(8:30 a.m. EDT) -- Avalon Waterways will launch a limited number of Mississippi River sailings in 2013 through a partnership with American Queen Steamboat Company. In total the mostly European rivers-focused cruise line will offer 10 departures.
"We decided to enter the U.S. market in 2013 for a couple of reasons," Steve Born told Cruise Critic. Born is vice president of marketing for Avalon's parent company the Globus family of brands.
"First, we've heard interest from our agents over the past few years, knowing that there's demand in the U.S. market for a premium Mississippi experience. And from a product standpoint, we were very excited about the American Queen and the great fit it has with our land product in that region of the country."
For each of the sailings, Avalon is holding 20 outside cabins aboard American Queen, a Victorian-styled paddlewheel steamboat that launched this year. Cruisers who book through Avalon will have access to all the same services and amenities as passengers who book with American Queen but will also be accompanied by an Avalon tour director on and off the ship and be treated to an exclusive behind-the-scenes Avalon-sponsored land excursion.
For instance in Natchez, Mississippi, Avalon-booked passengers will visit chef Regina Charboneau's home to enjoy drinks and a light meal.
The 10 sailings mark Avalon's first foray onto U.S. waterways, and the line is just testing the waters for its first year. "While there's the potential to grow this scope in the future, we felt confident with the dates and availability of these cruise/tours for year one," said Steve Born.
The charter partnership is not the first time Avalon has partnered with another cruise line to expand its river cruise offerings. The line has partnered with cruise companies in China, Egypt and the Galapagos Islands to offer Yangtze, Nile and Galapagos cruises.
Eight departures of the 11-night "America's Heartland: From Music City to the Big Easy" will be offered from March through June and November through December, as will two sailings of the 10-night "Fall Foliage Spectacular" itinerary in late September/early October.
The cruise line also will offer pre- and post-cruise land packages in Nashville, New Orleans and Chicago.
--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor