American Queen Steamboat Company
Ted Sykes, president and CEO of American Queen Steamboat Company, recently spoke by phone with The Group Travel Leader while traveling with passengers on the Mississippi River, one of the his company’s signature trips. He said many Americans are giving big-ship cruising a rest while they try river cruising.
“We’ve educated a whole generation of people on river cruising in Europe, Russia and China,” said Sykes. “Now, they don’t want to get on long-haul flights and, instead, want to do a river in this country. People are tired of the large crowds. This is more intimate and what we call ‘casual luxury.’”
Most of the American Queen trips are seven days, although you can book trips that are four or five days or 10 or 11 days.
“At the beginning of the year, we’re in the lower Mississippi River between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Memphis, Tennessee. That’s seven days. We’ll have a port stop six of those seven days,” said Sykes. “In the summer, we reposition ourselves in the middle Mississippi between Memphis and St. Louis, Missouri, and later go to the upper Mississippi between St. Louis and St. Paul, Minnesota.”
The ships travel on other historic rivers such as the Ohio, the Cumberland and the Tennessee. They also cruise past many other interesting river cities such as Cincinnati; Pittsburgh; Louisville, Kentucky; and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Sykes recalls hosting a contingent of Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealers from around the United States who had the whole boat to themselves to enjoy the fine dining and onboard entertainment. The trip was a reward to the top-selling dealers.
“I got the nicest letter from the president and CEO of the Harley-Davidson company saying they’d be back because they had had such a blast,” said Sykes.
The American Queen also offers theme trips, such as a bourbon trip that includes Kentucky distilleries. Other trips feature baseball legends, Southern culture, music, fall foliage and old-fashioned holidays. A lot of American Queen’s market is within easy driving distance of launch points.
In response to the growing interest in domestic river cruising, the company is introducing a new vessel, the American Empress, which will traverse the Columbia River and the Snake River in the Pacific Northwest beginning next year. The steamship company plans to have a route between Portland, Oregon, and Clarkston, Washington. It will explore portions of the famed Lewis and Clark Trail and include a visit to the Sacagawea State Park. Wine country will also be part of the journey.
“It is all-American,” Sykes said. “We fly the American flag and hire an American crew. We’re putting Americans back to work,” he said. “It’s a great way to see America and learn about our history.”
American Cruise Lines
Susan Shultz says that traveling America’s rivers is an eye-opening experience for some passengers.
“We sometimes forget what we have in our own backyard,” said the director of sales for American Cruise Lines, which offers the traveling public 35 exciting itineraries. “We’re very rich in history.”
Passengers experience that history, along with a healthy dose of scenic beauty, on such wide-ranging trips as Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast and Southeast coasts and the Mississippi River, as well as on special themed cruises.
Shultz isn’t challenged by competition from big cruise lines, who she says provide her with customers.
“We love the large cruise ships because they do all this advertising and get all kinds of people on board, and then those passengers eventually come to us. Many of our passengers say they won’t go back.”
People enjoy the personal experiences on smaller ships, the little things like complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres with fellow passengers before dinner. They set small-ship cruising apart from the bigger lines.
“People really enjoy the relaxed feeling, all the amenities and the ease with which we get around to our ports of call —no passports,” said Shultz. “It just takes a few seconds to get on board or off, and that makes a big difference to some people.”
All kinds of special-interest groups come on board American Cruise Lines ships, said Shultz, among them alumni, golfing, birding and wildlife groups. Another group booked passage through the interesting Smithsonian Journeys, the Smithsonian Institution’s Travel Program, which offers worldwide learning vacations led by experts and experienced guides.
Foreigners are becoming very interested in cruising around the United States. People from the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany and Australia are just a few of the international representatives whose names appear on American Cruise Lines passenger lists.
“They’re booking large groups with us,” Schultz said. “We see that constantly. I’d say that has really become a trend in the last three years.”
Another trend is passengers who come on board with family and friends.
“It may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for them, and they want to share it with the people they love,” Shultz said.
Together, those constituencies have added up to significant growth for American Cruise Lines.
“We’ve experienced continuous and significant growth over the last few years, having introduced several new itineraries,” Schultz said. “Since 2007, we’ve nearly doubled the number of passengers carried, as well as the numbers of ports our ships visit. And we have another vessel on the way for 2014.”
Next: Fantasy Cruises
1 2 3
Groups on Cruises: Cruising on the gem
Norwegian Breakaway rocks New York City
River Cruising’s the Rage
Tauck Enters Mississippi River Market
Groups on Cruises: Avalon partners with American Queen
More Experience This
Bucket List Itinerary: Experience Venice by kayak
Where in the World: Art museums
Group Game: Image Puzzlers
Bucket List Itinerary: Himalayan fresh air in Bhutan
Group Game: Guessing the Population