A new way to travel the USA with domestic coastal cruises

Charles B. Robertson talks with Alice Chambers about American Cruise Lines’ upcoming Project Blue fleet, which will debut in 2023

A new way to travel the USA with domestic coastal cruises
Each vessel will have a hybrid catamaran design to enable it to visit smaller ports and harbours

American Cruise Lines (ACL) has specialised in providing small-ship cruises in the USA for more than 30 years. This year, it embarked on a project to develop a fleet of 12 identical hybrid catamaran-style vessels that will offer domestic coastal cruises across the country from 2023.

The boats will offer an intimate guest experience and will be able to access shallow waters, lakes, rivers, bays and coastlines, combining the best of small-ship and luxury river cruising. The first two vessels are already under construction at Chesapeake Shipbuilding’s yard in Maryland and will be named American Eagle and American Glory after the cruise line’s original two small US-built ships.

“It’s really about the smallness of the ships and the local aspect of our cruising,” says Charles B. Robertson, CEO of ACL. “Our goal with the Project Blue fleet is to provide guests with the opportunity to visit small ports and harbours in destinations that offer very enriching experiences.”

By building new ships in line with the expansion of the domestic cruise market in the USA, but keeping each new vessel very small, ACL will be able to create unique itineraries that will take guests to less-visited destinations around the country that are overlooked by, or are inaccessible to, ocean cruise lines. Targeted towards the over-55 market, the itineraries will focus on providing enriching experiences, enabling guests to support local communities and take part in active and educational excursions. 

“The itineraries for the Project Blue fleet are still under development, but when they debut in 2023, the first two boats will operate on similar cruises to those offered by our current fleet,” says Robertson. “To date, we visit 100 ports around the USA and we think there’s more than 500 potential ports for us to visit, so we see a lot of itinerary expansion potential with the Project Blue fleet. For example, we will visit little lesser-known harbours in Maine or the islands in Alaska.” 

The onboard experience will also be carefully curated. “Guests can expect two different types of dining experiences onboard, with a classic seated three-course meal and then a more casual cafe located on the top deck,” says Robertson. “The adventure decks on the stern of each boat will hold both a tender to carry guests to shore and kayaks for excursions.”

Each ship will accommodate 109 guests and feature interiors designed by Studio DADO, which has also carried out similar work on ACL’s existing fleet. “DADO will bring modern sophistication to our design aesthetic,” says Robertson. “The boats will feature a clean design palette to provide a comfortable setting.” 

All 12 ships will be powered by ultra-low-sulfur diesel so that they meet the US Environmental Protection Agency Tier 3 and Tier 4 emission requirements. 

“They will have a shallow enough draught for some of the inland waterways that we want to operate on and will also be stable enough to run coastal routes, particularly in Alaska,” says Robertson. “Balancing those factors was one of our biggest challenges, and the catamaran design was how we accomplished that.” 

ACL has been able to invest in this new project as a result of the increase in domestic cruising.

“Guests have really focuses on staying in the USA or coming over here, due to the impact of the pandemic, and so bookings have really followed with that,” says Robertson. “Our occupancies continue to be strong and last year, we were one of the only cruise lines in the world to have its full fleet operating. We expect this success to continue in the future.”

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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Alice Chambers
By Alice Chambers
12 May 2022

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