Domestic river cruise lines plan June return

While European river cruise operators remain largely in
wait-and-see mode about when the Covid-19 pandemic will ease enough to open
their season to international travelers, domestic cruise lines are preparing to
resume sailing in June.

American Queen Steamboat Company CEO
John Waggoner says he is hoping to launch the American Empress in the Pacific
Northwest on June 21, followed by the American Duchess on the Mississippi on
June 22. The company also plans to open its Great Lakes season with the Victory
1 on July 5.

It’s a scaled opening, Waggoner said, that enables it to
launch one ship in each of its current markets while meeting the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention’s rule prohibiting ships with more than 250 people from
sailing from U.S. ports before the end of July.

“The American Duchess is really an easy one for us,” he
said. “It only carries 166 passengers and 70 crew,” he said.  The Empress, he said, carries 220 passengers,
so it will initially sail under capacity.

The company’s flagship, the American Queen, is too large to
launch initially, he said, with a passenger capacity of 420. The company is
also assessing when it might be able to christen and launch its new river ship,
the American Countess, which can hold 250 passengers and was initially
scheduled to sail in April.

“Like our president said, I think this is more like a dimmer
light switch, not like a regular light switch. You don’t just flip it on. You
turn it on slow.”

Likewise, American Cruise Lines CEO Charles B. Robertson
says his company is building out an operational plan to resume at least some
sailings in June. ACL’s sailings are currently suspended through June 14.

Robertson did not elaborate on how many of the company’s 12
river and coastal ships might launch initially.

Waggoner said American Queen Steamboat Company had “written
up a whole manual that we submitted to the FDA that follows CDC requirements.”

The new procedures include preboarding screenings and
temperature checks, ionizer systems to purify cabins on a daily basis, thermal
imaging that can scan and log the temperatures of guests every time they swipe
their cards to get on and off the boat, 
elevated housekeeping protocols, limiting the number of guests dining or
watching shows at one time and a lot more hand-washing stations around the

Robertson said American Cruise Lines is developing a similar

“It’s going to include everything from dropping occupancy to
sanitation protocols to providing secondary venues to further reduce capacity
in the dining rooms and how to do much smaller group tours,” he said. 

European river operators are also expecting a scaled start
to their season under a host of operational changes.

Most have suspended operations until at least July 1. Both
Avalon and AmaWaterways said they are currently assessing their July plans.

“At the end of next week, we will decide if we keep our
starting date of July 1 or move the start of the season to August,” said Rudi
Schreiner, president and co-founder of AmaWaterays.  “European river cruise operators are hoping
to start as early as late June but the question will be if North Americans will
be able to travel to Europe, and 95% of our guests are from the USA or Canada. We
also don’t have too many bookings left for July cruises who haven’t yet moved
to a future cruise date.”

Correction: This report corrected the expected relaunch dates of American Queen Steamboat Company ships.

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