American Cruise Lines prides itself on its DIY approach: Travel Weekly


Nicole Edenedo

American Cruise Lines has what it sees as a significant advantage over competitors in the US river cruise markets, American Queen Voyages and newcomer Viking River Cruises: The company builds its own ships at its family shipyard. It’s something the company has been doing since its inception half a century ago, when it was building a very different type of vessel.

“We started about 50 years ago. My dad, along with a few guys and a piece of land in Maine, started building boats,” said Charles B. Robertson, CEO of ACL and son of the late founder. of the company, Charles A. Robertson. . “It’s really very organic with the way American Cruise Lines started and grew. It came out of necessity, it just wasn’t something that was offered in this country for the American flag.”

Robertson said having Chesapeake Shipbuilding in its family portfolio gives American Cruise Lines “the advantage of aligning design, construction and operation,” which is a defining feature of the line.

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While some companies typically play a critical role in designing, building or operating their own river cruise ships, common practice, Robertson said, is to use outside contractors and suppliers to produce the ships. rivers of a company.

“The normal process would be for you to go to a naval architect and start your design work, then you go to a shipyard and tender the build, then [companies] own and operate the boat,” Robertson said. “We bring together these three factors: design, build and operate. That’s really what makes us unique.”

“As we’ve evolved over this 50-year history, we’ve really learned a lot about the process, and it’s now become part of how we define the next class of ships,” Robertson said. . “We really see how they’re built, how they perform in the field, and then we take that feedback to the architects and work on the next boat.”

Production acceleration

Production times can be long, taking 14 to 16 months to build a single ship, according to Robertson. American Cruise Lines’ solution: It recently ramped up production efforts at the Salisbury, Maryland, shipyard. Robertson said the company started building two ships at a time in 2021 and is now building, with its latest venture Project Blue, three ships at a time. weather. Today, the company has 13 ships in its fleet; it will be 15 by the end of the year.

American Cruise Lines recently ramped up production efforts at its Chesapeake, Maryland shipyard, currently building three ships at a time.

American Cruise Lines recently ramped up production efforts at its Chesapeake, Maryland shipyard, currently building three ships at a time. Photo credit: Chesapeake Shipbuilding

Still, building your own ships isn’t without its challenges – and it’s not cheap either.

“It’s actually more expensive to build your own ships. But the payoff is worth it,” Robertson said.

And beyond the cost, “shipbuilding isn’t easy. It’s tough,” he said. “You never have anyone else to blame. If you hire a shipyard to do it, there can always be accusations, and everyone passes the buck. We don’t have the same luxury.”

Supply chain issues

Current supply chain issues have impacted American Cruise Lines’ production process like anyone else. In the past, the company could order supplies during the early stages of building a ship, such as laying a keel. Now he must place supply orders at least six months to a year in advance before construction of a ship begins.

In addition to building its own fleet of small vessels that cruise rivers, lakes and coastal waters, American Cruise Lines stays true to its roots, still building commercial vessels (including tugboats) for companies ordering services. of ACL.

“If it’s steel, we can build it,” Robertson said. “We’ve also built many ferries and restaurant boats. We haven’t built another cruise ship, but we would. We could do a great job.”

Robertson always has his eye on the competition and is a keen observer of all cruise lines, ocean and river.

“There are a lot of lines that I have respect for,” Robertson said. “I’m very excited about what MSC is doing with their new Explora brand. I think it’s a really exciting design and build process. I think it’s going to be a great product. are happening in the industry. There are opportunities in the chaos, and I think a lot of people are taking advantage of that.”

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