American Cruise Lines plans major expansion with small, catamaran-style vessels

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A rendering of American Cruise Line's new, catamaran-style ship. The vessels are being designed with features often found on river and expedition ships.
A rendering of American Cruise Line's new, catamaran-style ship. The vessels are being designed with features often found on river and expedition ships. Photo Credit: American Cruise Line

American Cruise Lines is planning to build a 12-ship fleet of catamaran-style vessels, with the first to debut in summer 2023.

The 109-passenger ships will have a hybrid river-expedition design, with the upscale features found on American Cruise Lines' riverboats, plus a swim platform with kayaks and a tender for exploration via Zodiac craft. Their catamaran-style twin hulls will give the vessels the ability to enter shallow waterways.

The line will launch the second ship in the class in fall 2023, and it plans to build 10 more over the next several years. As with all of its vessels, they will be constructed in the U.S. at the Chesapeake Shipbuilding yard and will only cruise in U.S. waters.

CEO Charles Robertson said the design of the ships makes it possible for them to visit far more ports than its other vessels. The first will launch on the East Coast.

Robertson said that in launching the ships, American Cruise Lines is "going back to our roots with a smaller boat, and we're bringing the modern design and technology that we've learned over the past decades with us as we go there."

Benefits of a 'unique' catamaran style

"There's a lot of new itinerary potential," Robertson said. "We go to about 100 ports in total now, and this boat can go to hundreds more. It can get into some really cool nooks and crannies in Maine and get further south down the waterway in Florida and do more in the Chesapeake Bay. It can hit these gems of towns that have really never been on cruise itineraries before.

The catamaran style emerged from wanting to build something small enough to get into small, New England harbors with a draft shallow enough for the Intracoastal Waterway on the East Coast yet stable enough to run coastwise routes in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

"That was how we ended up on this pretty unique, catamaran style design," he said. "It was the only way to check those three boxes of small, stable and shallow."

American Cruise Lines to debut small, catamaran-style vessels

What will be onboard?

Eighty-five percent of the cabins will have private balconies. The ship will have various lounges and ample outdoor seating areas.

Robertson said it will "feel like a river boat in some ways, with the modern design and the spaciousness of our new river boats. But it'll have a lot of adventure capability, and being really stable and shallow it can go to an island off the coast of Maine very comfortably. We can anchor in shallow water and launch kayaks off the stern. And so that starts to feel like an expedition." 

The line said there is currently no comparable product to this and that it is creating a new domestic cruise market with the product.

"It brings the best of staying close to home and staying domestic, but it adds this kind of adventure element into it," Robertson said. He added that the itineraries will not be all-day expeditions. "We want to keep the products that our guests have really come to love, and so you might spend a morning kayaking off the swim platform and doing these kind of interesting expedition-style things, but by lunchtime we'll go over to Vineyard Haven on Martha's Vineyard and spend the afternoon in port and touring."

Robertson said that demand for small-ship domestic cruising has been so strong, American Cruise Lines felt such a project was validated.

"We had a very successful year with strong occupancies and saw that people want smaller ships and want to stay domestic," he said. "So where it was originally just going to be a one ship or two ships, it really became clear from both a market perspective and the operating capability, there is a major opportunity for this type of ship."

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