American Cruise Lines: Small Ships, Big Growth

American Cruise Lines plans to introduce three more modern riverboats by the end of 2021, but don’t expect the growth to end there.

“This is just the start,” President and CEO Charles B. Robertson told TravelPulse. “I really believe there’s a lot of room left in the (U.S.) market. And we’re going to lead it. We’re the only one with the ability to build these ships, and we can build them faster. One or two a year is very doable.”

In 2021, this small-ship specialist will operate 14 ships on U.S. rivers and waterways. Of those, four are paddlewheelers that invoke the nostalgia of Victorian-era riverboats. The rest are the sleek, modern riverboats that American Cruise Lines first introduced in 2018, with the 184-passenger American Song now sailing in the Pacific Northwest and the American Harmony in 2019 now cruising the Mississippi.

They’ll be joined in September 2020 by American Jazz, which will sail on the Lower Mississippi River, and in 2021 by American Melody, which also will cruise the Mississippi. The fifth modern riverboat due out later in 2021 is as-yet-unnamed.

Those modern riverboats are the future, Robertson said, hinting that there could be a dozen or more. “The paddlewheelers are boutique; we still want them and we’re going to keep them, but we’re not planning to build anymore,” he said. “They’re still very popular and ran full last year, and this year looks very promising too.”

The three new riverboats will operate on the Mississippi River system. “The Mississippi is certainly where we see a concentration of demand,” Robertson said. “There’s still a fair number of places to expand around the Mississippi River. We’ll do more Ohio River cruises in 2021 and we more than doubled the number of Cumberland River cruises that includes Nashville. We’re also looking at the Tennessee River. Within the Mississippi River region, there are a lot of options.”

ACL is setting sales records this year and attributes that to a desire to see the U.S., the ease of driving or taking a short flight to a homeport, no need for a passport and the company’s “Cruising Close to Home” campaign that started last year.

Plus, Robertson said the modern riverboats have proven extremely popular. “The modern riverboats have been fantastically well-received by both consumers and by the travel agent community,” he said. “They’re glad to have a product that similar to other global river cruises. Travel agents find it a very easy and harmonious flow for their clients to make the switch from global river cruising to U.S. river cruising. Guests just love them.”

It’s obvious this cruise company has much more to come. Stay tuned.

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