Q&A with American Cruise Lines’ Vice President, Timothy Beebe

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American Cruise Lines' Queen of the Mississippi.
American Cruise Lines’ Queen of the Mississippi.

Last year was a year of growth for American Cruise Lines, as it launched its highly successful newly built paddlewheeler, Queen of the Mississippi, offered its debut season in Alaska and introduced a new itinerary, Puget Sound & San Juan Islands.

But American Cruise Lines, which operates riverboats and small cruise ships in the United States, is not one to rest on its laurels. In fact, the line is expected to add to its fleet in the next couple of years and add even more itineraries, such as the theme cruises it added to this year’s roster, including Gold Rush—Alaska Inside Passage sail date, July 20.

Our editor-in-chief, Paloma Villaverde de Rico, conversed with American Cruise Lines’ Vice President, Timothy Beebe, about what the cruise line offers as a whole, about the re-launch of its loyalty program, The Eagle Society, and the success of the Queen of the Mississippi.

Paloma Villaverde de Rico: Why book American Cruise Lines as opposed to other small ship cruise lines that cover the same areas?

Timothy Beebe: We offer fascinating cruises on the newest riverboats and small ships in the U.S. We provide an elegant and upscale destination-focused and all-American cruise experience with U.S.-based itineraries and U.S.-flagged ships with all-American crews. Personalized service is our hallmark and one that keeps our guests coming back time and time again. Value and a one-of-a-kind cruise experience is what we offer your clients, and profitability is what we offer to you, our valued travel partner. Not to mention, we have been doing this for quite some time. We offer a proven product so booking with us is a smart choice!

PVR: Which is one of the line’s most unique itineraries?

TB: All of our itineraries are unique and bring passengers to off-the-beaten path cruise destinations, but currently, the Mississippi River is our most stand-out itinerary for two reasons: 1) We offer numerous 7-night itineraries on the entire Mississippi River System on a brand-new authentic paddlewheeler. Queen of the Mississippi is the first paddlewheeler to be built specially for the Mississippi River in nearly 20 years. It also has a smaller capacity than its predecessors, carrying 150 passengers for a more intimate and personalized experience. Spaciousness and maximum private space are key distinctions of Queen of the Mississippi. She features the largest staterooms by industry standard, most with private verandahs with floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors. And 2) We’re thrilled to be a part of the resurgence of Mississippi River cruising.

PVR: Why re-introduce the Loyalty Program [The Eagle Society]?

TB: As far as we can tell, American Cruise Lines has the highest repeat customer rate in the industry. We want to reward our repeat guests for their loyalty with benefits that create the most memorable and enjoyable cruise experience possible, and one which gets better with each cruise they take. The re-introduced loyalty program, The Eagle Society, now offers more benefits such as a complimentary cruise after 10 cruises and free shore excursions after three cruises, which many of our repeat guests have already begun to take advantage of. We also re-introduced the loyalty program to provide added incentive for new guests to join us.

PVR: What has the introduction of the Queen of the Mississippi done for the cruise line as a whole?

TB: Queen of the Mississippi has had a wonderful and powerful impact on the company and the cruise industry in general. For American Cruise Lines, Queen of the Mississippi has shed more light on our river cruise itineraries and long established experience in this sector. It has also helped popularize our riverboat product, including that on the Columbia & Snake River in the Pacific Northwest. But mostly it has brought in new cruisers who have been waiting for Mississippi River cruising to return, and these people could not be more happier with what we have to offer them now with Queen of the Mississippi. Lastly, Queen of the Mississippi has helped cast the spotlight on domestic river cruising here in the U.S., increasing awareness of this type of cruising availability for travel agents and consumers alike.

PVR: What has the popularity of river cruising in Europe and Asia done to small ship cruising in the U.S.?

TB: Although very popular overseas, it certainly sheds light on small ship and river cruising in the U.S., while also raising the standards in the value and quality of a cruise experience here. Our target demographic is very similar so we certainly benefit from interest spillover. America is prime cruising ground and we love making people realize this every day.

PVR: Why small ship cruising as opposed to big ship cruising?

TB: First and foremost, the highly personalized service they receive on board due to the small size of our ships. Within a day or so, the crew knows each passenger by name and if they have certain special needs or interests. With no more than 150 passengers, our ships never overwhelm the ports of call we visit and your clients will find themselves traveling with like-minded passengers. Small ship cruising offers a whole new perspective on a particular destination that simply cannot be experienced on a larger ship. It’s amazing what a different experience it can be. We can dock right in the heart of town, so it’s easy on and easy off, and your guests immediately find themselves right where they want to be.

PVR: Who is the ideal client?

TB: Our passengers are typically 55+ in age. They are affluent, well-educated and well-traveled. They are looking to not only relax but to also learn and discover new cultures and places, all in an upscale setting. Most are avid cruisers, having ‘graduated’ from the contemporary mega ship lines, and are looking for a more enriching, personalized and intimate experience. They don’t want to get lost in the masses and enjoy personalized service. They like to travel with like-minded passengers.

PVR: Since the median age of clients is 55+, do you see that shifting?

TB: We have seen an increase in younger and multi-generational bookings. These groups often include grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren. We believe that families find American Cruise Lines appealing because we offer the perfect venue to spend quality time with each other while discovering and learning new places.

PVR: What do you see happening in the next couple of years to the small ship cruising segment? Are clients going to change, or are different itineraries going to pop up?

TB: I believe clients will continue to match our current description, although I foresee more boomers and slightly younger people viewing small ship cruising as a viable option to the larger cruises. Value will become increasingly more important and the diversity of cruising destinations will as well. That said, we’ll continue adding new itineraries to meet the demand of our existing passenger base and to attract new passengers. Our new, small ships are a proven success so we plan to continue building news ones as new itineraries are added. Lastly, I think domestic river cruising will become more mainstream as people realize the benefits of traveling within the U.S.

PVR: Where will American Cruise Lines be in five years? What can clients expect? 

TB: We see more ships in the coming years and more itineraries for certain. Our guests are always asking about the next new cruise we will be offering, so it is a priority to continue to explore new destinations. Clients can expect even more options and the best amenities. Our ships will remain small and intimate and continue to take people to the most beautiful regions America has to offer.

PVR: What do you see as the travel agent’s role when it comes to spreading the word about American Cruise Lines?

TB: We view travel agents as an extension of our sales team and as valued partners. Their role in our sales efforts is immensely important. Travel agents have a deep knowledge and understanding of what their clients enjoy and what type of experience would suit them best. This information is extremely valuable to us as it helps align the right cruise with the right client. It is a priority at American Cruise Lines to continuously educate agents on our products and to provide them with the tools needed to maximize both their knowledge and sales potential. Travel agents are simply the heart and soul of the cruise industry and we can’t thank them enough for the partnership.

For more on American Cruise Lines, visit americancruiselines.com.