American Cruise Lines Orders Three Newbuilds as Domestic Cruising Grows

American Cruise Lines
Chesapeake Shipbuilding with one of ACL's ship under construction and a tug. The yard also builds inland vessels. (Chesapeake Shipbuilding)

Published Jun 13, 2024 6:42 PM by The Maritime Executive


The domestic inland and coastal cruising market is following the same trends as the overall cruise business showing strong growth. American Cruise Lines, which is the largest small ship and river cruise operator in the U.S. is working to further expand its market share and grow domestic cruising reporting it will build three more cruise ships and bring its total to seven new ships due to enter service by 2026.

“The domestic cruise industry is the healthiest it has ever been,” said Charles B. Robertson, President & CEO of American Cruise Lines. “Demand for modern river products, new small ships, and unique exploration in the U.S.A. continues to grow. That demand is powered by destinations brimming with history and ships that provide the best onboard experience in the world.”

Started by his late father Charles A. Robertson, the company traces its roots to 1972. They highlight that it is an all-American operation sailing to destinations primarily along the U.S. East Coast, Florida, the Mississippi River area, and the Pacific Northwest. The company has grown and recently introduced the design standards of ocean cruise ships to its small ship fleet. In 2024, ACL is operating 19 ships, which accommodate between 90 and 180 passengers, and cruise more than 50 U.S. itineraries.

The seven ship orderbook will include six smaller vessels in the company’s Project Blue series. The class launched in 2023 with two 100-passenger “Coastal Cats,” American Eagle and American Glory, and will be followed in 2024 by the American Liberty and American Legend. The design features a unique catamaran bow and was developed for access to smaller destinations along the coast. 

ACL announced in April 2024 a new variation of slightly larger vessels as the fifth and six in the Project Blue series which will have accommodations for 125 passengers. To be named American Patriot and American Pioneer, the ships are due in 2025 and will have a traditional bow instead of the semi-catamaran of the other ships in the class.

The company reports it will also build another of its larger American Riverboat class of vessels. It will be similar to its award-winning sisterships but will feature several new design elements for river cruising. Details for three of the seven new ships they will build are yet to be announced. All seven new ships will be built by Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland, which was founded by Charles A. Robertson in 1980. 

The additional orders come after ACL acquired four river cruise boats from the bankrupt Hornblower subsidiary American Queen Voyages. Subsequently, American Cruise Lines sold two of the paddlewheeler riverboats, American Duchess and American Countess, which had been converted into cruise ships from gambling barges, for scrap. The American Queen, which was the largest river paddlewheeler ever built with accommodations for 436 passengers, is reported to need costly technical work. American Cruise Line said it would explore donating the vessel although recent reports infer it has also been moved to a recycling yard. Future opportunities for the American Empress were reportedly still being explored.

American Cruise Lines plans to operate 21 small ships in 2025, and 24 ships in 2026. All the ships will be exclusively sailing U.S. itineraries along U.S. rivers and coasts.