Seatrade Week: American Queen, Victory Cruise Lines Become One Brand

Two small-ship cruise brands—the U.S.-flagged American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC), part of Hornblower Group, and the foreign-flagged Victory Cruise Lines, a small-ship ocean brand owned and operated by AQSC—announced big news during a Seatrade Cruise Global press conference this week in Miami Beach.

Bottom line? The two brands are now one. They’ll be marketed and sold as American Queen Voyages (AQV), a new corporate branding approach for Hornblower's "overnight cruise" brands, which range from river voyages to small-ship ocean cruises to soon-to-launch expedition voyages. 

"When American Queen was all we had, the American Queen Steamboat Company name made sense," Shawn Bierdz, president of the new American Queen Voyages, told us in a one-on-one interview this week. But with more than seven vessels (including new expedition ships on the horizon for 2022 and 2023 delivery), not all really fit anymore under a steamboating brand. "It was time to re-look at the business," he says. 

Bierdz, who's worked for AQSC for eight years, also thinks the timing is right for the rebranding as it coincides with the cruise line’s 10th anniversary. He also believes that making the change solidifies the line’s “continuing commitment to guests and to creating amazing experiences." 

A New Headquarter

In other news, while American Queen Steamboat and Victory Cruise Lines, headquartered in Indiana, had previously said they'd open a satellite office in South Florida, this week the rebranded American Queen Voyages described that new Fort Lauderdale, FL, office as “a headquarters" and the company's center for more than 100 jobs in marketing, sales and vessel operations.

New sales, marketing and operations HQ for American Queen Voyages
The newly rebranded American Queen Voyages will open a new HQ for sales, marketing and operations in Fort Lauderdale, FL  (Photo by American Queen Voyages)

American Queen Voyages will lease more than 23,000 square feet on the top floor of the Coastal Tower, 24000 East Commercial Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale. “South Florida is the heart of the cruise industry, and Fort Lauderdale is undeniably the epicenter of that region,” says Bierdz.

He says that having a strong presence in Fort Lauderdale will allow the line to tap into South Florida’s tri-county talent base and offer an attractive home base for those employees looking to relocate.

“The city of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County has embraced American Queen Voyages since we began considering re-locating” the overnight cruise division headquarters to Florida,” said Kevin Rabbitt, CEO, Hornblower Group. “I want to thank Bob Swindell and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance for creating such a welcoming environment for business as so many of our industry partners call Broward County home. We look forward to being part of this growing community.”

South Florida city, county and economic leaders were understandably thrilled at the development; both mayors from the City of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County expressed their pleasure and support. Swindell, the alliance’s president and CEO, says “American Queen will take its place among other national headquarters [in the city], ranging from providers of travel packages to rental cars and cruise lines.” 

American Queen Voyages is a growing company. "We’ve added quite a few reservations people,” Bierdz notes. While some are working remotely, in the new Fort Lauderdale office, he says the line will have a contingency of 70 call center employees. 

A Comprehensive Portfolio

Victory I Victory Cruise Lines Photo by Susan J Young Editorial Use Only
Victory Cruise Lines' name will disappear as the small-ship ocean product will be rebranded as American Queen Voyages Lakes and Ocean.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

The new American Queen Voyages will offer a diverse portfolio of North American itineraries under that new "brand umbrella." Within that, the lines of business will be differentiated as follows:

American Queen Voyages Rivers: The line began sailing a decade ago with just the iconic American Queen, the world’ largest river boat. Then followed American Empress in 2014, American Duchess in 2017 and American Countess earlier this year. All will now sail as American Queen Voyages Rivers.

American Queen Voyages Lakes & Ocean: The former Victory Cruise Lines operates the 202-passenger ships, Victory I and Victory II. These identical, oceangoing vessels are being renamed Ocean Voyager and Ocean Navigator. They'll cruise on America’s heartland rivers, the Great Lakes and within the Pacific Northwest, as well to Canada, the Eastern Seaboard, Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula and Alaska.

American Queen Voyages Expedition: Looking ahead, American Queen Voyages expects to have a total of eight river, ocean and expedition vessels by 2023. That will include two newly built, 186-passenger expedition ships—Ocean Victory and Ocean Discoverer, which will debut in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

Victory Cruise Lines
Ocean Victory will debut in 2022 as American Queen Voyages' first expedition ship.  (Victory Cruise Lines)

Each new expedition ship will feature an innovative "X-Bow" design. Itineraries will include 12- and 13-day Alaska Inside Passage voyages and Central America expedition cruises. Both vessels will carry expedition teams, kayaks and Zodiacs.

While the river cruise vessels are American-flagged, the former Victory vessels and the new expedition ships are foreign-flagged and will continue to be, for now.  "Slow and steady" is the way to go, says Bierdz. "We want to make sure to master the Alaska the product completely" as the priority, he says, noting that re-flagging would be complex and time-consuming. So, for now, it's not on the "to do" list. 

New Tag Line: "Discovery Runs Deep"

American Queen Voyages also is introducing a new marketing tagline of “Discovery Runs Deep,” which will invite travelers to throw away their guidebook and go off the beaten path to discover North America’s unscripted experiences. New creative elements will be unveiled within the next few weeks and months. Advisors can expect to see a new print and digital campaign, a reimagined loyalty program, new onboard enrichment offerings and "milestone moments."

“To see America, you have to look beyond the roads, and American Queen Voyages embraces this notion with compelling travel encounters,” says Kari Tarnowski, senior vice president marketing and sales, American Queen Voyages. “We celebrate 10 incredible years in business as American Queen Steamboat Company and embrace its legacy as we enter this new phase."

Tarnowski and Bierdz both say that guests desire iconic travel, whether it's going to Paris' Eiffel Tower, or, alternatively to Memphis, TN, to explore musical heritage or to Natchez, MS, to dive into culinary traditions. Increasingly, cruisers desire to go off-the-beaten path to meet the people, learn about the culture, taste the food, and admire the craftsmanship. Also, "it's not just tangible craftsmanship," emphasizes Bierdz, pointing to such elements as America's music, local cuisine, literary heritage and more.

With the “Discovery Runs Deep” approach, he also believes AQV is moving into a new chapter and upholding the vision of John Waggoner, company chairman and owner.

Singular Web Site

The rebranding features a paddlewheel logo but deconstructed into individual paddles and with a creative pattern that represents movement. Branding materials that incorporate this pattern will include a new singular website for river, ocean and expedition cruising.

"Having one website is going to be key,” says Tarnowski. Potential guests won’t go to AQSC site and get one approach to the experience, then go to the other site and find something different. Advisors will see a more cohesive approach, both in the marketing of the product as well as its delivery.

“We’ll offer the same standard of comfort, same standard of experience,” says Bierdz, who adds that guests sailing on the line's ocean product can expect the same level of excursions, food and service as on the company's river cruise product. That wasn’t always the case.

Also new will be a digital experience, social media posts, posters, guidebooks and merchandise for staff, agents and passengers. Most notably, "we're unveiling a series of road shows on October 5,” says Tarnowski. At those, the line will distribute such items as the new posters and a new 2022 voyage collection brochure.

Meanwhile, look for marketing of the new brand to spread beyond the organization's traditional reach. American Queen Voyages plans direct mail, promotion in some new markets and “building on what we’re doing,” says Tarnowski who cites consumer print, trade print and so on. “We’ve also tiptoed into mass media, are doing TV on a smaller basis, but expect that to grow."

Restart Progress

As the line restarted operations earlier this year, it implemented an all-vaccinated guests and crew requirements, along with COVID-19 tests the day prior to boarding; the line handles and pays for those, trying to simplify things for guests.

That said, "it's challenging,” notes Bierdz. “Occasionally, testing pops up a positive case prior to cruising" so the line must do contact tracing and other processes that aren’t the norm. “It takes a lot of work to deliver the product," he acknowledges. 

That said, Bierdz says the guest scores “have been phenomenal,” still in the "9" range out of "10" as tops. Repeaters on the line's river cruises this year are also booking now at a greater rate than they have been.

Executives say that with the rebranding, those repeat guests are likely to view the line's options for lakes and rivers as a good way to try something different. Yet, they'll still have a sense of comfort and familiarity given the American Queen branding.

American Queen Voyages works with several thousand travel advisors across the U.S. and Canada and “they’re coming back," says Tarnowski, while Bierdz emphasizes: "It’s a great time to have a travel advisor even when you're taking a close-to-home cruise."

Moving forward, Bierdz says the timing is right for the rebranding with new imagery and wordage: “We’re not the old American Queen, but new, bold and fresh, and you’ll see a very different positioning.”

For more information on American Queen Voyages, visit

Related Stories

Seabourn Names Second Expedition Ship, Reveals Itineraries

Seatrade Week: ACL to Rebrand, Redesign Four Paddlewheelers

Carnival Corporation Plans to Have 50% of Fleet Back by October

Seatrade Week: Emerald Cruises Is Building Second Superyacht