American Queen cruises will be themed further in advance thanks to a new partnership with Shore Excursions of America. // © 2017 American Queen Steamboat Company
Feature image (above): American Queen tested out the new concept at Nottoway Plantation, where cruisers were treated to a ball and special meal. // © 2017 American Queen Steamboat Company
American Queen Steamboat Company has entered into a longterm strategic alliance agreement with Shore Excursions of America (SEA) to expand product development both for onboard activities and shore excursions.
SEA will coordinate product development under the direction of Eric Welter, senior vice president, in conjunction with American Queen’s marketing, sales, operations, shore excursions, culinary and entertainment departments. Additional positions have been created to further bridge the connection between the two companies, including official titles with American Queen Steamboat Company for current SEA employees.
James Palmeri, vice president of the newly formed product development team and co-founder of SEA, says the focus of the partnership is to achieve seamless integration with all departments working together. Instead of fitting a theme to an itinerary, they will work from the theme out. The team will make sure menus closely reflect regional fare; connect wines with shore excursions, especially in the West; and coordinate onboard entertainment to give a multisensory experience of the destination. In addition, special products unique to ports may be offered to passengers the night after the visit.
Ted Sykes, American Queen president and COO, says he is an admirer of what Larry Pimentel, president and CEO of Azamara Cub Cruises, has done with his cruise line’s destination-focused AzAmazing Evenings excursions. Sykes feels that they can take a similar approach in America.
The concept was tested with holiday market cruises, where culinary and entertainment departments worked with the 64-room Nottoway Plantation, the largest surviving antebellum mansion in the South. Here, guests were presented with a Holiday Ball combining a multicourse dinner with dancing.
Palmeri noted that American Queen staff worked with Nottoway’s executive chefs so guests got the authentic taste of the South while still interacting with familiar faces. The entertainment staffers arranged the special dance while the operations crew made sure that bonfires and fireworks would light the way as passengers departed. The results of the plan were very positive; bookings strengthened quickly for what had been an underbooked period.
In order to bring all the pieces together, cruises are being themed much earlier in advance, with the schedule for 2019 currently in progress. And the team is taking advantage of the new American Duchess joining the American Queen on the Mississippi River. The two ships are being deployed in opposite directions to avoid competing for port space, but will meet regularly in Natchez, Mississippi, for combined offerings.
“We can do a special event of much greater stature with 566 people involved from both ships than we could with the smaller numbers,” Palmeri said.
Palmeri noted that shore excursions are the most challenging aspect of the planning process because some aspects are beyond the control of the cruise line. For example, Graceland has been completely remodeled, and any glitches affect guests. Since all onshore operations are equated with the cruise, the line works hard to be sure the quality is maintained. American Queen even supervises an end-of-cruise destination stay, with their buses and personnel ensuring that the whole holiday is seamless; these represent another commission point for agents.