American Queen Steamboat Co. branches beyond US rivers with Victory acquisition

The 202-passenger Victory I, pictured, and sister ship Victory II were built in the US but are now registered in the Bahamas The 202-passenger Victory I, pictured, and sister ship Victory II were built in the US but are now registered in the Bahamas

American Queen Steamboat Co. said it has reached a definitive agreement to acquire Victory I and Victory II from SunStone Ships, along with the Victory Cruise Lines brand. This will enable AQSC to branch out beyond the US rivers and into the Great Lakes—a longtime goal—and perhaps beyond.

Terms of the transaction, expected to close in early January, are not being disclosed.

Victory will become a sister brand of AQSC, which operates three US-flag riverboats—American Queen, American Duchess and American Empress—and has just started building a fourth, American Countess, to debut in 2020.

The 202-passenger Victory I and Victory II are 5,000gt sister vessels that were built in the US as Cape May Light and Cape Cod Light and are currently flagged in the Bahamas. Before Victory, they sailed, respectively, as Saint Laurent for the short-lived Haimark Line and as Sea Discoverer.

Expedition newbuild

The Victory brand is going to grow with the seasonal charter of a newbuild expedition ship, Ocean Victory, one of the 200-passenger Infinity-class newbuilds under construction in China for SunStone. Victory will have Ocean Victory in the (northern) summers starting in 2020.

'We are pleased to purchase the Victory I and Victory II which will fuel the continued success and growth of American Queen Steamboat Company,' AQSC chairman and CEO John Waggoner said. 'We look forward to working closely with Victory Cruise Lines' new and existing travel partners. These vessels enable us to provide guests with more diverse cruising options, particularly in the Great Lakes, a region that our customers have been requesting for years.'

Victory president and CEO Hans Lagerweij said Great Lakes bookings for 2019 are already 35% ahead of their actual sales in 2018. He added: 'AQSC’s established and strong product and brand is well-suited to take the Victory vessels and Victory Cruise Lines brand forward, creating one of the largest North American Great Lakes and US river cruising companies in the country.'

Will Cuba and Yucatán programs operate?

Victory also sails in New England, and had planned to inaugurate a new combination sea and land experience in Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula on Victory II in January from Miami, while Cuba circumnavigations were to start from Miami on Victory i in March.

It's unclear whether the Cuba and Mexican Yucatán programs will operate. AQSC said it is reviewing Victory's itineraries.

The company is also reviewing Victory's management team going forward.

Victory management

Lagerweij, a small ship, adventure cruising veteran who had led TUI Group's adventure travel division and Quark Expeditions, joined Victory in the spring, when president and CEO Bruce Nierenberg moved up to chairman.

Nierenberg created Victory's itineraries in the Great Lakes, Cuba and Mexico.

'I feel a deep connection to the Victory product and I have pledged both within and outside the corporate structures involved to do whatever I can to contribute to the growth of cruising on the Great Lakes,' he said. That includes supporting and guiding the development of the new Great Lakes Cruise Council.

'The Great Lakes as a cruise destination is the next big thing and it will offer a diversity of products as deep as Alaska’s and even a few things Alaska doesn’t have,' Nierenberg said. 'Most of all, it will be a product that fits the region, from its biggest cities to its smallest towns.' It can't get overcrowded due to the St. Lawrence Seaway's size limits, he added.

Nierenberg also hopes the port-intensive Cuba circumnavigations he developed will materialize. 'It’s a dynamic country with unlimited potential,' he said, 'and a place that any small ship operator should consider.'

He's committed to the Yucatán program, too, even if Victory doesn't end up operating that. Nierenberg views the land safari portion, visiting all three states—Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo—as strong enough to stand on its own.

Ship management by CMI

AQSC plans to enter into a contract with SunStone affiliates Cruise Management International and CMI Leisure to continue handling the Victory ships' technical management and hotel management, respectively.

SunStone fields 11 vessels available for long-term charter, most in the small ship/expedition market.

'We appreciate the Victory team getting us so far, so fast,' SunStone president and CEO Niels-Erik Lund said. 'We believe we have found the perfect home for Victory Cruise Lines by selling it to AQSC and we are certain they can make this well-known, respected and accepted product an even better brand for the future.'

Posted 11 November 2018

© Copyright 2019 Seatrade UBM (UK) Ltd. Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Seatrade UBM (UK) Ltd.

Anne Kalosh

Editor, Seatrade Cruise News & Senior Associate Editor Seatrade Cruise Review