitan city to another large metropolitan city, there will be excursions on either end into the cities—a city tour kind of thing—because they are bigger places than a lot of our departure ports,” Cody explains. “We will also be going through some canals and that’s kind of a first for us, so we think that’s going to be an interesting part of the cruise. But it’s just such a great area with all the history and the beginning of our country, we’re kind of excited about doing this one. We find our passengers absolutely love the whole history aspect of the cruising and the places we go to, so we think this is going to be a pretty interesting and pretty popular cruise.”