Guests staying in Richelieu Suites will receive luxurious amenities such as evening canapes, complimentary laundry service and fresh fruit and flowers upon arrival. // © 2016 French American Line
Feature image (above): The 150-passenger Louisiane will sail the Mississippi and Ohio rivers beginning in August. // © 2016 French American Line
French America Line is the newest company on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, launching service in August with the 150-passenger Louisiane. The former Columbia Queen, Delta Queen Steamboat Company’s final ship, is undergoing a multimillion dollar refurbishment, after which it will be towed on a 33-day journey from its current home in Portland, Ore., to Louisiana.
The company may be new, but there are some very familiar industry names in its executive lineup. These include Christopher Kyte, former president of American Queen Steamboat Company and chairman of California-based Uncommon Journeys, who is now chairman and founder; Tom Markwell, former managing member of sales and marketing for Haimark and vice president of sales for Pandaw River Cruises North America, who is now president; and Jim Lida, a 30-year cruise veteran at lines such as American Queen, Oceania Cruises and Royal Caribbean International, who is now vice president of marketing and communications.
Because of French America’s small passenger numbers, the 64 American officers and crew will be able give personalized attention to guests.
“There isn’t a single area we haven’t focused on and thought through,” Markwell said. “We can do so much onboard for 150 people that you could never do on a larger ship.”
The line has cherry-picked every successful example of best luxury practices in the industry, from 24-hour room service to unlimited wines, beers, spirits and soft drinks throughout the cruise. Guests in the Richelieu Suites, for instance, receive Hermes bath amenities, evening canapes, complimentary laundry service, fresh fruit and flowers upon arrival, complimentary premium shore experiences and private car transfers to and from the airport. Bicycles, helmets and maps are available to all guests for independent exploration in all ports of call.
Fares include a pre-cruise deluxe hotel stay, complimentary Wi-Fi access in public spaces and included tours in every port. French America is the only U.S. river cruise line to provide iPads preloaded with e-books, daily shore excursion programs and menus.
And those menus will be memorable. Regina Charboneau, the celebrity chef who crafted the original culinary concept for American Queen, is creating a combination of French, Continental and regional dishes for the open-seating Orleans Room and the Bistro. The latter serves all meals, along with a stream of beignets and crepes, in addition to healthy choices under 400 calories. The company is paying great attention to drawing regional cuisine from each stretch of the river, paralleling Charboneau’s recent “Mississippi Current Cookbook.” As if that weren’t enough, the line provides guests with Laduree Parisian-style macarons and tops their luxury pillows with gourmet chocolates.
Taking a strong pro-travel professional stance, French America offers 15 percent commission on all sales of 2016 Louisiane inaugural voyages. The company offers fam rates for agents, and any agent who places 10 clients on a cruise within a year of taking the fam will be refunded the cruise fare they paid. This is part of the points-based Freedom of Choice program that allows agents to choose from an a la carte list of rewards, from bonus commission to shipboard credits for clients. And French America has pledged to keep fares the same from the moment they are created until the ship sails, so that agents will not find clients complaining about lower fares closer to their sail date.
Starting Aug. 22, Louisiane will bring its French flair to five- to 10-day river cruise tours.
“A lot of our itineraries are unique because of our size,” Markwell said. “Our ship is comparable to the size of the original Delta Queen, and we can sail on rivers such as the Red River, the Tennessee, the Cumberland and other lesser known ones.”
Some itineraries also combine the Lower Mississippi with the Intracoastal Waterway.
Given the leadership, it is no surprise that the company does not intend to remain a one-ship line. But, for now, the spotlight is on Louisiane.