|Queen of the Mississippi // Photo by American Cruise Lines |
Close-to-home river voyages that sail East Coast waterways, the Mississippi and other heartland rivers, or the Columbia and Snake Rivers in the Pacific Northwest, are growing in popularity.
Couples typically like these cruises, but solo travelers are also booking these voyages. “American Cruise Lines has experienced an uptick in solo guests due to the small size of our ships at 49 to 150 guests and the intimate nature of the cruise,” says Britt Rabinovici of American Cruise Lines (www.americancruiselines.com).
Who are these solo travelers? Many are mature singles. Others are travelers of all ages who love Americana, southern style, Civil War Heritage, pioneer sites, American crafts and culinary and wine activities.
Some solo travelers are part of a larger group of family or friends. All like the hassle-free nature of an American river cruise that's close to home and doesn't require overseas air flights.
|S.S. Legacy in the Pacific Northwest // Photo by Un-Cruise Adventures |
Finding the Right Itinerary
Itinerary-wise, choices are increasingly diverse. "American river cruising on the Mississippi holds unique appeal, calling to those who wish to experience the nostalgia associated with a steamboat or paddlewheeler,” says Amber Blecker, owner, CruiseOne, Aurora, CO.
Blecker says solo travelers are discovering that the southern U.S. voyages visit historic American destinations, showcase regional music (jazz, blues, gospel and bluegrass), and allow clients to chow down on everything from Memphis’ barbecue to New Orleans’ Creole dishes.
While American Queen Steamboat Company’s (www.americanqueensteamboatcompany.com) American Queen and American Cruise Lines’ Queen of the Mississippi conjur up images of the tales of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, both also offer deluxe accommodations and modern amenities while sailing the Mississippi and other heartland rivers.
History remains a top draw in enticing clients onto American river voyages. Civil War experts and guests speakers will join guests on Queen of the Mississippi for themed “Civil War” cruises on March 8 and April 5, 2014. Guests will tour Vicksburg National Park, plus Civil War expert John Darnell will join guests for a guided tour of the Helena Museum and visit to Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, LA. Passengers will also visit the Civil War exhibit at the Louisiana State Museum in Baton Rouge, LA.
|Grand Caribe // Photo by Blount Small Ship Adventures|
While Blount Small Ship Adventures' (www.blountsmallshipadventures.com) Grand Caribe is not a paddlewheeler, it takes guests deep into the South via one-of-a-kind itineraries. In 2014, Blount's 16-day “Mississippi and Tenn-Tom Waterway” voyages sail roundtrip from New Orleans.
The lower end of the Tenn-Tom delivers dramatic views of limestone cliffs that rise high above the river banks. Port calls include Mobile, AL (for two days); Demopolis, AL; Columbus, MS (for two days); Pickwick, TN; Kuttawa, KY; Memphis, TN (for two days); and then on to Greenville, Vicksburg and Natchez, MS, before a call at Baton Rouge.
For a different American experience, “in the Pacific Northwest, it's all about the natural beauty and wildlife,” Blecker reports. Passengers can experience vistas little changed from the days of Lewis and Clark, with dense forests, abundant birds, animals and river life.”
In addition, “the Pacific Northwest was the foundation of the brew pub revolution, so connoisseurs of hops-based beverages can even base a cruise around the regional brews,” Blecker notes, adding that there is plenty in the region to delight wine lovers as well.
In 2014, American Empress, the former Empress of the North, sails its inaugural season for American Queen Steamboat Company on nine-day voyages in Oregon and Washington. Those voyages sail between Portland and Clarkston with port visits along the way at Astoria, The Dalles, Stevenson and Sacajawea State Park.
Un-Cruise Adventures (www.un-cruise.com) 88-passenger S.S. Legacy also plies Pacific Northwest rivers. In 2014, its guests will view Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area and visit the towering Multnomah Falls; the ship also transits eight locks and guests tour the Bonneville Dam Visitor Center, among many other activities.
|American Queen outside single stateroom // Photo by American Queen Steamboat Company |
Solo Staterooms and Single Rates
On American rivers, solo travelers actually have a choice of more solo staterooms than on some European river vessels. Solo staterooms are available on all American Cruise Lines ships and sailings. More are being added with each new ship built.
For example, approximately 15 percent of accommodations onboard Queen of the Mississippi are designated as solo staterooms; many have balconies and average more than 200 square feet in size.
When American Cruise Lines refurbished the Queen of the West, now operating on the Columbia and Snake rivers, the line also lowered the number of overall staterooms to increase the size of the rooms and it also added more single staterooms.
American Queen Steamboat Company has two ships that operate on American rivers and offer single staterooms. American Queen has four outside singles and eight inside single staterooms. American Empress, which will ply the waters of the Columbia and Snake Rivers next year, has one outside single stateroom.
If no solo cabin is available on a vessel, usually the client wishing to travel solo in a double occupancy cabin must pay either the full second fare or a percentage of that. For example, on American Cruise Lines, one person occupying a double stateroom will be charged 150 percent or 175 percent of the double occupancy rate depending on the type of stateroom chosen.
Blount Small Ship Adventures also offers a “Willing to Share” program that allows guests to pay a per person rate for a double occupancy room. The potential guest is wait-listed for a same-gender traveling companion. If no one else reserves that share cabin, the guest requesting it will be placed alone in the double occupancy cabin – without the need to pay the second fare.
|American Queen dining room // Photo by American Queen Steamboat Company|
A Social Environment
Solo travelers feel very comfortable traveling alone on an American river cruise because they’re often among like-minded guests, say the lines. So whether guests are married or single, they often share same personal interests (history, American culture, music, eco-activities and arts/crafts).
Dining on American river lines is typically open seating in one dining, so solo travelers can dine with whomever they wish and sit with different people on different nights.
American Queen Steamboat says solo cruisers like its ships because there are fewer guests than on most ocean voyages. They also like the social aura and with some cruises longer than a week, people have more time to make friends.
"Single travelers do not travel alone but with their new family of friends," emphasizes Sarah Scoltock of Un-Cruise Adventures. "The camaraderie found onboard our small boats is often the number one comment."
All American Cruise Line travelers enjoy a complimentary cocktail hour before dinner. Guests mingle, socialize and enjoy cocktails and hors d’ouevres. It’s a good way for solo travelers to engage other guests and get acquainted.
Some American Queen Steamboat Company sailings feature gentlemen dance hosts, who will dance with female guests who don’t have a dance partner. Just before the first evening’s dance, the cruiser director will introduce the dance hosts to all singles; notice is placed in the daily River Times.
One of the best perks for travel agents when they book a solo traveler on an American river cruise? Rabinovici, says “guests quickly mingle and become friends onboard, often booking future cruises together.”
|American Queen grand staircase // Photo by American Queen Steamboat Company|