French America Line, the newest arrival to the U.S. river cruise scene, has already established that it will set itself apart from the other lines on the Mississippi with its focus on French culture and cuisine.
But there are other aspects of the product that make it stand out in a small crowd.
There are only two other river lines currently operating on the Mississippi, American Queen Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines. French America is slated to begin service next month with the 150-passenger vessel formerly known as the Columbia Queen, which is currently undergoing a $3.5 million refurbishment ahead of its relaunch as the Louisiane.
French American chairman Christopher Kyte said the line would offer more short cruise options than its competitors, such as three to six-day trips, as well as longer ones, which will attract a younger demographic.
“I have read a few recent reviews of other U.S. riverboats that evoke the floating retirement-home saga,” he said. "This is not an ideal lure for new customers of almost any age. So really, by doing not much more than having shorter and more affordable voyages, this will, in fact, lower the average age."
The trips also include what Kyte said is a first for a U.S. river cruise line on the Mississippi: overnight stays, which French America will offer in Memphis; Natchez, Miss.; and St Paul, Minn.
He also said the line would have more embarkation points than other companies, including in Louisville, Ky.; Pittsburgh; St. Paul; and Nashville, and the ability to combine a vintage train ride on the “Louisiane Limited,” to get to the riverboat from Chicago.
Kyte, who also founded Uncommon Journeys, a niche luxury rail and cruise company, knows something about the intersection of trains and boats.
“The same folks interested in seeing the country up close from a riverboat like the idea of seeing it up close from a train,” he said. “If you are curious about geography and history, the very items that make a river cruise appeal will make the right kind of train trip appeal.”
According to some river cruise specialists, what really sets French America apart is where it is going.
“There are several cruise lines traversing the Mississippi River and tributaries. They also have a few of the same amenities,” said Phyllis Dale, vice president and co-owner of Great Escapes Travel. “What will truly sell the Louisiane are the planned itineraries on smaller rivers such as the Upper Ohio River and the Red River. These itineraries are not scheduled by the other cruise lines."