River cruising in the United States has a long and storied history, from the endearing accounts of Mark Twain in the late 1800s to the fabled steamboat races of the 20th century. Now in its third century, cruising on the nation’s inland waterways continues to experience a riverine renaissance.
Just last month, in reporting its 2019 cruise statistics, the Port of New Orleans marked a “modern-day record” of more than 31,000 passenger movements aboard the six riverboats that homeport in the Crescent City. And more riverboats are on their way in 2020.
American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) will christen its newest riverboat, the American Countess, in New Orleans April 4. The 245-passenger vessel will depart from New Orleans for Memphis, Tenn., the following day. As with prior American Queen Steamboat Company christenings, the Countess will be christened with a bottle of Maker’s Mark. Company founder and CEO John Waggoner’s daughter, Angie Hack, will christen the vessel, with local restaurant magnate Dickie Brennan handing off the bottle of bourbon.
The sprawling four-deck riverboat received an extensive renovation at Houma, La.’s Gulf Island Shipyard. According to AQSC, the American Countess will offer itineraries ranging from six to 15 days, with stops up and down the Mississippi River.
Likewise, American Cruise Lines (ACL) has announced the company will “accelerate expansion” of its river cruises with the addition of three new vessels over the next 20 months. The company will debut the American Jazz this year, with two additional vessels debuting in 2021. Those two vessels are already under construction.
“These new ships show our continued commitment to leading the Mississippi River cruise market,” American Cruise Lines President and CEO Charles Robertson said in a statement. “The American fleet is already unrivaled and the new riverboats will allow us to continue to roll out innovative amenities that enhance guest experiences.”
ACL is building the new vessels at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Md., an ACL-affiliated shipyard. ACL’s other Mississippi River vessels include the American Song and American Harmony. The company has built five new ships since 2017 and is on track to have 14 vessels cruising by next year.
Viking Cruises, known worldwide for its river and ocean cruises, is also set to enter the U.S. market at some point in the future.
Though the company has announced no specifics, Viking’s chairman, Torstein Hagen, is set to reveal “the introduction of modern river cruising in the U.S.” during an event set for April 7 at Mardi Gras World in New Orleans. According to the event invitation, Viking will announce “our newest and most ambitious river voyages to America’s heartland.”