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U.S. cruisers have set sail once again — at least domestically, and on narrower waterways.
Since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) current “Framework for Conditional Sailing Order” only restricts vessels carrying 250 or more passengers and crew, small-ship brands such as American Cruise Lines (ACL) and American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) were free to set their own return to the rivers last month.
ACL sailed its first East Coast voyage on March 13 with its Independence coastal ship, and its first Mississippi River cruise on March 21 onboard the line's new modern riverboat, American Jazz. Currently, the line has its fleet of 13 riverboats scheduled for additional upcoming springtime itineraries (all of ACL's riverboats and coastal ships fit below the CDC’s capacity limits).
Similarly, AQSC returned to service with the March 21 christening of the American Countess — brand new for 2021 — in New Orleans. Meanwhile, the American Empress (on the Columbia and Snake rivers) and eponymous American Queen (on the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers) are slated to resume later in the spring.
“The options for domestic cruising in the U.S. are better than ever before, and it is a great time to experience American’s personalized small-ship explorations,” said Alexa Paolella, manager of public relations for ACL.
The options for domestic cruising in the U.S. are better than ever before, and it is a great time to experience American’s personalized small-ship explorations.
Just because the pair of lines have accommodated North American guests before any larger ocean ones have doesn’t mean they are skimping on any health and safety measures. Beginning July 1, all passengers and crew onboard AQSC ships will need to be vaccinated for COVID-19 to sail. This is in addition to the company’s existing protocols requiring reduced passenger counts, COVID-19 testing, health screenings, face coverings where and when physical distancing is not possible and more.
Those traveling with ACL throughout April will need a vaccination, but Paolella said that the line does “not suspect a vaccine requirement will be necessary for all 2021 cruises.”
“We are continually monitoring the progression of the virus and the availability of vaccines, and will cater the requirements for cruises depending on both the timing of the departure and the region being traveled,” she said. “[ACL] has always worked with local ports, states and individual communities to conduct our operations both onboard and onshore in keeping with the local requirements and preferences in every domestic region we cruise.”
Other benefits of booking customers on American river cruises are numerous, not the least of which is local convenience. For many, there is no need to fly thanks to the ability to simply drive to the homeport.
“We believe that our domestic routes along U.S. rivers will offer an attractive cruise option this year, and in the future, as travelers seek close-to-home destinations and small-capacity cruises with easy access to shoreside health care, if needed,” said John Waggoner, founder and CEO of AQSC.
If any guest requires treatment, they can be disembarked within hours, if not minutes, without any concerns of being out at sea.
We believe that our domestic routes along U.S. rivers will offer an attractive cruise option this year, and in the future, as travelers seek close-to-home destinations and small-capacity cruises with easy access to shoreside health care, if needed.
“As a domestic operator of small ships, we are guided by different regulations than larger lines with international ships,” said ACL’s Paolella. “We are longstanding members of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and are affected by the same concerns of the greater travel community, so we continue to follow the industry’s best practices.”
Both ACL and AQSC recognize the importance of travel advisors right now, and offer similar advice: Understand current health guidelines and learn the product completely. ACL features a travel agent portal and a team of in-house cruise specialists and business development managers who are always available to address questions or concerns, and AQSC touts its recently launched Steamboat and Victory Academy (SAVA) travel agent certification training program.
“The academy incorporates content from both American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines, and provides on-demand training modules, integrated quizzes for prospective Steamboat and Victory Academy (SAVA) certified agents and ongoing updates on both ships,” Waggoner said.
ACL holds the distinction of operating U.S.-registered vessels that navigate domestic coastal waters as well, allowing them to operate Alaska cruises in 2021 from June through early September.
For those interested in the larger Pacific Northwest area, the line also revealed that it will be deploying a sixth ship there: the American Harmony, the line's second modern riverboat on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Also new for ACL this year is the upcoming launch of American Melody, a new modern riverboat on the Mississippi River.
The DetailsAmerican Cruise Lineswww.americancruiselines.com
American Queen Steamboat Companywww.americanqueensteamboatcompany.com