In early June, Chesapeake Shipbuilding, Salisbury, Md., rolled both halves of a 260’×53’×8′ hull out of the two sheds in which they were built and then joined the two sections together on the bank of the Wicomico River. A little over a year from now, the hull and its five decks will be christened as the Queen of the Mississippi and begin cruising the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
The 140-passenger Queen of the Mississippi is being built for American Cruise Lines, Guilford, Conn., which is affiliated with the shipyard.
The first cruise is scheduled for August 2012, and is already sold out, according to Charles Robertson, company president. The inaugural cruise will be a seven-night run between New Orleans and Memphis, Tenn. Other itineraries will also be seven nights and will go as far north as Minneapolis/St. Paul on the Mississippi River and as far east as Pittsburgh on the Ohio.
Although the boat is designed to look like a traditional riverboat, complete with paddlewheel, the Queen of the Mississippi will be thoroughly modern beneath the Victorian façade. In addition to the powered paddlewheel, the boat will have twin Z-drives and two 250-hp bowthrusters. Power will be supplied by two Caterpillar C-32 engines and three Caterpillar C-18 generators (400 kw each). The boat will have a maximum speed of 14 knots as opposed to older riverboats that average 7-10 knots. The extra speed expands itinerary options and provides more time for passengers in river towns along the route. “A little bit of speed makes a huge difference,” Robertson said.
Robertson also said he expects his company’s new boat to do well in a market that has had its share of problems.
“Other operators have been operating much older vessels that, in our view, really aren’t competitive with more modern vessels with larger staterooms and private verandas and those kinds of things,” he said.
Other features of the new riverboat include six lounges, a library, an elegant dining salon, and elevator service to all decks. ACL also provides flat-screen TVs with satellite service and wireless Internet access throughout their vessels.
The Queen will have a total of 75 staterooms on four decks. The top deck will feature a promenade, a shaded public area and small putting green.
Robertson said the vessel is nine weeks ahead of schedule and will be side-launched into the Wicomico River this August. — Bruce Buls and Dale DuPont