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American Queen Voyages ceases operations

American Queen, the largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built
American Queen Voyages ceased operations and canceled all future voyages, Seatrade Cruise News confirmed.

None of its ships were currently operating. 

A notice to AQV employees on the fleet and in the Fort Lauderdale headquarters advised them of their terminations effective 5 p.m. local time Tuesday. It said all business operations were ceasing 'due to unfortunate business circumstances and an inability to obtain sufficient capital at a commercially reasonable rate to continue operations.'

Customer refunds promised

A message on AQV's customer information hotline said 'American Queen Voyages has made the difficult decision to shut down and all future cruises have been canceled. Guests and customers should expect to be fully refunded for canceled cruises.'

Impacted customers can submit a claim at Additional information is availbble at

FMC bond

Cruise lines operating from the US are required to post a bond or other financial surety available to refund passenger deposits in the event of nonperformance.

Earlier this month, when rumors of an AQV shutdown were rife, Seatrade Cruise News checked on the company's status with the Federal Maritime Commission, which said in an email Feb. 8: 'American Queen Voyages has met all of the rules and regulations as it relates to the filing evidence of financial responsibility with the Federal Maritime Commission.'

The company said then it was still taking bookings.

Ships laid up

American Queen Voyages fields a fleet of four river vessels: the iconic American Queen, the largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built; American Countess and American Duchess, all on the Misssissippi, and American Empress on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

It operated two coastal vessels, Ocean Voyager and Ocean Navigator, on the Great Lakes. They were withdrawn from service after the 2023 season and put up for sale. The company also chartered Ocean Victory for expedition cruises in the Alaska summer seasons.

As earlier reported here, AQV had delayed the start of its Mississippi season for American Queen and American Countess.

Reported interest in the vessels

Multiple sources familiar with the AQV situation said parties are interested in some of the river vessels.

Private equity firm Crestview Partners invested and acquired Hornblower Group, the parent of AQV, several years ago, with AQV founder John Waggoner eventually bowing out. The cruise part of the business struggled to recover from the pandemic, and there were frequent management changes.

Crestview had bought out entrepreneur Waggoner who, in 2012, acquired the laid up American Queen from the US Maritime Administration, returning a legend to the rivers and going on to also acquire American Empress, the largest riverboat west of the Mississippi, from MARAD. He then built American Duchess and American Countess from the hulls of former casino boats.

In 2019, the company bought the two coastal vessels of Victory Cruise Lines, expanding beyond the rivers. And in 2022, expedition cruising was added with Ocean Victory heading to Alaska for the season. 

'We should all do what we can ...'

Bruce Nierenberg was president/CEO of AQV forerunner Delta Queen Voyages from 2003 to 2006 when the line was owned by Delaware North Companies, and later founded and led Victory Cruise Lines before its vessels were acquired by AQV.

On Tuesday Nierenberg said the American Queen had been a money-maker and is an 'iconic product.'

'It's a shame what happened,' he said. 'The cruise industry needs vessels like these that ply the rivers in a traditional manner and we should all do what we can to keep those vessels on the rivers.'

See also 'American Queen Voyages for sale as parent Hornblower gets new majority owner'