The American Queen Steamboat Co. will transform a casino boat that never went anywhere to a luxury cruise vessel that’s expected to set sail next June on the inland rivers.

“We’re starved for more capacity,” said Ted Sykes, president and COO of the Memphis, Tenn.-based line that operates the American Queen, which runs on the Mississippi River, and the American Empress, which plys Pacific Northwest waters.

The Bettendorf Capri. Creative Commons photo by Mark Goebel.

The Bettendorf Capri. Creative Commons photo by Mark Goebel.

American Queen closed the purchase of the Iowa-based boat in late August for an undisclosed sum. The company expects to soon name a yard to convert the two-deck, 280’6”x87’x14’ Bettendorf Capri built in 1995 into a three-deck, 166-passenger vessel. It will include three 550-sq.-ft. owners suites and four 550-sq.-ft. lofts and be renamed American Duchess. The all-suite luxury comes at prices starting at $2,999 for a nine-day trip from Memphis to New Orleans.

The hull is in “great shape” as are the Caterpillar 3516 engines, Sykes said in announcing the fleet addition this week. They’ll add a working paddlewheel to the vessel that will be homeported in Memphis and cruise the Mississippi and the Illinois rivers up to Ottawa, Ill., with a crew of 80.

A rendering of the American Dutchess. American Queen Steamboat photo.

A rendering of the American Dutchess. American Queen Steamboat rendering.

Sykes said company chairman John Waggoner, who also heads HMS Global Maritime, has been scouring the country looking for hulls. So, are they looking for more?

“This one will not satisfy the demand,” Sykes said.

According to Sykes, the company has been running in excess of 95% capacity this year, and next year's sales are twice as high.

U.S. river and coastal cruising have really blossomed since 2012 when American Cruise Lines, headquartered in Guilford, Conn., and American Queen returned regular overnight cruising to the inland rivers.

Earlier this year ACL’s newest ship, America, started sailing the Mississippi, giving the company two riverboats on the Mississippi and two on the Columbia/Snake River System. In July, ACL launched the 170-passenger American Constellation, which is scheduled to start coastal cruising next spring.

And later this month, the newest market entrant, French America Line, is expected to begin cruises with the newly named Louisiane on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Red rivers and the intracoastal waterway. The New Orleans company is having the former 203’8”x60’x12’ riverboat Columbia Queen overhauled at Bollinger Shipyards.

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.