Skip to content

In a sign that cruising is coming back, a new cruise vessel is christened in New Orleans

March 21, 2021
8 min read
In a sign that cruising is coming back, a new cruise vessel is christened in New Orleans
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

For the first time in more than a year, a cruise vessel has been christened in North America.

Angie Hack, the daughter of American Queen Steamboat Company founder John Waggoner, on Sunday officially named the riverboat line's newest vessel -- American Countess -- in New Orleans with the smash of a bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon against its hull.

"We have all waited so patiently after a tumultuous year of unknowns, ready more than ever to celebrate the newest darling to the American Queen Steamboat Company," Hack said in advance of the bottle smash during a ceremony across from the vessel at the Mardi Gras World pavilion. "For so many of us, it's like hitting the reset button."

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG's cruise newsletter.

Speaking to an audience of more than 100 invited guests that included company executives, their friends and family, and local dignitaries, Hack noted the christening originally had been scheduled for early 2020. It was postponed for nearly a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced an unprecedented year-long shutdown of cruising in North America.

"As of Wednesday, we were still holding our breaths," Hack quipped, referencing a last-minute glitch in the line's government approvals to sail that was quickly resolved.

Related: How to plan a cruise with points and miles

Angie Hack, daughter of American Queen Steamboat Company founder John Waggoner, celebrates after christening the line's newest vessel, American Countess, with a bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

As the first christening of any cruise vessel in North America since the coronavirus-caused industry shutdown in March 2020, Sunday's event is being seen as a milestone moment in what appears to be a budding comeback of cruising in North America.

It comes just a week after another American Queen Steamboat Company riverboat and a small coastal cruiser operated by American Cruise Lines became the first cruise vessels to restart operations in U.S. waters since the pandemic began.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

With vaccinations for COVID-19 becoming more available and case counts dropping, several other cruise companies that operate in North America also have recently announced definitive plans to restart voyages in the coming months out of ports in The Bahamas and the Caribbean.

For some cruise industry leaders and tourism officials at Sunday's American Countess christening, including American Queen Steamboat's Waggoner, it seemed almost too good to be true that the year-long halt to cruising in North America seemed finally to be coming to an end.

"I can't believe we're actually here," Waggoner said at the start of an address at the event. "I am going to pinch myself here and then start my speech."

American Countess docked along the waterfront of New Orleans on Sunday in advance of its christening. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Brandy Christian, the president and CEO of the Port of New Orleans, suggested the vessel's debut was a turning point for the city's cruise business after a tough year.

"I cannot begin to tell you how excited we are to have this vessel sailing with us today," she said. "It's been a long year, a long road. But this day really marks the return of a vital economic engine to our city as well as our state."

Christian noted that about 90% of people who cruise on ocean and river cruises out of New Orleans come from outside the state, and about 73% of them stay an extra night or two in the city, spending money that helps drive the local economy.

Attendees also heard from the Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, Billy Nungesser, who also suggested that the rebound of cruising out of New Orleans was critical to the city and state's economy. He noted that a record 53.2 million people visited Louisiana in 2019.

"I'm sure that this cruise will help us bounce back to those record-breaking tourism numbers that we saw before the COVID took over this country and the world," he said.

Related: The 10 most exciting new river ships of 2021

Docked along the Mississippi River during Sunday's ceremony, American Countess is designed to travel up and down the river as well as the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. It's American Queen Steamboat's fourth river vessel.

Shortly after Sunday's christening, the newly named riverboat set off with passengers for the first time, heading upriver on the Mississippi on a five-night voyage to Memphis.

Built using the existing hull of a former gaming vessel (the Kanesville Queen), American Countess is designed to offer both the feel of an authentic paddlewheeler and innovative, modern design.

The four-deck-high vessel has forward-facing windows to allow for sightseeing as it rolls along the river. It also has a portside bar with an 80-foot-long wall of windows looking out over the water.

Related: The best credit cards for booking cruises

The Grand Lobby on American Countess. (Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company)

Four options for dining on American Countess include a Grand Dining Room outfitted with custom Italian fabrics and rich walnut accents that also has floor-to-ceiling windows with panoramic views. There's also the small bite-serving Grand Bar & Lobby, the casual River Grill and 24-hour room service.

Other features of American Countess include a theater that will offer performances by an onboard theater group and a house band; a library; a card room; a chart room; and a small gym. The vessel has 123 cabins ranging in size from 170 to 255 square feet -- some with balconies. Like other American Queen Steamboat riverboats, it travels with "riverlorians" who will recount local river lore and history.

The American Countess was initially designed to cruise with up to 245 passengers. But American Queen Steamboat has made temporary modifications to the vessel (and has had it recertified by the U.S. Coast Guard) to sail with just 166 or fewer passengers.

The library on the riverboat American Countess. (Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company)

With the modifications, American Countess will operate with a maximum of just 249 passengers and crew -- below the threshold that would make it subject to the current cruising restrictions imposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Citing the continuing coronavirus outbreak, the CDC has been blocking cruise vessels that operate with more than 250 passengers and crew from sailing in U.S. waters since March of 2020.

American Queen Steamboat is implementing a long list of new health protocols on American Countess that are aimed at reducing the chances that COVID-19 could spread on vessels.

The new measures include testing all passengers for COVID-19 using a PCR test in advance of sailing and pre-board health screenings. There also will be a mask-wearing requirement on board the vessel in situations where social distancing is not possible.

A cabin on the riverboat American Countess. (Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company)

In addition, all the air conditioning systems on the company’s vessels have been refitted with disinfecting ultraviolet lighting systems, and the vessels will sail with a licensed nurse on board. The company has formed new partnerships with entities in every port it visits to ensure that anyone who becomes sick can get quick care.

Attendees of Sunday's christening event for the vessel received a PCR test for COVID-19 in advance of attending.

The first cruise of the American Countess that began on Sunday was a non-revenue sailing with company employees, their families and friends, and local officials. The vessel's first voyage with paying passengers will kick off March 28.

American Countess initially will sail between New Orleans and Memphis but eventually will operate across the entire Mississippi River complex.

Fares for cruises on the American Countess start at $1,999 per person, including shore tours and onboard internet access.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by American Countess docked along the waterfront of New Orleans on March 21, 2021 in advance of its christening. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Top offers from our partners

How we chose these cards

Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
See all best card offers

TPG featured card

Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

2 - 10X points
10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day

Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023