In the age of the 4,300-person megaship,
its tough to get noticed for commissioning two cruise ships that
together will carry a total of just 260 people. But American Cruise
Lines announcement in March that it would build a pair of
130-passenger vessels -- along with a 100-passenger vessel
currently under construction -- represents a near doubling of its
current capacity of three ships and 198 passengers.
new-builds, to debut in 2008 and 2009, will not only augment ACLs
roster with tonnage; they also will be foreign-flagged and will
introduce the cruise lines first international
The company plans
to sail the ships in the Canadian Maritimes, the Caribbean and
Central America and is considering future routes to Europe, Alaska,
South America and the Pacific. All this from a line that currently
operates its two U.S.-flagged ships between Maine and
Thats big growth
for a company that not very long ago had a total of 100 beds, said
Larry Dessler, executive director of the Niche Cruise Marketing
Alliance, of which ACL is a member. Small-ship cruising has
international interest and possibilities.
Here, you have a
leader in the industry that is expanding quite aggressively, he
said. This proves their confidence in the market.
Robertson, president and CEO of ACL, based in Guilford, Conn.,
downplayed the significance of the cruise lines
If we were
putting 5,000 berths on those itineraries, it would be huge, [but]
300 berths is not all that significant, Robertson said. What were
trying to do is take it to the next level.
He added that the
rapid expansion did not come from nowhere.
We feel we are on
pretty solid ground, he said. Weve done a fair amount of market
testing and have been pretty good at gaining market share because
our vessels are newer and, in our opinion, better.
ACLs fleet is
among the newest in the industry. Its three current vessels were
built in 2005, 2002 and 2000. Its next
ship, the American Star, is being completed now for a 2007
When the company
entered service in 2000, it did so with a brand-new ship, rather
than acquiring one, a departure from standard small-ship line
are edging it closer to Cruise Wests status as the largest U.S.
West itself is also growing: It announced this year that it will
head to Vietnam for the first time in 2007, and that it is
expanding operations to the U.S. East Coast.
Cruise West has
acquired its ninth and 10th ships, buying two vessels from Clipper
Cruise Line. But thats the kind of expansion Robertson wants to
What we see on
the seascape is a lot of old ships, and our feeling is new ships
are better, he said. We see a strong desire from our passengers to
be on modern ships with more amenities.
new-builds will offer cabins ranging from 240 to 360 square feet,
most with balconies, and will have Internet connectivity and
satellite TV. Public spaces will include a single-seating dining
salon, four lounges, a full-service spa and a theater.
was in part driven by its affiliation, via common ownership, with
Chesapeake Shipbuilding, a shipyard on the Wicomico River in
Shipbuilding, which built all three of ACLs vessels and is building
the American Star now, has completed eight overnight passenger
ships, a large number of the tiny overnight cruise sector of the
U.S. shipbuilding market.
Despite its ties
to Chesapeake Shipbuilding, ACL is in final negotiations with an
undisclosed foreign shipyard to build the next two ships.
Propulsion engines have already been ordered.
ACL has had a
complex history. Launched in 1974 and sold in 1986, the line went
out of business in 1989, only to be reinvented as an entirely new
company under its original ownership in 2000.
matters further, when ACLs new ships come into service in 2008 and
2009, they might not be ACL ships after all. Robertson said the
ships may enter service under an as-yet-unnamed subsidiary, because
they will be foreign-flagged.
ACL also recently
became the 20th and smallest, in terms of berths, member of the
Cruise Lines International Association.
Weve been trying
to increase the participation of agents, Robertson said, adding he
also aims to educate retailers.
education process that needs to happen, he said. People arent aware
of the advantage of small-ship cruising.
commissions with ACL are a lot more than on $699 cruise, Robertson
claimed that once agents start sending clients to the cruise line,
they start to book more and more.
reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].