A new player with some familiar names is entering an inland river cruise market that’s really ramped up the last few years.
French America Line, based in Avondale, La., is giving the Columbia Queen a multi-million makeover, renaming her Louisiane, homeporting her in New Orleans and inaugurating trips August 22. Company executives include chairman Christopher Kyte, who was with American Queen Steamboat Co. and is the new line’s majority shareholder, and president Tom Markwell, who was with Haimark Line.
They bought the riverboat for an undisclosed sum from Xanterra Parks & Resorts, Greenwood Village, Colo., which in 2011 purchased the vessel and other assets of Ambassadors International, Inc., out of bankruptcy court. Ambassadors was the parent of money-losing Majestic America Line, which shut down in 2008.
And they think there’s more than enough demand for their boutique offering. “The occupancy of the two other companies operating on the river is very high,” Markwell said.
The Louisiane will join a host of new and refurbished vessels that are part of a U.S. rivers and waterways cruising renaissance.
The 203’8”x60’x12’ vessel, which will hold 150 passengers and a crew of 64, will sail five- to 10-day cruises on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Red rivers and the intracoastal waterway. Construction began at Leevac Shipyards, Jennings, La., and she was finished at Cascade General, Portland, Ore., and sailed in 1999.
Now in Portland, the vessel is waiting to be loaded onto a barge and is expected to leave for the Gulf Coast on May 9, Markwell said.
They have not yet picked a yard for the makeover which will include interior refurbishments, engine and possibly generator and plumbing work to meet Coast Guard requirements.