American Queen Voyages will pull out of the Great Lakes after this season and focus on river cruises, the line announced Tuesday.
Once the season is over, AQV plans to sell the Ocean Navigator and Ocean Voyager ships. All published voyages will continue as planned through November 2023.
“Our customers consistently tell us our U.S. river itineraries are exceptional and demonstrate this by returning again and again,” said Cindy D’Aoust, the line’s president. She said a McKinsey market survey found participants had the highest brand affinity for AQV among U.S. river operators.
AQV plans to focus on updating and improving the river product, such as with new partnerships or an elevated culinary program, she said.
AQV’s pivot away from the Great Lakes comes as Viking sails two expedition ships there, doubling its capacity since sending the Viking Octantis to the region for the first time in 2022.
The refocusing has led AQV, which is part of Hornblower Group, to make a series of deployment changes for the 2024 and early 2025 seasons with new routes, which line said are available for early booking. The changes are as follows:
• The line will offer new three- and four-day cruises on the Lower Mississippi on the 417-guest American Queen, which the AQV contends is the largest steamboat ever built.
• AQV will bring back a 16-day voyage from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico on a Mississippi River sailing that will include intricate locks and dams and the birthplaces of jazz and country music.
• The American Countess will sail a new experiential voyage that is bourbon-themed and features food and spirits experts, including Dickie Brennan, chef-owner of Bourbon House in New Orleans. The 245-guest ship will sail the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers for its America’s Heartland cruises.
• The 221-guest American Empress will sail new wine-themed cruises through the Pacific Northwest on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Depending on the voyages, guests will have access to a salmon excursion and bring their catch back to the boat to be cleaned and cooked.
• Sailings in Alaska and British Columbia will continue through 2024 on the Ocean Victory expedition ship. Cruises will include expeditions on a Zodiac and kayak led by naturalists and field guides in cooperation with California Polytechnic State University.
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