Selling North American River Cruises

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

With the demand for river cruising and abundance of products in the marketplace, how does a travel agent decide which cruise is right for their client? According to Susan Shultz, director of sales for American Cruise Lines and Pearl Seas Cruises, it’s all about doing your homework.

American Cruise Lines’ cruises are not for “someone who wants casinos and entertainment,” Shultz says. Travel agents may see the volume of clients with larger cruise lines, she says, but will be spending as much time putting two people on a larger ship as on a smaller cruise. She also notes a trend in clients who have traveled on larger cruise lines are interested in taking a smaller cruise.

As far as how to sell these products, Shultz recommends becoming knowledgable in the types of itineraries American Cruise Lines offers and making sure they find the right fit for their client. “We’re similar [to other river cruises], yet we’re unique,” she says. “I think travel agents need to know which is the right product for their clients.”

American Cruise Lines offers 35 different itineraries in the United States, making it a unique product in the marketplace, standing out for family travel, especially in the summertime. The product is also all-American from start to finish—from where the ships are built to the crew and itineraries offered. “I think for Americans that is really appealing because they are supporting the economy and seeing their own wonderful country,” she says.

And what about the buzz surrounding more exotic cruising in the polar regions or Asia? Shultz says that while some travelers want that type of adventure, “there are a lot of people who don’t; they want to be close to home.”

The cruises aren’t inexpensive, but passengers will receive a quality experience on board and value for what they pay, and agents will see a nice chunk of commission from these bookings. Since the company doesn’t coordinate air or pre- and post-excursions, that’s where travel agents come into play. “I think especially with our product, [travelers] need travel agents,” Shultz says. “We’re not an inexpensive product. What happens a lot of times is that people will seek us out but then go back to the travel agent because our demographics need to have that comfort that somebody says, ‘OK, this is a good product,’ and coordinates the rest of the travel.”

American Cruise Lines also sees a high passenger repeat rate, so Shultz recommends asking clients before or after their trip whether they want to bring along family members or friends. Passengers also do back-to-back trips doing three or four legs of the Mississippi River or staying on and doing the Hudson River, with an itinerary such as the 8-day Hudson River Fall Foliage, where travelers sail by the Catskill Mountains and Taconic and Berkshire Hills along the Hudson taking in the scenery of the Hudson River Valley.

This year, the cruise line is offering new holiday cruises, including the Cajun Christmas voyage on the Lower Mississippi River cruises, departing Dec. 21. On board guests will be served specialty Christmas cookies, join in Christmas carol sing-alongs, and take part in gingerbread house and ornament making events. They will also experience Christmas Eve bonfires on the levee in Louisiana and see a Christmas Concert at the JN Stone House in Natchez, MS.

Meanwhile, launching in June 2014, Pearl Seas Cruises is offering a luxury product in the small ship cruising industry, offering itineraries throughout North America. Shultz says sales are already great because the itineraries touch regions clients are interested in. The itineraries are also designed for a younger clientele because they are going to be more adventurous. “They want the Great Lakes, the Canadian Maritimes, the St. Lawrence Seaway,” she says. “We are small enough to go into those unique ports and not overwhelm them.”

The 210-passenger ship, the Pearl Mist, features only balcony staterooms, ranging from 308- to 425-sq.-ft., as well as six large lounges, a spa and fitness area, and open seating dining. The inaugural sailing will take place June 28, 2014, sailing from Baltimore to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and there will be 17 cruises in total for the 2014 season.

“I’ve really been impressed with New England and Canada. They have just been so helpful for us; they want us to come. I think that is going to come across to our passengers and they’re going to love it,” Shultz says.

One factor that makes these cruises stand apart from others is that itineraries are offered throughout summertime, while a lot of the larger lines sail in the fall. A sample itinerary is the 11-night Atlantic Coast cruise, which stops in Baltimore, MD; Newport, RI; Nantucket and Boston, MA; Portland, Bar Harbor and Eastport, ME; and Shelburne, Lunenburg and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Rates start at $6,165 pp.

For more on American Cruise Lines, call (203) 453-6800 or visit For more on Pearl Seas Cruises, call (800) 983-7462 or visit