Yet another small cruise line has shut down in the wake of pandemic struggles

America’s Most Beloved Cruise Operator, American Queen Voyages, Shuts Down

American Queen Voyages, one of America’s most beloved cruise operators, has announced its closure. The U.S. river cruise specialist, known for its iconic Mississippi River paddlewheeler, American Queen, has ceased operations due to ongoing financial troubles related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The company made the announcement on Tuesday, blaming changes in travel preferences and the financial impacts of the pandemic.

Despite great efforts by its team, crew, and partners, American Queen Voyages (AQV) was unable to rebound from the effects of the pandemic. The overnight cruise industry was hit hard by changes in travel preferences, making AQV financially unsustainable. As a result, the company has shut down permanently.

In a letter to employees, the company announced that their positions would be terminated at all locations where the company operated. All sailings on the three riverboats that the company had scheduled to operate this year – American Queen, American Countess, and American Duchess – have been canceled.

The shutdown of American Queen Voyages is just the latest in a string of small cruise operators around the world that have closed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The closure comes just eight months after small-ship rival, Vantage Deluxe World Travel, collapsed due to pandemic-related financial woes.

Other cruise brands that have shut down in recent years, citing the financial effects of the pandemic, include luxury line Crystal Cruises and its sister brands Dream Cruises and Star Cruises, Japan-based Venus Cruises, India-based Jalesh Cruises, Swedish-based Birka Cruises, U.S.-based small-ship specialist Blount Small Ship Adventures, and U.K.-based Cruise & Maritime Voyages.

Cruise & Maritime Voyages, the second-largest cruise brand in the U.K., collapsed in July 2020. Germany-based FTI Cruises and Spain-based Pullmantur Cruises also ceased operations during the pandemic. Pullmantur, partly owned by Royal Caribbean Group, was the first cruise company to collapse during the pandemic, just three months after cruise ships stopped sailing in 2020. Caribbean-focused Sail Windjammer also shut down in 2021.

Of all the brands that have shut down, only luxury line Crystal has been able to restart operations under new ownership. Crystal resumed operations in July under the ownership of the high-end travel company A&K Travel Group.

Major cruise lines around the world paused sailings for many months at the start of the pandemic and have only slowly returned to normal operations. The brands that have stayed in business have been forced to take on massive amounts of debt to survive.

American Queen Voyages has promised refunds to customers who had paid for future cruises. The refunds will be processed through the company’s insurance company, Argo Surety, as the brand is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Customers can expect to receive a denial letter at first, which they can use to file a claim with the insurance company.

In a statement, American Queen Voyages expressed gratitude for the privilege of serving its guests, partners, and agents over the years. The company regrets any inconvenience caused by its closure and aims to ensure a smooth process for all stakeholders.

The closure of American Queen Voyages is a sad but not entirely surprising development in the cruise industry, which has been deeply impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the industry continues to navigate these challenging times, it remains to be seen how it will evolve and adapt to meet the changing needs and preferences of travelers.

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