American Queen Steamboat Company inked a deal last month with Gulf Island to build and add a fourth ship to its U.S.-flagged fleet. Construction on the new, 245-guest American Countess paddlewheeler river boat begins by the end of this year. It will be built using the existing hull of the Kanesville Queen, a former gaming vessel built in 1995. American Countess’ inaugural season is expected to be in 2020, sailing mainly on the Lower Mississippi River.
The plans for the new ship come as American Queen Steamboat Company is experiencing 100 percent bookings for most of its existing three ships, according to Ted Sykes, president and COO of the cruise line. “We are sailing full and we’re not stopping,” he added.
The new American Countess will be an especially good choice for groups, with its four cabin categories, says Sykes.
The seven-year-old company started with one ship, the American Queen, touted by the cruise line as the largest riverboat in the world. In 2019, she will continue to sail along the Mississippi River with departures from Chattanooga, Memphis, New Orleans, St. Louis and Minneapolis. The ship is refurbished every year, according to Sykes.
The 223-guest American Empress was launched in 2014 and serves the Pacific Northwest into next year, sailing along the Columbia and Snake Rivers out of Vancouver, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and Clarkston, Washington. Three new sailings were added last month to offer five-day itineraries in November and December 2018 along the Columbia River, roundtrip from Vancouver, Washington; and Portland, Oregon. The new, shorter itineraries are aimed at travelers looking to try river cruising for the first time and those who also might be on a busy schedule, says Sykes.
The American Duchess, with 166 guests, was added in August 2017, sailing the Mississippi River. Plans are for the ship to continue her itineraries out of Memphis and New Orleans on most departures in 2019, with a few options with departures out of St. Louis and St. Paul. Special American Music Holiday-themed cruises in December 2019 will sail the Ohio/Tennessee/Cumberland Rivers from Memphis or Nashville. There are also July 2019 departures along these rivers from Memphis, Pittsburgh or Louisville. Clients seeking last-minute holiday plans for this year can be booked on American Duchess’ eight-day Plantation Holidays roundtrip from New Orleans departing on Dec. 16, 2018.
All American Queen Steamboat Company voyages include one-night, pre-departure hotel stays; shore excursion tours in all ports; and complimentary wine and beer with dinner. All four ships are rebuilt, authentic paddlewheel river boats.
Sykes says travel advisors should focus on four key selling features when positioning the company, starting with having an all-American crew. Dining is regionally inspired, featuring multiple courses with fine dining, and specialty and casual options. Nightly entertainment is Broadway-caliber, according to Sykes. Finally, Sykes stresses that American Queen Steamboat Company’s complimentary, comprehensive, guided shore excursions are a big differentiator in terms of level of offerings. Three or four of their own motorcoaches follow the ships along their routes to be at the ready to explore each port destination, he adds.
Travel agents are the company’s biggest distribution channel, according to Sykes. In an effort to help travel agents sell the product and access the tools available to them through American Queen Steamboat Company, the company launched the Steamboat Academy travel agent program last year. It consists of six independent courses, and agents who complete all six programs are considered a Steamboat Academy certified agent. They can receive a Steamboat Academy Certified Agent certificate after passing the corresponding course quizzes. Ongoing agent education from American Queen Steamboat Company includes destination spotlights, product updates and new itineraries, and agent tools including website enhancements.