While cruising in Europe over the past few years has seen a huge increase in demand spurring a ship-building frenzy, new companies and tour operators jumping on board, adding new destinations and itineraries to appeal to new and past river cruisers, river cruising along the mighty rivers of the US has always been an option yet it has been a slow and lazy ride.

But times, they are a changing!  Interest in US river and inland waterway cruising is picking up speed and the work is in full swing to meet the demand with new ships and itineraries. That is great news for the US and local economies of the towns along the riverbanks and waterways that have struggled to survive and not accessible to large cruise ships.

The biggest news in river cruising along the Mississippi will see a great boost in traffic with the announcement last month by European river cruise company, Viking River Cruises, that they will build six ships to cruise the Mississippi and homeport their US river cruise operations in New Orleans. Viking River Cruises currently operates two US offices in California and Massachusetts to handle its US demand for its European river cruise product. Viking River Cruises expects to have its first two new rivercruise vessels ready to cruise the Mississippi in 2017.

American Queen Riverboat

American Queen Steamboat Company, which operates the 436-passenger American Queen paddle wheeler along the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers, will begin sailing the Columbia and Snake rivers on the new American Empress out of Portland, Oregon on April 4, 2015. I had the pleasure of cruising on the elegant American Queen along the Ohio River on a themed Bourbon & Bluegrass cruise in September. While offering modern-day convenience, the American Queen décor and ambiance is authentic antique Victorian-era charm adding to the experience of cruising along the rivers as they did when the rivers were the highways connecting our great American cities.

American Cruise Lines, based out of Guilford, CT, which currently has a variety of ships cruising the US rivers and inland and coastal waterways, is home porting its second paddle wheeler, the American Eagle, alongside the Queen of the Mississippi in New Orleans, with its maiden voyage on April 11. The American Eagle is the third paddle wheeler in the fleet, with the Queen of the West cruising the Columbia and Snake rivers. American Cruise Lines’ also offers itineraries on a fleet of small ship vessels cruising the inland waterways of the Northeast, Southeast, Pacific Northwest and Alaska with a number of themed cruises highlighting the destinations visited.

In June of 2014 American Cruise Lines launched its sister company, Pearl Sea Cruises with the inauguration of the Pearl Mist. The Pearl Mist offers a “Luxury Adventure” small-ship cruise experience. The 210-passenger ship offers all-balcony, oversized staterooms with luxurious amenities not found on most small ships. After a successful inaugural season, the Pearl Mist will begin its 2015 US cruising season with an 11-night Canadian Maritimes cruise on May 23, 2015 from Boston to Quebec City. After the spring, summer and fall season cruising Canada, New England, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes, the Pearl Mist will make its way south to the Caribbean on its October 24, 14-night American Origins cruise from Boston, MA to Freeport, Bahamas with stops along the Atlantic coast that includes Williamsburg, Charleston, Savannah and West Palm Beach. The winter season will include itineraries out of San Juan, Puerto Rico to the Virgin Islands, St. Martin and the West Indies and Panama Canal cruises returning to the US on May 16, 2016.

Rhode Island-based Blount Small Ship Adventures, which operates two unique vessels, the Grande Mariner and Grande Caribe, were designed and built by its founder, Luther Blount, to traverse the US waterways not accessible by other vessels due to shallow waters and low bridges. The vessels’ shallow draft and patented retractable pilothouse and bow ramp allow the ships to sail itineraries through the Erie Canal, Great Lakes and right on to the beaches of the Caribbean and Central America. In July, 2015, Blount will sail its first of four departures on its new 10-day Two Nation Vacation itinerary on the Grande Caribe visiting the best of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine.

Un-Cruise Adventures out of Seattle, Washington, was formerly known as American Safari Cruises and InnerSea Discoveries, operates a fleet of nine very unique vessels, from small adventure ships and luxurious yachts accommodating 22 to 88 guests in the Pacific Northwest, Columbia and Snake rivers, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, Central America and the Galapagos islands.

Un-Cruise Adventures will add a series of themed cruises in 2015. The 88-guest   SS Legacy, a replica of an early coastal steamer, cruises the Columbia, Snake and Willamette rivers on 7-night round-trip itineraries out of Portland, Oregon, Legacy of Discovery will add three Ameritage: Four Rivers of Wine and Discovery departures in August. On the August 8 cruise a 1940’s style music-themed cruise featuring a singing duo “Letters from Home” and a series of Enhanced Lewis & Clark departures featuring an expert on the history of the Lewis & Clark expedition.

Two craft beer cruises on April 25 and October 3 and a birding/ornithology cruise on May 2 on the 22-guest Safari Quest will cruise the Coastal Washington/British Columbia itinerary. The 84-passenger Safari Endeavour will host a photography cruise on July 5 and two marine biology cruises on July 26 and August 2 in Alaska. The 84-guest Safari Endeavour will also host a birding/ornithology cruise on its Mexico’s Sea of Cortes itinerary on November 14.

With all the buzz surrounding river cruising in Europe, as well as new destinations in Southeast Asia and India, let us not forget our beautiful rivers and waterways here in the US that are filled with amazing natural landscapes, historical cities and small towns, nature and adventure.

Taking a small ship or river cruise in the US is not only a great way to see and explore the US, it is a great way to get a taste of river and small ship cruising close to home before venturing off to more far-off and exotic destinations.

Bon Voyage!

An experienced travel professional and having traveled to many destinations around the world by land and by sea, Theresa’s love for river cruising began after her first river cruise on the Seine River. After several years as a travel agency owner and consultant and having had the opportunity to work as reservations agent for a major river-cruise line, Enchanted Waterways was founded to focus on the growing global river cruise market to provide expert knowledge and experience to guide her clients to the perfect river cruise based on individual needs, preferences, budgets and expectations.