ACL to add four passenger vessels

American Cruise Lines (ACL) is making a big commitment to U.S. river cruising with the announcement Monday of a total of four new riverboats.

Two already are under way at Chesapeake Shipbuilding Corp., Salisbury, Md., which is headed by ACL CEO Charles A. Robertson. The first, 280’x54’x8’ Hull 104, will start cruising in the spring of 2015. The rest will enter service between 2015 and 2017, ACL said.

The first two will carry between 150 and 200 passengers. Exact specifications of the three other vessels were not available but a spokesman said they would be “slightly larger.” Guilford, Conn.-based ACL did not disclose the cost of each vessel but industry sources estimate $175,000 to $200,000 per berth. That puts the estimated cost of each boat at $26 million to $40 million.

The boats will sail the Mississippi River system and the Columbia Snake River System. ACL also operates Queen of the West on the western rivers as well as several coastal cruisers.

“It’s clearly an underserved market. It’s really what the category needs — new ships, well managed with a range of destinations,” said Rod McLeod, a cruise industry veteran with Miami-based consultants McLeod Applebaum & Partners.    

Demand for river cruises is growing significantly worldwide. Viking River Cruises, for example, one of the world’s major lines, this year set a record with the christening of 10 new vessels at once.

“The greatest limitation the river cruise industry has is the rivers,” McLeod said. “They’re only so wide, they’re only so deep, and the bridges are only so high.”

In 2012, ACL and American Queen Steamboat Co. returned regular overnight journeys to the inland rivers with the 460-passenger American Queen and ACL’s 150-passenger newbuild Queen of the Mississippi.

Memphis, Tenn.-based American Queen Steamboat is buying the 360’, 223-passenger Empress of the North from the Maritime Administration to resume sailing in the Pacific Northwest under the name American Empress beginning in April.

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