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American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) and Victory Cruise Lines (VCL) have appointed a new president, Ares M. Michaelides, who joins the lines with years of experience working with major cruise lines, as well as being CEO of a global supplier of goods and services to the maritime industry. His 25 years of experience in the industry will bring innovation to both American Queen and Victory Cruise Lines.

We reached out to Michaelides to find out a little bit about where he comes from, what his goals are, and how you can better work with the cruise lines. Here’s the scoop…

Victory Cruise LinesMichelle Marie Arean (MMA): What brought you to American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines?

Ares M. Michaelides (AM): American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) and Victory Cruise Lines (VCL) are one of the industry’s fastest-growing private companies so naturally it was a great opportunity for me both personally and professionally to leverage my larger-vessel cruise experience into the river-boat and small ship market.

As most in the industry know, once you have cruising in your blood it’s hard to take it out. The industry has been a part of my life for the past 25 years and I look forward to adding value to the company and helping the group take it to the next level.

MMA: What trends do you see in small ship cruising?

AM: As cruising continues to grow in popularity, North American river cruising has emerged as a popular travel destination for multiple reasons, including a renewed interest in exploring the United States. Many of today’s cruisers are prioritizing convenience and safety, and trends in domestic travel allows them to avoid the challenges of longer travel times, language barriers and currency exchanges. U.S. cruisers can discover the wonders of their own backyard from the American South, the Great Lakes and coastal New England all the way to the frontiers of Alaska. All aspects of the vacation—from pre nights to shore excursions to the on board product—are presented with a focus on a high-touch, high-quality guest experience.

Companies like AQSC and VCL, which is operated by AQSC, are a testament to this growing popularity. AQSC will introduce its newest vessel in April 2020, the American Countess, to keep up with the growing demand on the Lower Mississippi River and VCL will introduce the M/V Ocean Victory in 2021 to offer expedition cruising in Alaska.

MMA: Are there new destinations you’d like to include for American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Lines?

AM: In addition to returning Splendor of the Great Lakes and Canadian Crown Jewels itineraries, VCL will soon be announcing new itineraries to a few, warmer destinations that we are all excited about. Those details will be announced soon!

Additionally, beginning its maiden season May 2021, M/V Ocean Victory will feature the new Discover Beyond ™ Alaska Expedition Adventure Cruise itineraries, with a 10-night sailing from Vancouver, B.C. to Sitka, Alaska and an 11-night sailing from Sitka, Alaska to Vancouver, B.C. Equipped with 20 zodiacs and dozens of kayaks, the vessel will provide guests with in-depth explorations of Alaska’s natural, historic and cultural treasures.

American Queen Steamboat sailing through the U.S. (Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company.)

MMA: Under your leadership, what changes do you first plan to implement for American Queen Steamboat Company and for Victory Cruise Lines?

AM: The company has been very successful and at this stage I am in “listen and learn” mode. Going forward, as president, my focus will be on driving longer term strategy and growth for the AQSC fleet (American Queen, American Empress, American Duchess and the highly anticipated American Countess) and the Victory fleet (M/V Victory I and M/V Victory II and the M/V Ocean Victory scheduled to debut in 2021). I look forward to leading each brand’s business strategy to continue to develop and innovate our unique product offering to exceed the expectation of our guests and travel partners.

I’m excited to be a part of the team that will introduce new editions to our fleet. Our newest authentic paddlewheeler, the American Countess, is currently under construction in Louisiana and will debut in April 2020 and the M/V Ocean Victory just celebrated its Keel Laying Ceremony in Haimen, China.

As most in the industry know, once you have cruising in your blood it’s hard to take it out. The industry has been a part of my life for the past 25 years and I look forward to adding value to the company and helping the group take it to the next level.

 Ares M. Michaelides, President of AQSC and Victory Cruise Lines

MMA: Where would you like to see both companies in 5 years?

AM: Having only been on the job for a little over a month, and slowly getting a handle of the operation, it’s difficult to give specifics. Increasing our market awareness, expanding our geographic footprint through expansion, and elevating our brand’s positioning and product deliver are initiatives that come to mind.

MMA: What differentiates American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Line from others in the marketplace, especially in a market with a plethora of cruising options?

AM: I feel that we have a few differentiators. On the U.S. river cruising side, we are a leader in the marketplace with unique authentic paddlewheel vessels. We capture the spirit of Americana with high quality small ship sailings in the U.S. heartland and Pacific Northwest. All river cruise itineraries aboard the company’s three (and soon to be four) iconic paddlewheel riverboats offer a genuine connection to America’s history, geography, music, culture and cuisine. Another differentiator is our level of service across all guest touch points. Each voyage features exquisite multi-course fine dining with specialty and casual options, Broadway-caliber entertainment, award-winning and comprehensive shore excursions in each port of call, and daily enrichment, activities and lectures provided by resident ‘riverlorians.’

For the Victory brand, our itineraries are a differentiator. From immersive, educational shore excursions, to complimentary wine, beer and spirits onboard, VCL redefines upscale small-ship cruising. The newly refurbished 202-passenger sister M/V Victory I and M/V Victory II can easily navigate canals and locks, tranquil bays and hidden ports where larger ships cannot navigate.

Victory Cruise Line sailing in Montreal. (Photo courtesy of Victory Cruise Line.)

MMA: What role do you see travel advisors playing for both brands?

AM: Travel advisors will play a very important part of our growth. AQSC and VCL provide stellar travel agent support, including the Steamboat Academy™ certification program. On-demand training courses are available that provide agents with the knowledge to speak confidently about AQSC and VCL products and destinations.

We will continue to partner with our travel advisors to further educate them on our brands’ promise and help them understand our unique offerings in order to speak confidently about the high quality experiences we offer that can be tailored to our guests.

MMA: Do you have any changes in mind when it comes to working with travel advisors and/or building a relationship with them under your new role?

AM: For travel advisors, there are many opportunities to grow with us as we expand our fleet. There are several incremental commission income opportunities across cruise enhancements and add-ons such as additional hotel nights, city stay packages, an unlimited beverage package and premium shore excursions. Much like the AQSC guest, those aboard VCL tend to be well-travelled so the full array of quality services we offer across the broader vacation experience bodes well for both the guest and our travel partners.

MMA: What advice would you give travel advisors selling American Queen Steamboat Company and Victory Cruise Line?

AM: For AQSC and now VCL, it’s always been about the high service levels, the unique itineraries and ultimately, the overall experience of the journey. Travel advisors should use this messaging to further promote the various products in our portfolio. Additionally, the ability to customize, the shore excursion experience (with features such as private guided tours) and the pre or post package sets our river cruises apart from others.

Additionally, our itineraries are domestic which gives advisors the opportunity to sell the convenience of North American cruising.

MMA: How can travel advisors get better acquainted with these brands to help them sell more cruises?

AM: Travel advisors can get better acquainted with our brands by taking advantage of our Steamboat Academy™ certification program as well as a wealth of sales and marketing collateral support including site inspection requests, customizable promotional flyers an image library and online brochure ordering. We also offer a travel agent portal online that is a great source and reference.

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