Ship lay-up costs prompted American Queen to exit Great Lakes

American Queen Voyages will call it quits in the Great Lakes after the 2023 season and refocus on its river cruises.

The line will sell its two coastal ships, the Ocean Navigator and the Ocean Voyager, although it will continue to sail the expedition ship Ocean Victory in Alaska.

Cindy D’Aoust, president of American Queen Voyages, said the line decided to leave the Great Lakes because it was too costly to lay up the Navigator and Voyager in the offseason.

“Even though the Great Lakes have been received well — the net promoter scores and the guest satisfaction is very high — ultimately the cost to lay the vessels up for only a six-month sailing period really outweighed the benefits of sailing for a very short seasonal routine,” she said. 

D’Aoust, who was named president of the company nearly nine months ago, said the decision came down to both the cost and the desire to concentrate on its river product.

Unlike other ships in the Great Lakes, like Viking’s expedition vessels that also sail in Antarctica and several Ponant ships that sail global itineraries, D’Aoust said the Navigator and Voyager were not designed to sail in other climates.

The line tried operating one of the ships in Mexico to test out a possible offseason option but found the guest satisfaction wasn’t strong enough, with the ships each lacking a pool and outdoor dining.

The pivot follows a six-month listening tour D’Aoust took after becoming president and included sailing on the ships and combing through feedback from guests and travel partners.

The ships don’t have a buyer yet, D’Aoust said.

The 202-passenger sister ships have had multiple owners since they were built in 2001. Both were constructed to sail coastal voyages for American Classic Voyages. The ships changed hands after American Classic Voyages shut down. American Queen Steamboat Co. bought the ships from Victory Cruise Lines in 2019 and renamed them before the company was rebranded as American Queen Voyages Lakes and Oceans in 2021. 

Karyn Todd, senior vice president at, said American Queen’s decision to end its Great Lakes sailings comes as small cruise lines face challenges coming out of the pandemic. In American Queen’s case, not only does the cost of laying up the ship pose an issue, but coastal and river cruises are niche products with a smaller customer base, she said.

Meanwhile, the cruise line was recently rebranded, and well-known Viking began sailing in the Great Lakes region in 2022, with a second ship there this year.

“I think for the smaller cruise lines, like American Queen, this is a very tough year to come into the market if you don’t already have deep branding,” she said, pointing to the cruise line’s new name.

Alex Sharpe, CEO of Signature Travel Network, agreed. “Advisors will find the right product for their customer, but brand can’t be a moving target. Hopefully, this will help them home in on theirs,” he said.

D’Aoust characterized the pivot as an evolution. She said she wanted to focus the brand more closely on its river operations, which include building out “experiential” cruises such as a salmon festival sailing in the Pacific Northwest that incorporates fishing excursions and guests helping to prepare fresh-caught salmon onboard.

But she hinted that American Queen might revisit exploring the coasts in the future. 

“Coastal cruising is an incredibly popular offering and something that we hope to explore again in the future with the right vessel,” she said.

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