American Countess' debut cruise is back on after CDC dispute is resolved

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A rendering of the American Countess, which will operate its debut cruise this weekend.
A rendering of the American Countess, which will operate its debut cruise this weekend.

The CDC has reversed course and will allow American Queen Steamboat Co. (AQSC) to launch its new paddlewheeler, the American Countess, on the Mississippi this weekend, the company said Thursday.

The day before, AQSC had said it was being forced to cancel the ship's Sunday christening and preview cruise from New Orleans because of a permitting dispute over passenger capacity.

The CDC's current Conditional Sailing Order forbids the operation of any cruise ships carrying more than 250 people. The American Countess can hold up to 245 passengers and 110 crew. But AQSC said it had been permitted to launch the vessel with 249 passengers or less.

On Thursday, AQSC said it had resolved the issue and had been cleared to set sail  from New Orleans to Memphis as planned.

"We applaud the CDC's swift review and reconsideration of our authorized passenger capacity for American Countess' christening sailing," the company said in statement.

"The American Countess will join the American Duchess on the Mississippi River as scheduled with her first revenue sailing at reduced guest capacity on March 27," the company added. "We want to thank the CDC for working alongside us to resolve this issue so quickly and efficiently.  

"We look forward to beginning our inaugural season onboard the beautiful American Countess and welcoming back our guests to join us on the water once again."

U.S. river cruise operations are slowly returning to life. AQSC launched its first sailing in more than a year on Monday, with two charter sailings of the American Duchess on the Mississippi between New Orleans and Memphis. The American Duchess holds just 166 passengers and up 70 crew.

Also last weekend, American Cruise Lines launched its first sailings since the pandemic with the departure of one of its coastal cruisers, the 100-passenger Independence on the company's Historic South & Golden Isles itinerary from Amelia Island, Fla., to Charleston, S.C.

American Cruise Lines said it would begin limited river sailings on the lower Mississippi on March 21 aboard its new American Jazz, part of its series of modern riverboats. All of its ships fall below the 250 person limit.

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