Posted by: cruise2 | 4 April, 2016

Boutique River Cruises For America

by Kevin Griffin

(Note: In the interests of full disclosure, it should be noted that the author of this column is also a founding partner and director of the new French America Line)

“Intimate, exclusive and elegant” is what the brochures call it. The“ne plus ultra of American river cruising” is how its founder Christopher Kyte describes it. The newly-established French America Line will introduce its new boutique river cruiser Louisiane to America’s river cruising scene this August.

The 150-passenger Louisiane (Courtesy French America Line)

The 150-passenger Louisiane (Courtesy French America Line)

The 150-berth Louisiane will offer twenty departures between August and December this year, with a choice of fifteen exclusive voyage itineraries on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Red Rivers.

Kyte, the new line’s founder, began his career with San Francisco-based Matson Lines and eventually established his own travel business in 1980, when he founded Uncommon Journeys as a purveyor of upmarket rail and cruise holidays.

Using Cunard Line, Holland America Line, Amtrak and Via Rail Canada, as well as the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, Kyte built what is to-day a well-regarded operation that offers the best of rail and cruise holidays, usually in conjunction with each other.

In 2012, Kyte also helped bring the 360-berth sternwheeler American Queen out of lay up and back into service on the Mississippi, in the process becoming the first president of the American Queen Steamboat Company.

French America Line ceo Ken Grigsby has also worked with Uncommon Journeys, for twenty-five years in his case, and had previous experience in banking and hotels before becoming involved in Uncommon Journey’s first-class rail trips. President Tom Markwell was previously managing partner of Haimark Travel for marketing and sales and previous to that was with Pandaw Cruises North America and Chicago-based Gohagan Travel.

Uncommon Journeys’ president Kevin Tam, also a long time hand, will be general manager of the new river operator. His business is expected to supply about a quarter of French America Line’s passengers.

Outside investors include Sydney-based cruise consortium Cruiseco, who have also taken a 14-night exclusive charter of Louisiane, from New Orleans to Nashville, between October 26 and November 9. Cruiseco has also been appointed exclusive general sales agent for the new line in Australia and New Zealand.

The Azamara Quest (Courtesy Azamara Club Cruises)

Azamara Quest (Courtesy Azamara Club Cruises)

This cruise will tie in with Cruiseco’s exclusive charter of the 684-berth Azamara Quest, which is making a 32-night voyage from Montreal to New Orleans with nineteen ports and nine overnight stays. Azamara Quest will leave Montreal on September 24 and passengers’ luggage will be transferred between their staterooms on Azamara Quest and new accommodations on Louisiane on Wednesday, October 26, as they explore New Orleans.

The 1,599-ton Louisiane was built by Leevac Shipyards in Jennings, Lousiana, in 2000 and completed by Cascade General Shipyards of Portland, Oregon, who are very active to-day with cruise ship refits. The vessel, which has been laid up in Portland since 2008 was acquired by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, who took over the assets of previous operator Majestic America Line, in 2011.

Xanterra is the parent company of Windstar Cruises, who now operate three tall ships plus three yacht-style ships acquired from Seabourn in 2014 and 2015, and have decided to sell Columbia Queen as surplus to its needs. Xanterra had already disposed of the 1926-built Delta Queen on the Mississippi.

Setting Louisiane apart from the other American river ships are a complimentary one-night pre-cruise deluxe hotel stay in the embarkation city, with transfers on sailing day, complimentary custom shore excursions in every port, complimentary house wines, select beers, house-brand spirits, coffees, teas, soft drinks and purified water, free 24-hour room service and complimentary Wi-Fi wherever it is available.

The 150-passenger Louisiane: the Veranda and the Panorama stateroom (Courtesy French America Line)

The 150-passenger Louisiane: the Veranda and the Panorama stateroom (Courtesy French America Line)

Lousiane will also offer the finest cuisine on America’s rivers, with Southern and Continental menus created by award-winning chef Regina Charboneau, who has worked with Kyte in the past. As well as a main dining room that doubles as a supper club, guests will be able to dine in the relaxed atmosphere of The Veranda, Louisiane’s complimentary alternative casual dining venue.

The on board ambiance will be casual but sophisticated, with a distinctive French flair. Guests will also be able to sail waterways not accessible by larger vessels, and as well as an iPad in every stateroom and suite, will benefit from plush spa-quality bathrobes, slippers and a pillow menu.

To see the level at which the Louisiane is pitched, it is only necessary to look at the line’s branding agreements – with Hermès and L’Occitane en Provence for bath amenities, with New Orleans-based Café du Monde for beignets and café au lait, as well as boxed Adorée macaroons from Paris as a welcome aboard gift and Vosges chocolates for turn-down service

Cruises will be divided into Sampler Cruise Tours (4 nights or less), Classic Cruise Tours (5 to 7 nights), Grand Cruise Tours (8 nights or more), and Collector’s Cruise Tours, of varying lengths.

There are fifteen different itineraries on offer, with twenty departure dates in total. This is a snapshot of the available itineraries with Sterling fares:

• Sampler Cruise Tour: Frontier Fete – November 9 – 4 nights from Nashville return. Fares from £1,337 per person twin share.
• Classic Cruise Tour: American Adventure – August 27 and September 4 – 7 nights from Pittsburgh to Louisville. Fares from £2,814 per person.
• Grand Cruise Tour: Southern Spirit – December 30, 2016 – 9 nights from New Orleans to Memphis. Fares from £3,599 per person.
• Collector’s Cruise Tour: Red River Holiday ~ 8 nights from New Orleans return. Fares from £3,138 per person.

The 128-passenger Avalon Tapestry II in Paris (Photo: Avalon Waterways)

The 128-passenger Avalon Tapestry II in Paris (Photo: Avalon Waterways)

This year the total number of North Americans taking European river cruisers is expected to exceed 500,000, representing a seven-fold increase since 2001. Even if Viking River Cruises add up to six proposed new 300-berth US-flag vessels, starting in 2018, and with existing competition from the three boats operated by American Cruise Lines and American Queen, 14 million North Americans took a cruise last year. This should mean enough business for all lines on the Mississippi and its tributaries.

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