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River Cruise Lines May Be the First to Restart

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File image courtesy American Cruise Lines

By The Maritime Executive 05-24-2020 11:34:19

With COVID-19 and a raft of restrictions on large-scale cruise ship operations, the next Caribbean cruise season may seem far off. However, dedicated cruisers can get their fix as early as next month with voyages on America's inland waterways. 

Despite well-publicized coronavirus outbreaks aboard small cruise vessels - the "superspreader" event aboard the Nile River cruise boat MS Asara and the 60 percent infection rate aboard the expedition cruise ship Greg Mortimer - several American river cruise companies plan to restart next month with enhanced precautionary measures. 

The American Queen Steamboat Co. is planning to resume sailings from June 21, well in advance of the July 24 sunset date for the CDC ban on large cruise ship operations.That ban does not cover vessels under 250 passengers, and American Queen plans to operate with ships under that limit, according to Bloomberg. If an American passenger or crewmember should fall ill during a cruise along the Mississippi or Ohio Rivers, they would be within reach of a hospital with the capacity for COVID-19 care - without port state restrictions or the challenges of repatriation.

U.S.-flag operator American Cruise Lines, which also restarts next month, has reported an increase in domestic bookings as American cruisers turn to nearer options. Advance bookings for the 2021 season are more than 25 percent ahead of the same time last year, the firm says. It is bringing in business with a generous cancellation policy, which provides the customer a 100 percent fare voucher for trips canceled up to 24 hours before the sailing. And unlike the rest of the industry, it says that it is still advancing an active newbuilding program to increase the size of its fleet. 

Part of the appeal for river cruising may be in avoiding the challenges of international travel in the COVID-19 era - and the relative convenience of staying close to home. “People want to travel, and they are beginning to plan experiences for later this year and in the year ahead. American’s modern fleet, unique itineraries, and low passenger counts, allow us to offer amazing domestic options, as folks begin to cruise again,” said David Luxeder, Director of Marketing for American Cruise Lines.