Last updated: 06:47 PM ET, Wed September 14 2016

With New Duchess, American Queen is Poised to Leap

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | American Queen Steamboat Company | David Cogswell | September 14, 2016

With New Duchess, American Queen is Poised to Leap

Photo courtesy American Queen Steamboat Company

The American Queen Steamboat Company is introducing a new ship, its third, the American Duchess. Construction will begin soon on a hull that was purchased on Aug. 21 and is scheduled to be completed in April 2017. The first sailing is set for June 4. It will be open for booking in October.

The new ship will take its place alongside the American Queen and the American Empress as a provider of American river cruises. But the new ship is a departure from the previous two: Like the American Queen, the Duchess will sail the Mississippi and its tributaries.

A Departure

At a presentation in New York on Tuesday, American Queen’s President and COO Ted Sykes called the new ship “a luxurious all-suite vessel.” The ship is more upscale than both the Queen and the Empress and is designed to target a younger demographic.

The Duchess will be smaller than the Queen and the Empress, with a capacity of 166 passengers as compared to 436 for the American Queen and 223 for the American Empress.

It is also shorter, which gives it the ability to navigate some waters its sister vessels cannot. The company is calling it a boutique vessel.

Duchess has four decks: main, observation, cabin and sun. The first two are tall with 19 ½ foot ceilings. Like its larger sisters, Duchess is built on the model of the wedding cake-style paddlewheel steamers of Mark Twain’s day.

Formula for Success

The American Queen Steamboat Company’s business is booming. Ships are sailing at 95 percent of capacity. The company made the right moves at the right time and is now poised to reap the benefits of a market that is growing right into what the company is offering.

A convergence of several factors gives American Queen an extremely favorable outlook for the coming period. Here are some of the converging factors.

The River Cruising Boom

European river cruising has been on a sustained growth curve for roughly 15 years. Those who speculated on it back then have succeeded handsomely. And the market seems be strong enough to continue to absorb all the new entries, of which there are many.

More and more Americans have experienced river cruising and understand the comfort and other advantages of that style of travel and may be ready to try it on this side of the Atlantic as well.

Eric Welter, American Queen’s senior vice president of marketing and reservations, said that some of the people who went river cruising in Europe 10 years ago at 65 are now 75 and may be ready for to try a trip with less foreign travel.  

A New Discovery of America

The perception of increased political turmoil in Europe has caused some Americans to turn inward and explore their own country. Other factors are surely in play, but one thing is certain and that is that domestic tourism is thriving at the expense of overseas tourism.

Americans seem to have developed a new appreciation of the national parks, and of American history in general. A ride on a paddlewheel steamer down the Mississippi allows one to experience a piece of history from the days of Huck Finn.

The Mississippi was the aorta of the American economy in the nation’s formative years. It was the great highway before there were roads. It drained 2/3 of the United States and carried commerce and culture from city to town to village along the riverfront from Minnesota to New Orleans. A trip on the Mississippi really does take you to the heart of American history.

To provide the fullest experience of the Mississippi, the company introduced a cruise from St. Paul to New Orleans called “The Mighty Mississippi.” It is a big seller and it is a hit with American Queen’s international market. The three-week duration of the trip is long for many Americans, so the company plans to release a two-week version in 2018.

A New Wave of Inbound Tourism

The American heritage component of the American Queen product has tremendous potential for the inbound travel market as well. American Queen’s international market now consists of primarily English-speaking countries, such as the U.K. and Australia. But other domestic inbound markets are creating a continually mounting presence and cannot be long ignored. The Chinese inbound tourism market, for example, is growing exponentially, and those travelers are intensely interested in American heritage.

Babyboomers Retiring

One could get tired of hearing about baby boomers retiring, but the fact is it is affecting everything and paddlewheel steamships are no exception. Purportedly 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every day. Of course, it could be argued that a number are moving out of the market altogether every day as well. But the point is that about 10,000 people a day are reaching retirement age and many of them are intent on traveling. That constitutes a large market, and it is being refreshed robustly every day.

The paddlewheel steamer style of travel along the great rivers of America is perfectly suited to the baby boomer demographic and the trends in the marketplace today. It is a comfortable, easygoing way to travel. It is an opportunity for cultural enrichment and learning through on-board lectures and daily shore excursions that are included in the price.

The Growing Demand for Experiential Travel

American Queen river cruise experiences are well positioned to meet the rising demand for in-depth experiences of destinations. Though the destinations may be “in our own backyard,” they offer great cultural diversity and richness that can only be discovered by encountering them personally.

American Queen is harnessing the demand for experiential travel through a series of themed departures emphasizing special interests such as cuisine, wine, music and history.  

Seen from any number of angles, American Queen Steamboat Company seems to be an American Dream headed into an extremely successful run.




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