This is the fourth in a series on selling river cruises.
River cruising needn’t always involve an international flight – there’s a wealth of options here at home that yield as much history, scenery and culture as their international counterparts.
The American story – real and fictional – unfolded along great rivers. The tale of the American river cruise industry is also filled with twists and turns.
Lines have come and gone and so have great ships with sentimental followings. That’s in large measure due to the economics of operating a domestic cruise line.
River cruises in this country typically feature higher price points and an older demographic than overseas cruises. They’re particularly popular with those who’ve already experienced Europe one or more times by river.
Following is an overview of the U.S. river cruise market.
Life along the Mississippi
Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the overnight Mississippi River cruise industry. But it’s made a comeback in the last year.
With good reason. Cruises on the Mississippi sail through a living history of America’s heartland. Antebellum plantations, the French Quarter of New Orleans, the Victorian elegance of Mark Twain country, and busy modern cities are all a part of the great river’s landscape.
Two paddle wheelers, the 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi and the 436-passenger American Queen, are now operating on the Mississippi.
The former, a new-build introduced in 2012 by American Cruise Lines, is the first new riverboat launched on the Mississippi in 17 years. The latter was built in 1995 and refurbished by the American Queen Steamboat Co.
New Orleans to the twin cities
Both ships offer itineraries from New Orleans to Minneapolis/St. Paul. They also operate on portions of the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.
Avalon Waterways is offering itineraries on the American Queen, packaged with its own distinct land program. And Viking River Cruises also plans to enter the market.
A Viking spokesperson told Travel Market Report that company owner Tor Hagen has said the company “would eventually” be on the Mississippi, but would not confirm a timeline. Local media in Minnesota have reported that a 340-passenger Viking ship could begin cruises in the fall of 2015.
Not as well-known as their mid-America counterpart, the Columbia and Snake rivers are as enticing as the Mississippi. Journeys in the wake of Lewis and Clark venture through Oregon and Washington’s most scenic landscapes.
Itineraries typically include visits to the lunar-like landscape of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, the bucolic farmland in the shadow of Mount Hood, award-winning wine country, the imposing Columbia River Gorge and Hells Canyon.
Columbia and Snake river itineraries also provide and encounters with the region’s Native American traditions. Salmon platforms, for example, are still in use along the rivers.
Recreating local history
Un-Cruise Adventures, formerly InnerSea Discoveries/American Safari Cruises, operates on the Columbia and Snake. Its newly-christened, 88-passenger S.S. Legacy offers Heritage Adventures on a replica coastal steamer. The Legacy’s crew dresses in 1890s attire and performs vignettes throughout the day that recreate local history.
The 223-passenger American Empress is also bringing history to life on the Colombia and Snake rivers. The ship’s own history is pretty impressive.
This reproduction of a 19th-century paddle wheeler first entered service a decade ago. After lying dormant for the past five years, she’s been renovated and will begin service again in 2014.
New York’s Hudson River winds through some of the state’s most historic and scenic locations.
American Cruise Lines operates Hudson itineraries roundtrip from New York City. Highlights include the West Point Military Academy, historic Sleepy Hollow and FDR’s Hyde Park birthplace. The Hudson River is particularly popular for fall foliage tours.
The Erie Canal features prominently on cruises that include the Hudson River and other Northeast inland waterways. Blount Small Ship Adventures offers a New York City to Montreal cruise. The itinerary journeys into Canada on the St. Lawrence Seaway to Quebec and continues on the naturalist-favorite Saguenay River.
Though known as the ocean cruise capital of the world, Florida also offers river cruise options.
American Cruise Lines sails the waterways of northeastern Florida roundtrip from Jacksonville. The trip on the St. Johns and Tolomato rivers offers a diverse landscape, birding opportunities, fishing communities and historic Amelia Island and St. Augustine.
Next time: An agent shares tips for boosting river cruise sales.
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