Seatrade Week: American Cruise Line to Rebrand, Redesign Four Paddlewheelers

American Cruise Lines (ACL) is upping its competitive game on the Mississippi River and Pacific Northwest waterways as it plans to rebrand, refit and redesign its four paddlewheel vessels by March 2022. 

Currently operating 13 small ships along U.S. coastal waterways and on U.S. rivers, ACL announced that paddlewheel fleet update during a press conference Tuesday at Seatrade Cruise Global in Miami Beach, FL. Charles B. Robertson, ACL's president and CEO, also spoke with Travel Agent about the rebranding, refit and redesign of those paddlewheel vessels, as well as what's ahead for the river line. 

New Names for Four Ships

ACL is renaming America, Queen of the Mississippi  and Queen of the West as American Splendor, American Heritage and American West, respectively, while American Pride  will retain its original name. That puts those vessel names more cohesively in line with the line’s Modern Riverboat-class vessels that all have names beginning with “American.”

The river line is also turning once again to Miami’s Studio DADO to create a new design look for the paddlewheelers. That firm most recently designed the interior of the new American Melody, the fourth vessel in the line’s Modern Riverboat series; the ship was introduced on the Mississippi River in summer 2021.

ACL’s goal is to take paddlewheel-style cruising to a more sophisticated standard, yet still retain some traditional design elements that reflect steamboat history. Loyal past guest feedback is critical, so as the new design by Studio DADO was introduced on American Melody this year, ACL opened bookings first to the line’s past guests. “We really wanted to get their opinion" on the Studio DADO design, compared with what they'd experienced in the past, says Robertson. Feedback was "extremely favorable, so we viewed this as a very useful evolution of ship design.”

Robertson describes the Studio DADO design on American Melody as "a bit more cosmopolitan, a bit more sophisticated" than the design of the previously launched Modern Riverboat vessels. "On American Melody, the design elements really work well together," he notes. In particular, he loves the staterooms for their "blend of modern design, nautical design, and a bright and smooth color palette that works with the musical theme of the ship.” With past guests feeling much the same, the line is opting to take that same update onto other ships.

"American Melody’s extraordinary reception, particularly by our loyalty program members, has inspired us to bring the same new aesthetic to our entire paddlewheel fleet,” he says.

Rendering of Studio DADO design for the Magnolia Lounge on American Cruise Lines' paddlewheel vessels.
A rendering of Studio DADO's redesign look for the paddlewheel fleet's Magnolia Lounge. (Photo by American Cruise Lines)

Travel advisors and their clients can expect the redesign look for the paddlewheel vessels to focus on modern elegance, yet still to evoke the history and culture of the places the ships will take guests to explore. For example, the Mississippi River paddlewheelers, American Splendor and American Heritage, will celebrate the musical genres of the river from jazz to blues, from country to rock n’ roll, as well as historical literary figures, including Mark Twain.

In contrast, the Columbia and Snake River paddlewheelers, American Pride and American West, will highlight western and native American themes, including the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Studio DADO will redesign American Cruise Lines' paddlewheelers; the main dining room redesign will look something like this.
A rendering of Studio DADO's design look for American Cruise Lines' four paddlewheel vessels.  (Photo by American Cruise Lines)

From the staterooms and suites to the lounges and dining rooms, each paddlewheel ship will be redesigned with new colors, textiles and linens. The four ships will also have new furniture, carpets and regionally inspired artwork.

"The paddlewheels are being brought up to a higher standard, to bring this cosmopolitan feel into them but to harken back to a steamboating era," Robertson emphasizes.

River Cruise Popularity

The redesign comes at a time when global river cruising has soared in popularity with consumers. Yet, this year's pandemic-era travel restrictions or challenges have led many Americans to seek a river cruise closer to home.

What will they find? "The U.S. rivers can compare well to any river cruise experience around the world,” believes Robertson. “The ship, the destination and the experience all have a unique American flavor but they're just as good." 

And while he believes that eventually more Asian and European visitors will be enticed onto U.S. rivers, right now “our focus is on domestic tourism, and that’s true on both the coasts and rivers." 

Certainly, consumers have a wide range of ships to choose from. ACL stresses that the upcoming paddlewheel refurbishments will not change ACL's aggressive new-construction timeline. Two more new Modern Riverboat-class vessels—American Serenade and American Symphony—will join the ACL fleet in 2022.

“We’re very big on the idea of more smaller ships rather than fewer larger ones,” he stresses, not seeing ACL building any ships larger in capacity than around 170 or so passengers.  

Rendering of top deck redesign by Studio DADO for American Cruise Lines' paddlewheel fleet.
A rendering of the top deck redesign for American Cruise Lines' paddlewheel fleet. (Photo by American Cruise Lines)

In addition, don’t look for ACL to expand overseas. “We have a strong interest in staying closer to home,” says Robertson. "We’re just continuing to build on domestic travel, with no passports required, cruising close to home, the drive-to market. We’re one of the few lines that doesn’t require any form of international travel, and that works beautifully.”

What's ahead product-wise? Over the next few months, he says the line will continue to focus on providing a more full-service product: "We’re going to roll out new land packages soon and more pre-and post-cruise packages.”

He also says that advisors can expect ACL’s partnership with Four Seasons to expand into other departure cities.

On the restart on American rivers, he says it's working well—and attributes that to the relationships ACL has with ports and destinations. "These relationships are really stronger" than ever, he says, pointing to Haines, AK, when residents came out to welcome the line back—as it was the town's first cruise call in two years.

Navigating through the pandemic also has required good health and safety protocols. Robertson says ACL didn’t return to any port or destination until the locals were “comfortable.” He believes it's important to do that in a responsible way, and says it's a nice example of how a line can work at the state and local level not simply the federal level.

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