River cruising picks up steam

Cruise traffic may soon be getting a little heavier on the U.S. inland waters.

American Cruise Lines (ACL) has another riverboat under way, and American Queen Steamboat Co. is also considering adding to its fleet.

Speaking last week at Cruise Shipping Miami — a major trade show in the global cruise business, American Queen CEO John Waggoner told a session on river cruising that it “Looks like we’re shaping up to have a wildly successful 2013.”

He later told WorkBoat that he “absolutely” plans to expand the fleet and an announcement along those lines could come within months. The addition likely would be “existing hardware,” similar to the refurb they did on the American Queen, rather than a newbuild.

He purchased the American Queen for $15.5 million from the Maritime Administration, which took possession of her after Majestic America Lines shut down in 2008. Waggoner said they’ve put a total of $9 million into refurbishing the boat that was launched in 1995.

Noting he was a one-boat operation at present, Waggoner told the session at the Miami Beach Convention Center, “Hopefully, when I come back here in four or five years, I can tell you now we have six or seven” passenger vessels.

The 436-passenger American Queen and ACL’s 150-passenger newbuild Queen of the Mississippi marked the return last year of regular overnight cruising to the inland rivers.

In the past five years demand for river cruises has risen 10 percent compared to 7 percent annual growth for cruising overall, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry trade group.

North Americans are fueling growth at home and abroad, and U.S. operators are seeing more interest from abroad for river, coastal and other cruises on U.S.-flag vessels.

Seattle-based Un-Cruise Adventures, for example, just announced filling a newly created business development director’s job that will concentrate on the southern U.S. as well as all of Latin America.

Bookings, especially from places such as Germany, the U.K. and Australia, have picked up the past couple of years “from a little drip to a little trickle to a little stream,” said ACL CEO Charles A. Robertson, who also was at the trade show in Miami.

ACL’s 280’x54’x8′ Hull 104 is being built at Robertson’s Chesapeake Shipbuilding Corp., Salisbury, Md., and scheduled for delivery in 2014.

“It will look very much like the Queen of the Mississippi,” Robertson said, but it will be 20′ longer and have a few more staterooms. Details on the riverboat’s name and itineraries — most likely the inland rivers — are expected in May.

And 2013, he said, will be “another record year for us by a lot.”

 

 

 

About the author

Dale K. DuPont

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.

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