American Queen launching another Mississippi ship next year

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The American Queen Steamboat Co. will add a third vessel to its river fleet in 2017. The 340-foot American Duchess is slated to launch on the Mississippi River next June.

“We’re running full these days,” said American Queen President and COO Ted Sykes. “We’ve been scouring the country for more capacity.”

The company’s flagship vessel, the American Queen, is entering its sixth season cruising the Mississippi. The line expanded in 2014, adding the American Empress in the Pacific Northwest. Now in 2017, American Queen will grow again, converting a former gaming vessel purchased from parent company HMS Global Maritime in August into the all-suite Duchess. The river cruise line plans to gut the ship, rebuilding the interior hotel and adding a working paddlewheel.

The four-deck Duchess will carry 166 passengers in 83 suites, including three 550-square-foot owner’s suites and four 550-square-foot loft suites. Other cabin categories will include deluxe suites (450 square feet), outside veranda suites (240 to 330 square feet) and interior staterooms (180 to 200 square feet).

Compared with the American Queen, Sykes said the new ship will offer a more elevated experience.

Two onboard dining venues will be included in the cruise fare, along with beer and wine at dinner, onboard entertainment and shore excursions. The Grand Dining Room will have open seating and be capable of accommodating the entire ship’s capacity.

American Queen plans to operate the American Duchess year-round on the upper and lower Mississippi. Its voyages will include weeklong roundtrip sailings out Nashville and nine-day voyages between Memphis and New Orleans, and St. Louis and Ottawa, Ill. (about 83 miles from Chicago). The Duchess will also overnight in Nashville, a first for the company.

Prices for most sailings start at $2,999 and top out at $9,499 for one of the three owner’s suites. The Duchess will begin accepting bookings for the 2017 season on Oct. 1.

MSC offers free Caribbean cruise with purchase of Med sailing

By Tom Stieghorst
MSC Divina 410MSC Cruises said it will give a free, transferable cruise on select 2014 sailings of MSC Divina in the Caribbean for anyone who books the ship for a Mediterranean cruise next summer before Oct. 31.

A $500 deposit on the Mediterranean cruise is required to take advantage of the offer.

Divina began sailing in North America about a year ago on seven-day Caribbean itineraries out of Miami. It will return next summer to Mediterranean itineraries from May 16 through Sept. 19.

MSC is promoting a $1,899 package that includes roundtrip airfare to Rome or Barcelona, a seven-day cruise, a two-night post-cruise stay in a four-star hotel and all transfers needed.

Travel gateways are New York, Chicago and Miami. Government taxes and fees are extra.

Carnival unveils big-name musical acts for concert series

By Arnie Weissmann

Carnival Live, Jennifer Hudson“American Idol” and “Dreamgirls” star Jennifer Hudson joined Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Gerry Cahill on stage to make the point that Carnival is serious about bringing big-name artists to the stages of its ships.

In April, Carnival will launch an experience branded “Carnival LIVE” featuring live performances by artists including Hudson, Chicago, Styx, .38 Special, Foreigner, Gavin DeGraw, Jewel, Kansas, LeAnn Rimes, Olivia Newton-John, REO Speedwagon, Lady Antebellum, Daughtry, Martina McBride and Trace Adkins.

The artists will join ships at homeports in Cozumel, Nassau and Catalina Island, playing the last night of one cruise and the first night of the next. The performers will be in the main show lounge, and will not be sailing.

The shows will not be included in the fare; tickets will cost $20 to $40, and can be purchased in advance through the line’s web-based shore excursion system, or onboard at the shore excursion desk, if available.

VIP tickets, selling for $100 to $150 each, will include a meet-and-greet with photo opportunities, a laminated concert pass and seating in the first three rows.