American Cruise Lines to build four new riverboats for inland service


The U.S. river cruise industry continues staging its comeback with at least five large vessels slated to enter service through 2017.

The overnight river cruise industry virtually disappeared in 2009 when three large cruise operators tied up seven vessels.

In December 2013, American Cruise Lines (ACL) announced it would build four new riverboats for American river cruising. The first 150-passenger vessel will enter service in March 2015 on the Mississippi River, joining ACL’s Queen of the Mississippi, which entered service in 2012.

The second newbuild will enter service later in 2015, operating on the Columbia and Snake rivers, where the line currently operates Queen of the West. The first two of the four new vessels are under construction at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Md.

In 2011, American Queen Steamboat Co. launched the river cruise revival by spending about $21 million to buy and refit the American Queen sternwheeler for excursions on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, adding about 40 positions for licensed mariners. In April, the company will add the newly acquired American Empress to its fleet.

Currently, American Cruise Lines operates six ships: four in cruises along the coast of New England, in Chesapeake Bay, in Alaska’s Inside Passage and other coastal areas, and two in river cruises. One of the current vessels may be retired after the newbuilds enter service, according to Charles Robertson, president of ACL.

American Cruise Lines has enjoyed 25 percent growth in the past three years, and the new vessels will serve the growing river cruise market.

“We’re satisfied with what’s happened so far and the vessels will come out over an extended period of time to absorb the demands in the market,” Robertson said.

All of the newbuilds will incorporate both sternwheels and three z-drives, compared to two z-drives on Queen of the Mississippi. The vessels will use three Caterpillar C32/ZF direct-drive thrusters and an electric/hydraulic paddlewheel for propulsion, with a top speed of 12 knots. Maneuvering power will be supplied by a 350-hp bow thruster from Thrustmaster.

The first vessel, 300 feet long with a 53-foot beam, will have a capacity of 150 passengers in 80 staterooms. Later vessels will accommodate 175 passengers. The vessels will be built for maximum passenger comfort.

“The lounge over the engine room will be a floating floor to reduce noise and vibration,” Robertson said. “There are a number of other things being incorporated to make the vessel as quiet as we possibly can.”

Robertson said the company will add billets for licensed mariners as the vessels enter service through 2017.

American Queen Steamboat bought American Empress from the U.S. Maritime Administration, as it did American Queen. Built in 2003, the 360-foot American Empress will accommodate 223 guests on its five decks. It is scheduled to begin operating in April from Portland, Ore., on the Columbia and Snake rivers. American Empress features a hull shape and a speed (14 knots) that would allow it to explore other areas of the Pacific Northwest.

By Professional Mariner Staff