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One Mississippi … two Mississippi … three Mississippi …
There’s no doubt cruise travel will return to prominence, it’s just a matter of how many Mississippis it will take. Ocean and river sailings, near and far, will regain steam, but clients may be understandably reluctant — and it may prove practically difficult — to travel abroad, at least right away.
For that reason and many others, the Mississippi River may be the best option for transitioning eager clients back to cruising, and it’s not too soon to start planning trips on America’s great inland waterway.
Both American Cruise Lines (ACL) and American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) have been staples along the river for many years, and most recently, Viking announced it will also be launching service for the first time. Once the COVID-19 pandemic is in the rearview mirror, ACL and AQSC will be ready to resume sailing, and Viking won’t be far behind in 2022.
“When people do begin to ease back into travel, I think there will be a great opportunity for travel advisors to book guests on small-ship cruises within the U.S.,” said Susan Shultz-Gelino, vice president of trade relations for ACL.
An Ideal OptionThe Mississippi River’s central location makes it one of the most accessible waterways for U.S. residents, and its length places embarkation and disembarkation ports within convenient reach of many states. Stretching from Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico south of Louisiana, the Mississippi makes it possible for locals to take a cruise without any — or at least, very little — flying. Along the river and its tributaries, common routes begin and end in cities such as New Orleans; St. Louis; Memphis, Tenn.; and St. Paul, Minn.
Unlike many ocean voyages, Mississippi River cruises utilize smaller vessels, which means avoiding megaship crowds. Plus, sailing inland never far from a riverbank also means any passenger with health concerns or needing an emergency evacuation can be quickly transferred to shoreside medical facilities.
Meanwhile, like many river cruises, there is an abundance of value-added inclusions. ACL features a complimentary daily cocktail hour; wine and beer included with meals; and some free shore excursions. AQSC includes hop-on, hop-off bus tours; 24-hour room service; and, depending on the ship and itinerary, unlimited beverages and prepaid gratuities. Plus, both ACL and AQSC offer a free one-night, pre-cruise hotel stay.
Viking does not provide any cruise extensions, but it does bundle some signature offerings, including free Wi-Fi access; a complimentary shore excursion in every port; no-charge alternative dining; 24-hour room service; beer and wine with lunch and dinner; and more.
Traditional MississippiMany clients have dreams of floating gracefully downriver in a stately vessel (with wraparound decks, intimate balconies and crowned smokestacks), while being propelled by the rugged wooden slats of a crimson paddlewheel. This scene may sound like it came straight from the pages of a Mark Twain novel, but such an onboard experience is alive and well, and AQSC is where today’s travelers can find it.
Before cruise ships stopped sailing, AQSC had planned a grand christening in New Orleans for its newest vessel, American Countess. Although the naming ceremony has been postponed, the line’s latest riverboat is still set to be introduced later this year as the new incarnation of a historic paddlewheeler.
Formerly known as the Kanesville Queen casino boat, the vessel was missing a grand paddlewheel at its stern, but AQSC added the wheel, lengthened the ship and converted it into the 245-guest American Countess. It will join American Duchess and American Queen to complete AQSC’s trio of traditional paddlewheelers on the Mississippi.
These ships may harken back to the past, but their onboard amenities are contemporary, including modern fine dining options, top-notch spa treatments and live entertainment. The accommodation choices on American Countess range from 170-square-foot inside staterooms and 180-square-foot single outside staterooms to 255-square-foot deluxe outside staterooms.
American Countess itineraries will range from six to 15 days, featuring weeklong round trips from The Big Easy to two-week sailings from Minneapolis to New Orleans. At the time of publication, AQSC anticipates restarting operations in mid-May 2020, but that’s subject to change.
“During this unprecedented time, we are vigilantly monitoring the situation to put policies and procedures in place with the guidance from health agencies,” said John Waggoner, founder and CEO of AQSC. “Our desire to deliver extraordinary experiences to guests remains the same, and we encourage you to stay positive and know that ultimately we will emerge as a stronger, more determined and more successful company.”
Our desire to deliver extraordinary experiences to guests remains the same, and we encourage you to stay positive and know that ultimately we will emerge as a stronger, more determined and more successful company.]]
Modern MississippiAlternatively, Viking’s larger 378-passenger Viking Mississippi will set sail in August 2022. Old-fashioned theaters and classic southern style will not be found on this ship, as clean Scandinavian furnishings and fixtures will carry over from the line’s European riverboats.
Like AQSC’s unveiling of the American Countess, Viking had planned a media event in New Orleans to officially reveal the riverboat. While that event was canceled, it didn’t stop Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking, from proudly sharing initial details of the ship, as well as the broad vision for launching on the Mississippi River in the first place.
“At a time when many of us are at home, looking for inspiration to travel in the future, I am pleased to introduce a new, modern way to explore this great river,” Hagen said. “Our guests are curious travelers, and they continue to tell us that the Mississippi is the river they most want to sail with us. The Mississippi River is closer to home for many of our guests, and no other waterway has played such an important role in America’s history, commerce and culture.”
Under construction in Louisiana, the Viking Mississippi will showcase many of the design features known to the line’s guests on its Viking Longships, including an alfresco Aqauvit Terrace. It will also feature guest favorites from Viking’s ocean ships, such as a double-decker Explorers’ Lounge and an aft-facing Infinity Plunge Pool. French balcony and veranda staterooms and suites will measure from 268 to 1,024 square feet and will showcase king-size beds and large showers.
Four available itineraries will take the ship and its guests along the upper or lower river, or both, on itineraries that range from eight to 15 days.
Evolving MississippiACL has the distinction of already offering a range of Mississippi cruising options, featuring either traditional or modern vessels. The line’s Mississippi fleet encompasses a pair of Victorian-style paddlewheelers — America and Queen of the Mississippi — and one modern riverboat, American Harmony. Another new contemporary riverboat, American Jazz, is scheduled to join the fleet in September, followed by two more ships in 2021 and another in 2022.
At that point, ACL will offer a total of seven riverboats on the Mississippi.
All the modern riverboats feature a five-story, skylight-topped glass atrium; a retractable bow gangway; and all-balcony staterooms. The ships are intimate — capacity does not exceed 190 passengers — and individual cabin options include 250-square-foot single staterooms all the way up to lavish 800-square-foot Grand Suites on American Harmony.
New to America and American Harmony for the 2020-2021 season are eight-day Music Cities voyages between Memphis and Nashville, Tenn. Extending along the Mississippi, Cumberland, Ohio and Tennessee rivers, the itinerary includes musical points of interest such as Graceland, the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, Memphis Rock ’n’ Soul Museum,
Grand Ole Opry, Country Music Hall of Fame and Honky Tonk Highway. The itinerary is one of 10 that ACL operates on the Mississippi.
Now more than ever, people want to cruise close to home, and they demand a modern, refined experience with a true American company.
“American Cruise Lines has become the nation’s largest cruise line by offering a sophisticated product right here at home,” said Charles B. Robertson, president and CEO of ACL. “Now more than ever, people want to cruise close to home, and they demand a modern, refined experience with a true American company. Earlier this year, we announced that we have doubled our production timeline for the introduction of more new riverboats. Current events have not changed our long-term plans, as the Mississippi River remains the center of demand in the U.S.”
So, despite the current downturn in cruising, travel advisors should be encouraged by the fact that Mississippi River cruises continue to evolve with new ships and itinerary options. When clients are ready, the Mighty Mississippi will be waiting — standing by with a dose of exciting, close-to-home adventures.
The DetailsAmerican Cruise Lines www.americancruiselines.com
American Queen Steamboat Companywww.americanqueensteamboatcompany.com