Insight River Cruise Insight There’s room for growth closer to home By Michelle Baran / March 02, 2016 Share 1 -- As the American Queen last month kicked off the fifth season since its 2012 relaunch by the American Queen Steamboat Co., it would appear that the boat shows no sign of waning in popularity. In fact, demand is growing for Mississippi river cruises aboard the 436-passenger paddle wheeler, according to American Queen CEO John Waggoner. He said that the company has had to make adjustments, such as adding tables to the main dining area, to accommodate more passengers.With higher-occupancy sailings on the American Queen and the company’s Pacific Northwest paddle wheeler, American Empress, and American Cruise Lines launching its fourth U.S. river vessel this year (for a total of two on the Mississippi and two on the Columbia River), and Viking River Cruises still working on plans to launch inventory in the U.S. in the next year or two, it would appear that American river cruising has staying power. When river cruising returned to the U.S. after a span from 2008 to 2012, when the industry had slowed to a halt following the collapse of Majestic America Line, there was both excitement and nervousness. The pent-up demand was bound to fuel buzz and bookings right out of the gate. But after several companies had tried and failed with U.S. river cruising initiatives over the decades, it wasn’t clear what the future would hold for this latest incarnation of rolling down the river.Waggoner said all the companies that didn’t succeed with their U.S. river cruising ventures failed for reasons that had nothing to do with the product itself. When executed properly, he’s convinced that river cruises will remain popular and represent a sustainable business segment that will continue to grow and thrive well into the future. So much so that the American Queen Steamboat Co., despite having its hands full with the ongoing upgrading and maintenance of its two older paddle wheelers (the American Queen was built in 1995 and the American Empress in 2003), is looking into possible expansion opportunities. It won’t be any time soon, but the company is eyeing vessels on the Great Lakes.American Cruise Lines recently announced an expanded offering on the Columbia River due to what the company said was “overwhelming interest” in its Pacific Northwest product. American Cruise Lines, too, has said it has big plans for America’s inland waterways. Starting next year, it plans to start introducing new vessels on different U.S. waterways. All told, the U.S. river cruising market, with its handful of vessels, represents a tiny fraction of its much larger counterpart, the European market, but thus far at least, there are signs that there is still plenty of room for growth and that this version of U.S. river cruising will not follow in the failed footsteps of its predecessors.