American Queen Steamboat Co. and American Cruise Lines (ACL) — the two major players in the U.S. inland and coastal cruising market — are suspending all cruise operations into April because of coronavirus problems nationwide.
New Albany, Ind.-based American Queen, which expects to resume service April 12, said it made the decision “following widespread governmental restrictions across ports, cities and public institutions.” American Queen announced it had suspended cruise operations on Saturday.
Current sailings will conclude as scheduled, the company said, and it is contacting booked passengers about their upcoming cruises and options. It has canceled 16 sailings including specialty trips on the new American Countess, its fourth vessel which was to be christened in New Orleans on April 4 following a VIP cruise.
American Queen “has been monitoring and managing the COVID-19 situation for weeks,” founder and CEO John Waggoner said in the announcement. “By pausing the operations of our ships, our goal is to reassure our guests, team members and partners of our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of all who sail with us.”
Guilford, Conn.-based ACL, whose season began in late February on the Mississippi River, has canceled 24 sailings, a spokesman said. Cruises are suspended through April 30.
Late last month, long before the U.S. outbreak, ACL said it had the strongest start to a key booking season in the company’s history, reflecting growing demand for small ship cruising.
Until very recently both lines were still sailing and said they had implemented virus prevention measures and beefed up shipboard sanitation procedures.
American Queen, for example, said screening procedures for passengers and crew included a health questionnaire and temperature taking. Anyone with a temperature 100 degrees or higher was to be sent to a local clinic for further evaluation, according to a March 10 notice on the line’s site.
American Queen also has adjusted payment schedules and temporarily revised its cancellation policy. Passengers booked on a 2020 trip may change to another trip this year with no penalties, and the company will pay any flight change fees.
ACL, which has 12 vessels, is offering passengers on sailings through Aug. 31 the option to cancel for any reason up to 24 hours before their trip and get a voucher for the full amount paid, which must be used for travel before Dec. 31, 2021.
The virus threatens one of the healthiest segments of the workboat market.
The Passenger Vessel Association last week issued a statement recommending that its members “strictly adhere to well documented guidelines and procedures to combat the spread of Coronavirus,” such as those from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), showing their commitment “to protecting the health and safety of both passengers and crew.”
“It is important for the traveling public to understand that most U.S.-flagged passenger vessels are small businesses operating short duration trips of just a few hours,” said PVA president Colleen Stephens. “Whether dinner boats, ferries or whale watch vessels, which are U.S.-built and crewed by U.S. citizens, we have much in common with shore-side restaurants and other attractions.”
Check out the latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the workboat industry here.