American Queen Steamboat Company: The American dream

John Waggoner talks with Rebecca Barnes about passenger safety, new ships and forward bookings

American Queen Steamboat Company: The American dream
Ships from Victory Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company are scheduled to resume service in the first half of 2021

By Rebecca Barnes |

Accustomed to gliding through America’s heartland and providing a unique perspective on the country’s history, culture and landscape, American Queen Steamboat Company has had to deal with the same challenges as the rest of the cruise industry since operations paused in March 2020.   

According to founder and CEO John Waggoner, 2020 certainly brought unprecedented circumstances that American Queen Steamboat Company and its sister company Victory Cruise Lines had to navigate with caution but also optimism. While difficult, it also provided a unique opportunity to review and enhance operations, cruise offerings and the guest experience.  

“To safely and responsibly relaunch our fleet, we have implemented new health and safety protocols and are working with local, state and federal health agencies, as well as Vikand Medical Solutions, to ensure a safe return to cruising,” says Waggoner.  

Some of these measures include Covid-19 testing for guests and crew prior to embarkation; mandatory masks in venues and situations where social distancing is not possible; pre-boarding health screenings for guests and crew; contactless facial recognition and temperature checks at the gangway; reduced capacity; regular cleaning of corridors and public spaces with medical-grade solutions approved by the US Environmental Protection agency (EPA), and twice daily anti-viral electrostatic fogging. 

 In February 2021, American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines became the first North America-based operator to reveal that Covid-19 vaccinations would be mandatory for all guests, shipboard and non-shipboard employees. from 1 July this year. “Vaccination requirement for both our guests and crew is the most prudent next step to ensure that we are providing the safest cruising experience possible,” explains Waggoner. “Our new vaccination requirement, coupled with comprehensive health and safety protocols and risk-free booking policy, will give our loyal guests another added level of assurance to join us as we return to sailing.”  

Waggoner’s laser-focused meticulousness extends ashore, where guests will find a number of reassuring measures have been implemented to mitigate the risk of Covid-19. “We have focused on every detail so we can still offer memorable experiences, without compromising the health and safety of our guests, crew members and the communities we visit,” he says.  

Protocols include masks in all venues and situations where social distancing is not possible; a reduced number of guests on motor coaches, a maximum 52 per cent capacity; all bus seats, windows and handrails sanitised with an EPA-recommended solution daily and every hour when in use; and liquid hand sanitation dispensers at the door for guests. 

Waggoner hopes that all the hard work going on behind the scenes will enable American Queen Steamboat Company to proceed with its planned 2021 schedule. It aims to begin the season with sailings on American Duchess on the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers, while American Queen (which also sails on the aforementioned rivers) and American Empress (which cruises the Columbia and Snake rivers) will both relaunch later this spring. The fleet will also welcome a new ship. Homeporting in New Orleans and featuring a renewed and contemporary design, American Countess, the latest paddlewheeler to join the American Queen Steamboat Company fleet, will debut on the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers in March. 

American Queen Steamboat Company’s complimentary hop-on/hop-off shore excursions, provided through Shore Excursions of America, will be offered at every port to enhance the guest experience. Guests will also be able to enjoy narrated tours on each sailing, with stops in some of the most cherished ports and culturally significant attractions.  

Victory Cruise Lines was expected to resume operations with Victory I and Victory II on the Great Lakes and Eastern seaboard in May and June, while its new expedition vessel, Ocean Victory, was set to debut in July, homeporting in Canada and sailing the Alaskan and Pacific coasts. However, all these plans have been paused due to Transport Canada banning most cruise ships from entering Canada until 2022. “We continue working with government officials, fellow cruise lines as well as travel partners and look forward to returning to cruising when policies allow,” says Waggoner.  

Adjusted booking and cancellation policies now give American Queen Steamboat Company’s and Victory Cruise Lines’ guests greater flexibility, and they are responding well to the changes in this new age of travel. 

“We’re seeing steady bookings for the 2021 and 2022 seasons,” confirms Waggoner. “We believe that our enhanced operations and safety protocols provide guests with peace of mind and reassurance when booking a future cruise. We’ve also opened bookings for 2023.”

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

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