American Cruise Lines is expanding its fleet across the U.S. // © 2011 American Cruise Lines
One of the best-kept secrets in river cruising is American Cruise Lines (ACL), a five-ship fleet offering all outside staterooms with private full balconies or French balconies, hotel-style beds, elevators and a huge spectrum of itineraries on U.S. rivers and coasts. The line specializes in cruises along the East Coast, with very attractive authentic cultural and dining experiences. Passengers feel like owners -- there's no need to carry identification cards, and guests are easily recognized by crew members -- and they can also make arrangements to invite their friends in ports of call onboard for dinner.
Now, with strong expansion plans set through 2012, ACL is sending its growing fleet across the country. The line has ordered a new riverboat and has had an extremely successful first season on the Columbia and Snake rivers with its newly acquired 120-passenger Queen of the West, now being extensively refurbished with new furnishings and carpets and a new galley for 2011 cruising. The company also introduced a new ship last June: the 104-passenger Independence.
Director of sales, Susan Schultz, described Independence's debut as "an extremely good inaugural season." She said she looks forward to 2012, when the line plans to bring cruising back to the great rivers of the American interior, which have been without scheduled overnight cruising since the demise of Majestic America.
ACL's 140-passenger sternwheeler, currently under construction in Maryland, will sail itineraries that bring back
memories of the Delta Queen, now a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn.
"People don't realize how important the paddlewheeler is," Schultz said. "It draws people with its mystique."
She added that, even without marketing, there has been a strong response.
Although the new ship will look like a traditional riverboat, it will sail at a considerably faster speed and will possess
modern features, including an elevator to all six decks, six lounges, a library, an elegant dining salon and exceptionally large staterooms. The first cruise is scheduled to depart on Aug. 11, 2012, from New Orleans on a seven-night cruise up the Mississippi River to Memphis that launches a series of seven-night itineraries that take her as far north as St. Paul, Minn. Along with the Mississippi, Schultz said the new ship will also sail on the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.
ACL's clientele consists mainly of travelers ages 55 and up. The company has a groups department and does quite a bit of whole ship charters. All ships have owners' suites and there are dedicated single staterooms on Queen of the West and on the new paddlewheeler. Schultz warns that balcony staterooms and suites generally sell six months to a year in advance. She added that ACL has set a new higher level for commissions and that, with the line's rates, agents can make up to $800 in commission for a stateroom.
ACL is planning an expansion of its online travel agent site, although it already offers an array of marketing tools. Schultz is also going to great lengths to personally work with agents, even providing Webinars with Q&A sessions for agents' cruise nights with prospective clients; she is open to similar partnerships. Interested agents should contact her directly at email@example.com