ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Most of the attention surrounding U.S.-flag
operator American Classic Voyages (ACV) has centered on its United
States Line brand, which in 2003 will introduce the first
large-scale, U.S.-flag ships in modern cruising's 30-year history.
But ACV's fleet is expanding in other areas. In fact, the line's
newest vessel, Cape May Light, isn't a megaship but a coastal
vessel, modeled after the "packet" ships of the late 19th and early
Cape May Light also is the first vessel for a new ACV brand,
Delta Queen Coastal Voyages.
The ship was named at an April ceremony here by Elaine Chao,
secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, who lauded the vessel's
debut as an important step in reviving the U.S. commercial
A second coastal ship, Cape Cod Light, will follow later this
The 224-passenger Cape May Light is "a U.S.-built ship that will
sail proudly under the U.S. flag with an American crew," said
"Sustaining and building a strong American maritime industry is
important to our nation's security and economy."
Chao pointed out, commercial ships often play a crucial role in
times of war, serving as troop transport vessels and provisioning
Thus, the U.S. government has a stake, she said, in the
expansion of the ACV fleet, which is today the only major U.S.-flag
The construction of the Cape May Light, along with two
72,000-ton, 1,900-passenger ships ACV is having built, is being
funded in part through U.S. government loan guarantees.
"There were some challenges," said Rod McLeod, ACV's president.
"This is the first vessel of its size for [Jacksonville, Fla.-based
shipbuilder] Atlantic Marine and the first time our development
team has worked with the shipyard."
Indeed, McLeod said he expects to make important changes to the
next ship, Cape Cod Light, adding slightly larger staterooms, among
Still, he said such difficulties are a part of shipbuilding.
"The challenges we and Atlantic Marine have faced are not
limited to U.S. yards. We do have a lot on our plate. Many of us
who are around here today were not here when [Cape May Light] was
Nevertheless, said McLeod, "This ship and Cape Cod Light will be
the prototypes for the next ships."
Cape May Light's completion is a significant step in ACV's
evolution. Based in New Orleans, the company operated in the shadow
of the leading Florida-based fleets and their feature-rich
megaships. For nearly 20 years, ACV operated two transatlantic-era
ships in Hawaii and three replica steamboats on U.S. rivers.
ACV will join the circle of big-ship operators in 2003 with the
first of its two megaships, under construction at Mississippi's
The company recently relocated its headquarters to Sun- rise,
Fla., forging an agreement to lease a new facility.
Meanwhile, Delta Queen Coastal Voyages will accelerate the
diversification of ACV's core audience.
Cape May Light will expand ACV's areas of operation, sailing
along the U.S. East Coast; the Great Lakes; the Canadian Maritime
Provinces, and the coastlines of Belize, Costa Rica, Honduras,
Mexico and Panama.
Still, Delta Queen Coastal Voyages is a niche cruise line whose
vessels have little in common with contemporary megaships.
"Not all travel agents are going to sell this product or are
prepared to sell this," said McLeod. "But there are some
cruise-savvy agents that do have that ability."
In its inaugural season, Cape May Light will offer seven-day
cruises between Norfolk, Va., and Philadelphia; Philadelphia and
Providence, R.I.; Providence and Portland, Maine, and Portland and
Halifax, Nova Scotia.
The vessel also will offer 14-day sailings between Halifax and
Buffalo, N.Y., as well as seven-day itineraries between Quebec City
and Buffalo; seven-day, roundtrip cruises departing from Providence
and Charleston, S.C., and 14-day cruises between Charleston and
In the winter, the ship will journey to the warmer waters of
Central America and Mexico.
McLeod said Delta Queen Coastal Voyages are attractive to
well-traveled vacationers -including frequent cruisers -- in search
of destination-oriented travel experiences.
"We are at one end of a funneling process that starts with 7
million passengers," he said.
"Eighty percent of Delta Queen passengers have cruised aboard
the major lines. Most of cruising today is ship-oriented; we are
destination-oriented," McLeod said. "This vessel is a way to go
from one interesting place to another."
Cape May's itineraries will include a selection of shore
excursions (included in the cruise tariff) that will highlight
contemporary and historical culture in the destinations
The ship also will offer specially created, optional shore
excursions at select ports.
A series of eight-day Philadelphia-Providence cruises in June,
August and October feature port calls in New York (two-day call);
New London, Conn.; Nantucket, Fall River and Martha's Vineyard,
Mass., and Newport, R.I.
Passengers, for example, will be able to visit the Greek Revival
mansions on Whale Oil Row in New London, featured in Melville's
"Moby Dick"; climb to the top of Nantucket's First Congregational
Church for a 360-degree view of the island, and stroll down
Newport's fashionable Bellevue Avenue.