“This has been quite a year for the cruise industry, and we are all ready for the promise of next year,” Charles B. Robertson, president and CEO of American Cruise Lines, told reporters attending the line’s press conference at Seatrade Cruise Virtual this week.

While the U.S.-flagged line is still hopeful that it could possibly cruise the lower portion of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Memphis in 2020, that’s not yet known. If the sailing schedule would need to be pushed into 2021, the line would begin American river sailings in February with voyages continuing through December 2021.

2021 Booking Trends

Also participating in the briefing was Susan Shultz-Gelino, vice president of trade relations, American Cruise Lines, who said she’s learned from her chats with travel advisors that “2021 is going to be absolutely huge. People are ready to travel. They want to get back in cruising.”

Another tidbit? She said a lot of consumers who’ve previously cruised in Europe are now looking to do something closer to home—and “we’re seeing that’s where the increases in sales are.”

Talking with trade advisors daily, she’s also been told that consumer demand is “going to go domestically when we open up.” American currently plans some 35 itineraries in the United States in 2021.

New Ships

But while voyages are still on hold for 2020, it hasn’t been an idle year, according to Robertson. That’s because American Cruise Lines continues to build new vessels at its affiliated shipyard in Salisbury, MD. It will soon introduce two new Modern Riverboat-class vessels, both sailing the Mississippi River. 

American Jazz immediately after its launch yesterday into the Wicomico River

America Jazz (shown in the photo above) successfully completed sea trials in August. It could possibly begin sailing later this year, but if not, it will enter service in February 2021. Sister ship, American Melody, will begin service in summer 2021. (Travel Agent recently wrote about American Jazz and what guests can expect inside the ship in our “American Rivers” article, which covered many cruise options on U.S. rivers.)

Robertson told reporters that the two new ships will increase the cruise company’s fleet to 14 ships, all carrying under 200 passengers and sailing to 30 states across the U.S.

Some are Modern Riverboats, others paddlewheel vessels or small coastal ships. Because of their smaller size, none of American Cruise Lines’ ships are subject to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s (CDC) “No Sail Order.” 

New Safety Protocols

“While we build for the future, it is also important not to lose sight of the present,” Robertson said, noting that the line has spent many months implementing extensive new health and safety protocols—initially rolled out in March. 

These include everything from detailed COVID-19 testing onboard to shipboard medical personnel and social distancing. In addition, the line’s ships already offer 350 square feet per passenger of onboard space at maximum capacity. But for any cruises restarting this year, American Cruise Lines voluntarily will sail at 75 percent capacity, providing 450 square feet of onboard space per passenger.

Other health/safety pluses? The line’s ships have independent HVAC air systems in all cabins and interior spaces—with no shared duct work.

Ships also have no interior cabins. All guests stay in water-view accommodations with either sliding glass doors opening to private balconies or picture windows that open for a fresh air flow into the stateroom.

Check here for details about American’s new protocol and COVID-19 safety plans. American also has flexible change/cancel and rebooking plans for guests, the officials said. 

New Itineraries

Charles B. Robertson president and CEO American Cruise Lines. Photo by American Cruise Lines. Editorial Use Only

In the above photo, Charles B. Robertson is shown on a ship’s bridge. // Photo by American Cruise Lines

During the press briefing, Robertson also talked about American Cruise Lines’ onboard product, describing it as “simple, sophisticated service to guests” that’s also highly personalized. 

For those guests who seek river cruises within the U.S., he said the line is introducing three new itineraries in 2021:

  • An eight-day “Cape Codder” voyage will sail roundtrip from Boston, visiting a variety of small New England ports. For this itinerary, the line will tap into its exclusive partnership with the Woods Hole Oceangraphic Institute in Woods Hole, MA.
  • An eight-day “Music City” cruise which draws on American musical influences, will sail between Nashville, TN, and Memphis, TN. American Cruise Lines offers complimentary and extended pre- and post-cruise packages in both cities.
  • The 11-day “Alaskan Explorer” cruise will sail roundtrip from Juneau; this itinerary includes more ports than the line has ever visited on a voyage, plus guests will spend two days in Glacier Bay, AK.

Also new for 2021 are more than 50 enrichment experiences including more active shore excursions as well as culinary and musical experiences.

As previously announced, new branded luxury motorcoaches will “follow” all Mississippi River cruises. They’ll offer private transportation (with plenty of room for guests to spread out) during shoreside activities and airport transfers. 

New Packages

American, which already offers one-night, complimentary pre-cruise packages on all Mississippi and Columbia/Snake River cruises, will introduce new longer, premium pre-cruise packages for 2021 including stays at luxury hotels around the country.

Robertson said the line is expanding its relationship with Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts in several departure port cities. Pre- and post-cruise packages (including many new Four Seasons packages) will debut in Boston, St. Louis, New Orleans and Baltimore

Reiterating the line’s 2020 slogan of “Ready to Operate, Prepared to Wait,” Robertson noted that while the line is ready to begin cruising, it also has the “foundational strength to remain paused just as long as necessary.” That said, the line still hopes to begin sailing later this year on the Mississippi River.

For more information, visit www.americancruiselines.com.

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