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American Cruise Lines returning to La Crosse

The scheduled 10 stops in 2024 are estimated to bring in thousands to La Crosse economy

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April 29, 2024

LA CROSSE – The self-described “largest small ship and river cruise operator in the U.S.A.” is returning to Riverside Park in La Crosse.

American Cruise Lines (ACL) – which is headquartered in Guilford, Connecticut – recently announced it will make a total of 10 stops in La Crosse in 2024, starting in June.

“American is pleased to make stops again in La Crosse along many of our Mississippi River itineraries that operate throughout the year,” Alexa Paolella, public relations manager for ACL, said.

Paolella said one of ACL’s riverboats making stops in La Crosse is the American Melody, which has a four-story glass atrium in the center of the ship. 

The 2021-inaugurated ship has 91 rooms, six common areas and a guest capacity of 180 guests.

The Upper Mississippi River Cruise, which stops in La Crosse, travels from St. Louis, Missouri, to St. Paul, Minnesota.

Perfect timing

American Cruise Lines’ return to La Crosse, Jim Flottmeyer – facilities and marine operations manager for the City of La Crosse – said is a welcome one, especially after American Queen Voyages (AQV) recently announced its permanent shutdown. 

Flottmeyer said American Cruise Lines has made stops in La Crosse before.

“At one time, there were two cruise lines – ACL and America Queen Voyages,” he said. “And then Viking Cruise Lines started to research coming up to Mississippi in various ports along the upper Mississippi – so, we then had an agreement with Viking.”

At that time, Flottmeyer said, American Cruise Lines chose to discontinue its stops in La Crosse – and the last several years the city saw stops by AQV and Viking.

However, earlier this year, he said, AQV announced it was shutting down all operations, which included its 11 scheduled stops in La Crosse.

That’s when, Flottmeyer said, ACL showed interest in returning to the Port of La Crosse.

“American Cruise lines approached us and wanted to bring their ships back to La Crosse,” he said. “After talking to them, we figured it was a great fit. So, now we have American Cruise Lines and Viking Cruise Lines stopping in La Crosse.”

The city, Flottmeyer said, is excited for the return of ACL.

“It’s a great addition,” he said. “They were great when they were here before, and it’s great to have them back. We’re looking forward to it. American Cruise Lines is a privately held company – they’re growing like crazy and have talked about adding ships to the Mississippi.”

Park accommodations

Thanks to the construction of an additional cruise ship landing in Riverside Park, Flottmeyer said, “we have room for two ships at any one time.”

“It’s conducive for the captain and the crew to take on water and provisions, as well as for taking garbage off the ship,” he said. “Anything we can do that helps them make it simpler, they appreciate.”

The amenities provided within the park, he said, have received high compliments from all cruise lines over the years.

“They want to come to the park – Riverside Park is the jewel on the Mississippi,” he said. “It’s right downtown. (Passengers) can get off, hop on their buses and do tours, walk downtown or sit in the park. We’ve been told by all three of those cruise lines over the years that the upper Mississippi is the consumers’ favorite part of their trip, and La Crosse is one of their favorite stops.”

The arrival of ships, Flottmeyer said, is also exciting for La Crosse residents.

“I think people enjoy coming down to the park and watching the people come and go,” he said. “I think it’s fun for them.”

American Cruise Lines will be docking at Riverside Park beginning in June 2024.

Fewer people, but longer stays

Carey Hegge, director of tourism services with Explore La Crosse, said AQV’s 11 scheduled stops for 2024 accounted for an estimated 3,555 guests coming to the region.

“In contrast, ACL’s 10 planned stops for summer 2024 are expected to bring approximately 1,800 guests to La Crosse,” she said. 

Though there is a significant numerical difference in guest arrivals, Hegge said it’s important to note ACL’s stops are six hours longer than AQV’s stops. 

“This extended duration provides guests with more time to explore and engage with the local attractions – potentially enhancing their overall experience,” she said.

Hegge said the shift from AQV to ACL is “bittersweet.”

“We will miss the repeat guests and staff of the AQV Cruise Lines, and there will be a reduction in the number of guests arriving via ACL cruises due to the smaller size of the vessels,” she said. “However, the longer duration of ACL’s stops could lead to increased spending by guests, benefiting local businesses, such as restaurants, shops and cultural centers.”

Based on numbers from Travel Wisconsin, Hegge said – “and our best calculation projection on half of the day-tripper rate” – ACL’s 1,800 guests would contribute an estimated $63,000 to the local economy during their stops in La Crosse.

“In comparison, using a quarter of the day-tripper rate for AQV’s 3,555 guests would have resulted in approximately $63,990 in economic contribution,” she said.

Landscape shift

Hegge said the transition from American Queen Voyages to American Cruise Lines represents a shift in the cruise tourism landscape of the La Crosse region. 

“Though there are changes in guest numbers and financial contributions, the extended duration of ACL’s stops and the opportunities to attract new visitors present avenues for growth and economic development,” she said. “By leveraging these opportunities and addressing visitor feedback, the La Crosse region can further enhance its position as a vibrant and welcoming destination for cruise tourism.”

TBN
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