Is the cruise boom back? This small line just announced plans for 12 new ships

Jan 18, 2022

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Looking for a sign the cruise downturn of the past two years is really over? This might be it: One small cruise line just announced plans to add 12 new ships.

On Monday, Connecticut-based American Cruise Lines, which specializes in small-ship voyages on U.S. waterways, said it would add 12 identical sister vessels over the next few years. The addition would nearly double the size of its fleet.

Designed to hold 109 passengers and 50 crew, the new ships will be built with a “go-anywhere” hybrid catamaran, shallow-draft design. That model will allow for what the company is calling unprecedented near-shore operating versatility and stability for operations on a wide swath of America’s lakes, rivers, bays and coastlines.

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The company has dubbed the expansion Project Blue.

“Project Blue started as a design challenge to create a boat small enough for New England harbors and stable enough for the Alaska Inside Passage, with a draft shallow enough for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway,” Charles Robertson, American Cruise Lines president and CEO, said in a statement accompanying the announcement. “These boats can run almost anywhere, and because there will be 12 of them, they will be deployed all over the United States.”

Related: Everything you need to know about picking a cruise line

The announcement of such a massive expansion at American Cruise Lines amounts to a bold bet that the troubles facing the cruise industry since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 will soon be behind it and interest in cruising will resume its multiyear march higher.

The new American Cruise Lines vessels will have outdoor lounge areas at their backs as well as an adventure platform with kayaks. (Image courtesy of American Cruise Lines)

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of people cruising each year in the U.S. and across the world had been in the middle of a long expansion, prompting cruise lines of all sizes to regularly expand with new ship orders. Those orders came to a rapid halt after the pandemic began. Many lines not only stopped new ship orders but permanently retired significant parts of their fleets.

In its announcement, American Cruise Lines said the 12 new vessels would operate exclusively in the United States, with itineraries that focused on small towns and close-to-home adventures.

The line added that the design of the vessels would allow for a combination of “the adventure of an expedition with the luxury of the finest river cruises.”

An artist’s drawing of a standard cabin on American Cruise Lines’ new Project Blue vessels. (Image courtesy of American Cruise Lines)

Like adventure-focused “expedition ships,” the vessels will have activity decks at their backs with water sports equipment for passenger use, such as kayaks.

The vessels also will have observation and sitting areas at their bows, both inside and out, and an expansive forward lounge with 270 degree views. Other public spaces will include two dining venues, with all of the interiors featuring modern decor created by Miami design firm Studio DADO.

The ships will have 56 cabins, including standard-size rooms, suites and solo cabins. Nearly all of the cabins will feature balconies.

Related: American Cruise Lines renovating its paddlewheelers

All 12 of the vessels will be built at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland — a sister company to American Cruise Lines. Because the vessels will be built and flagged in the U.S., they can legally sail itineraries completely within U.S. waters, unlike foreign-flagged ships.

An artist’s drawing of the forward lounge planned for new American Cruise Lines vessels. (Image courtesy of American Cruise Lines)

The line said the first two vessels in the series, American Eagle and American Glory, already are under construction and should be completed in 2023. The names may sound familiar to cruising aficionados because the line has used them before for previous vessels. The ships will debut along the East Coast.

American Cruise Lines currently has 15 vessels. Its fleet includes four traditional paddlewheel riverboats and six modern riverboats that operate on U.S. rivers. It has five small ships that operate a mix of trips on U.S. rivers, lakes, bays and coastal areas.

The line has added eight new vessels in the last five years.

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Featured image courtesy of American Cruise Lines.

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