A new Mississippi River cruise boat will start calling on Baton Rouge and New Orleans beginning in October.
The American Song, a 184-passenger vessel will begin sailing on Oct. 6, with a trip from New Orleans to Memphis, Tennessee. The ship will call on Baton Rouge, St. Francisville and Oak Alley.
The vessel will sail up and down the Mississippi through the end of the year, before it is shifted out West to cruise the Columbia and Snake rivers in spring 2019.
A second ship in that series of riverboats, the 187-passenger American Harmony, will replace its sister boat sailing out of New Orleans on May 12. The boat will make its first stop in Baton Rouge in June 2019.
American Cruise Lines said the American Song is the flagship in a new series of modern, American-made riverboats. The ship will feature amenities such as 900-square-foot suites with private balconies.
“We’re very excited about this,” said Davis Rhorer, executive director of the Downtown Development District, who announced the new cruises during the DDD Commission meeting Tuesday. “It shows the strength of the market here.”
American Cruise Lines has been calling on New Orleans and Baton Rouge for several years. The 185-passenger America, a paddlewheel boat, is making weekly stops through the end of June. The 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi will return in October.
While the cruise lines don’t share details about the economic impact their passengers have on Baton Rouge, Philipa Blair, Visit Baton Rouge’s director of destination services, said the dollars get spread around.
American Cruise Lines regularly purchases food from restaurant vendors such as Sysco, she said. And the cruise lines buy tickets to downtown attractions such as the museums for all of their passengers. If people decide to eat or go shopping instead of visit the Old State Capitol, for example, the capitol still collects the money.
“They’re having an economic impact here,” Blair said.
Along with American Cruise Lines, the American Queen Steamboat company is calling on Baton Rouge with river cruises. The 450-passenger American Queen and the 185-passenger American Duchess make weekly stops.
Officials with American Queen estimated the vessels will combine for more than $650,000 in direct and indirect spending with each docking. American Queen said that figure is based on 2012 estimates that each passenger spends about $60 on a stop.
Those cruise lines will be joined by another company in fall 2020 when Viking River Cruises begins sailing on the Mississippi River. Viking announced plans for domestic river cruises in 2015. That service was projected to launch in 2017, but there were delays with the construction because of a federal law that states ships that transport passengers directly between American ports needs to be built in the U.S., and owned and crewed by U.S. citizens.
Rhorer said Viking is back on track with U.S. cruise plans.
Because of the additional cruises coming to Baton Rouge, there has been talk about expanding the city dock to accommodate multiple vessels at one time.
But Rhorer said the focus has shifted to the docks at the Belle of Baton Rouge. The downtown casino is eyeing plans to move into the adjoining atrium, now that the Legislature has passed a measure to allow land-based gambling.
“Part of the thinking is we want to see if we can utilize the dock there,” Rhorer said. Officials with the casino are receptive to the idea, he said.