During a cruise on the Mississippi River this week aboard the American Countess, Travel Agent spoke with John Waggoner, founder and CEO of American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC), to talk about the newly christened riverboat, possible fleet expansion, COVID-19 vaccines, the river’s resurgence and what’s happening with Victory Cruise Lines, the company’s small vessel brand.
Here are some highlights from that discussion:
The river ports want the lines back: Travel Agent asked Waggoner if the ports are asking for the return of small river boats. Not on the Mississippi, he said, noting that the American Countess and the American Duchess were at sea again.
Waggoner also noted that Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson is on a temporary cruise. Travel Agent also spoke with Gibson, who said there were no river cruises this year: We missed it. We missed it, he said. These cruise ships are so important to our local economy – They depend on that extra [income] every week.
Waggoner also noted that a recent phone conversation with the Ports of Columbia and Snake River indicates that they too want the vessels back: We just got a call. He said all ports are in favor. However, navigation can be resumed only after the state health authorities give permission for resumption of navigation on the river.
To say this has been devastating for small towns is an understatement, Waggoner said. The ports ask us to come back, they look at our records and know we are safe.
He gave an example of how the line keeps people – guests and people on shore – safe, adding that we need to keep people in the bubble. So on the pre-cruise, while all guests were negatively screened before boarding COVID-19, the cruise line opted not to offer a multi-faceted tour, but instead to take guests to Natchez, one of the towers, for a house tour and dinner.
AQSC buses carried guests there, and the only interaction with people on land were a couple of waiters at dinner; owners Ginger Hyland and her husband James, and the bus drivers, who had been tested before. It worked well, according to Waggoner.
Vaccine – Game Changer: From Mr. Waggoner’s point of view, I was on the road three weeks a month, and after spending some time at home, he said that he and his wife Claudette share the opinion of many guests who are eager to get back on the road. I think the vaccine will be a game changer, he added. Message: The American Queen Steamboat Company requires all guests and crew members for travel on or after the first day of the month. July has been vaccinated.
I think people are still more comfortable about getting vaccinated, he noted, adding that we are now the vaccinated population in most places. (The average demographic of the AQSC is 72 plus or minus 10 years old. So the majority of guests are between 62 and 82 years old).
How have loyalists reacted to the recent announcement of vaccination in the past? A travel agent asked Waggoner about the pros and cons. He noted that they are all professionals. According to AQSC officials, many people on the interim trip have already been vaccinated. If the 1. With July just around the corner, Waggoner expects most customers to be vaccinated before they book. You must be able to show proof of vaccination on board.
The Columbia and Snake rivers in Oregon and Washington have slightly younger demographics. He’s 65 now, about 10 years old. However, many states now have vaccines available for people 55 and older (or even younger).
Four AQSC ships, a fleet expansion? When asked if board members can expect further expansion of the QSCA’s fleet of four vessels in the near future, Waggoner replied: All I have to do is put American Queen, American Empress, [and] Victory I, Victory II, Victory Over the Ocean and Ocean Discoverer in order. So before we buy new boats, we need to assemble the ones we have.
Her favorite part of the American table: For Waggoner, it’s the ship’s library. He’s always looking for a place to work aboard, and it’s a nice, quiet place. But I always wonder when other guests come in and don’t know who I am, he said. This often means learning honest information about the cruise. I love it when they talk and comment on the boat, because I’m just an idiot working at the computer, he joked.
He also likes to look outside, at the river and the people on the terrace.
No standard boats: He described the American Countess and compared her to other ships of the line. He said he would call the new ship modern, but he and David William Kelly, the company’s executive vice president, talked a lot about it.
Waggoner told us he personally felt that way about the American Duchess: I thought it was too modern. I think… my term, not the others, was too clear.
So for the American Countess, the management team wants to make a difference. And I think it turned out to be the perfect mix, because when you look at the outside, it looks like a historic paddle boat, but brand new, but when you go inside [and look at the inside], everyone I talk to is just amazed and shocked at how amazing it is, how beautiful it is. I think it’s the perfect mix.
AQSC is not a brand that offers trips on ready-made twin boats. Instead, Waggoner pointed out that all river liners are totally different. The American Queen is actually a grandmother, and she has a real steam engine, and I think 11 different cabin categories.
Instead, he said the American Duchess has a loft apartment and a large master suite. There are really only four categories of staterooms on the American Countess, but the ship, the amenities, and the public areas are beautiful.
It was Cruise Shakedown: Our five-day introductory cruise ended on Friday, while our first seven-day paid cruise departed Sunday from Memphis to New Orleans. The queue has intentionally left a few days for fine tuning.
Every time we do a trial run, we know we’re going to find one or two things, so we give the boat a few days to fix something and then be ready to take new paying passengers aboard, Waggoner said before guests boarded Sunday night.
Mr. Waggoner told us that the restoration of the Mississippi River on American Duchess and American Countess means about 240 additional jobs related to the restoration of the river. This figure does not include onshore office staff who may have been newly hired. The crew was seen giving way to Waggoner and thanking him. Even when the team was not working for the QSCA in the spring and summer of 2020, the line retained and paid for their medical, dental and vision services for as long as the law allowed, in many cases up to seven months.
Alaska – not sure, Mexico – welcome: Just prior to this trip, Waggoner received phone calls from other lines and various offices of the U.S. Congress about the situation in Alaska. While several U.S.-flagged small shipping companies will resume cruises in Alaska this year, his company’s foreign-flagged carriers, Victory Cruise Lines, will not be able to launch in Alaska without a change in policy or an exemption from the law.
In order to sail to Alaska this season, the line must either be exempted from the U.S. law to allow foreign-flagged vessels to sail between U.S. ports without calling at foreign ports, or the ban on Canadian cruise ships must be relaxed to allow technical calls at Canadian ports. Wagoner said the line will be up to 15. April also has to prepare a new Ocean Victory for the Pacific Northwest, so we don’t have much time.
On another level, we are excited about Mexico, he added. One of the things we talked about is that if we don’t get the Victory I and Victory II going on the Great Lakes, we might be able to start on the Mexico routes as early as this spring.
Mr. Waggoner provided a summary of the current state of the cruise industry: Everything is so moving with us. Last week we were back on the air, on the air, on the air for the American Countess. Try it, it works [or] it doesn’t work, then move on, he said, with a positive attitude and grateful that the AQSC is back on the mainland with two boats.
MSC will send its new flagship MSC Virtuosa to the UK in summer 21.
Photo tour : The newly christened American countess
Costa postpones relaunch cruise to 1. May.
Royal Caribbean is offering sailboats from Bermuda this summer to go around the world.
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