American Queen to debut 'Mighty Mississippi,' Christmas market cruises

American Queen will offer longer sailings of the Mississippi in 2016.

American Queen will offer longer sailings of the Mississippi in 2016.  (American Queen Steamboat Company)

American Queen Steamboat Company, the four-year-old cruise line that offers sailings on the Mississippi, Columbia and Snake rivers, among other waterways, is introducing new itineraries and theme cruises for the 2016 season in its new brochure.

For the first time, American Queen will offer a 23-day, 22-night “Mighty Mississippi” cruise aboard its signature American Queen, a 432-passenger boat designed like the grand paddle wheelers that formerly cruised the river. The boat is now considered the largest river cruise vessel afloat.

American Queen will sail from St. Paul to New Orleans (and on the reverse itinerary) taking in almost the entire length of the Mississippi. The itinerary essentially stitches together three of American Queen’s existing itineraries on the Upper and Lower Mississippi River.

Ports visited will include St. Paul, Red Wing, La Cross, Burlington, Quad Cities, Dubuque, Clinton, Hannibal, St. Louis, Memphis, Greenville, Vicksburg, Natchez, Oak Alley and New Orleans. It will add a two-day land extension to the headwaters of the Mississippi. American Queen also features sailings on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.

Ted Sykes, American Queen’s president and CEO, says the new itinerary was developed after the company began seeing European customers combine the three sailings to get a complete Mississippi cruise experience.

Beyond the new Mississippi itinerary, American Queen also will debut a new Christmas Market cruise, with the first sailing set to depart Dec. 13, 2015 and a second set to take place in December 2016. Christmas Market cruises have been offered in Europe for several years, but this is the first time one that will be featured in the U.S. The Christmas Market cruise also will feature a gala ball for all passengers at the Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, La.

The Christmas Market cruise is yet another in a series of theme cruises, which include sailings focused on  Antebellum South, Gardens of the River, Civil War, Mark Twain, Elvis, Presidents & Politics (timed to this year’s primaries and next year’s presidential election), Music of the 50s and 60s, Bourbon Trail, Autumn Colors, Country Music, Thanksgiving Festival, and New Year's Celebration…

American Queen also is introducing another full season of sailings on the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Oregon and Washington aboard the 223-passenger American Empress, another paddle wheeler that it acquired last year. The boat offers a one-way seven-day cruise from Portland, Ore., to Clarkson, Wash., and an included pre-cruise hotel stay in Spokane. Theme cruises include sailings devoted to Lewis & Clark and local winemaking.

In other news, Sykes says American Queen has reduced its 2016 brochure rates by an average of 14 percent and is also offering group savings as well. This will reduce discounting over the course of next year and has already boosted sales, he says.

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