Call it “Ol’ Man River,” “The Big Muddy,” “Old Blue,” “The Gathering of Waters” or the translation of its original Ojibwe name “misi-ziibi” meaning “Great River,” the Mississippi is America's most iconic, historic and storied river route. Mark Twain painted a literary picture of life and travel along the Mississippi so powerful and enduring that, even today, a Mississippi river cruise conjures up images of gingerbread-trimmed, paddlewheel river boats.
Sailing a portion of the long, north-south river is the most popular and often the first river cruise option for staycation travelers. In part 2 of Travel Market Report's 3-part series about river cruise staycations in North America, here's what travel advisors need to know about selling more cruises close to home on Ol' Man River.
American Cruise Lines
American Cruise Lines (ACL) is the only cruise line with three different styles of ships for guests to choose from on the rivers, waterways and coasts of the U.S.: Victorian paddlewheelers, fully-stabilized coastal ships, and the first and only modern riverboats in the country. All of their vessels are built in the U.S., and they deliver some of the largest staterooms in the industry.
Both lacy paddlewheelers and sleekly contemporary riverboats serve ACL's Mississippi itineraries. While the style of the ship may change, they all share ACL's defined river-cruise style: all-inclusive fine dining, complimentary evening cocktail hours, pre-cruise hotel stays, gratuities, wine and beer with lunch and dinner, complimentary onboard entertainment and lectures, and many included shore excursions.
The line’s nine Mississippi itineraries include fun themed and holiday departures, and remain the most popular of its products. Given the immense scale of territory reached by the Mississippi, ACL's itineraries explore only segments of the Great River: upper Mississippi between St. Louis, Missouri and St. Paul, Minnesota; lower Mississippi from Memphis, Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana; as well as cruises on tributaries including the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. All itineraries feature treasured Americana experiences like Elvis' Graceland, Ante-bellum southern plantations, the home of jazz music and Creole culture, the modern design icon of the newly reopened St. Louis Arch, and more.
The Mississippi essentially bisects the continental U.S., making departure gateways easily reached by car for many American and even Canadian travelers, who ACL says often drive over the border to northern departure gateways.
Travel Advisor Tips: In addition to the convenience of a drivable departure and compelling unique destinations all in one trip, Susan Shultz-Gelino, American Cruise Lines' director of business development, says their best clients have other things in common: They are 65-plus and they are looking for the same conveniences of European river cruising, such as unpacking once and personalized, all-inclusive service.
According to Shultz-Gelino, ACL's tiered commission structure and “very generous onboard booking program” with a high rebooking rate, as well as its Group Policy, help advisors succeed.
“And we also have a great agent portal on our website, where agent advisors can go for easy online booking, as well as managing their clients' cruises top-to-bottom. There are many selling and marketing tools in the agent portal designed to help agents be successful,” Shultz-Gelino said.
American Queen Steamboat company's fleet is all paddelwheelers. Photo: AQSC.
American Queen Steamboat Company
Mark Twain would feel right at home on American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) vessels that continue the tradition of gingerbread-trimmed, paddlewheel riverboats plying the Mississippi.
The company has three boats, all paddlewheelers, with another being delivered next year. Two of the three existing vessels sail Mississippi itineraries with convenient departures from iconic American river port cities like New Orleans, Nashville, Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Minneapolis, and St. Louis.
And even on a river with other paddlewheelers, the AQSC riverboats stand out. The line says its American Queen is the largest, most lavish riverboat in the world. Longer than a football field, towering six decks in height and laced with fanciful gingerbread trim, the ship may appear out of the pages of a 19th-century novel, but it is a marvel of modern engineering.
Sister ship, the American Duchess, is the first all-suite paddlewheeler in the U.S. Along with spacious accommodations and vaulted ceilings, guests enjoy fine dining options, beautiful decks for strolling, and premium amenities. Clients accustomed to top-end suites in other cruising destinations will be delighted to discover this ship stateside. The American Duchess' two-story Loft Suites are unique on the Mississippi, and include a full bathroom, small dining area, beautiful lounge, a queen sofa-bed and desk area, a private balcony plus an upstairs loft area with a semi-private bedroom, a full bathroom, and generous closet space.
On shore, the cruise line's popular Hop-on Hop-off service has deluxe coaches driving the itinerary's route in tandem with the boats to provide a continuous circuit of major local attractions in most ports, so guests can select the attractions they most want to see, disembark the ship at their leisure, and enjoy the local area at their own pace.
Travel Advisor Tips: The cruise line's travel agent portal gives advisors the opportunity to enhance their knowledge with a deep dive into the Mississippi's many destinations and itineraries, information and sales collateral for the ships, marketing pieces, voyage schedules, transportation and port information, as well as the bon voyage gift order form.
ACSQ offers live or on-demand webinars, site inspections, travel agent rates, and fam trips.
NOTE: Part 1 of this series covered The Snake & Columbia Rivers in the West. Part 3 is coming soon and will visit The Great Lakes Out to the East Coast.