The first actual revenue cruise for Amercan Queen was April 13, 6-night trip from New Orleans. That was followed by two "shakedown cruises." This Apil 27 cruise is the "inaugural cruise" of record, including the christenin ceremony with Priscilla Presley.
The first person the compaany hired was executive culianry manager Regina Charboneau. On new featue of the ship is the casual dining ourdoor restaurant The River Grill on dek 5 at the stern. The outdoo resaurnt is anchored yb a bar but features menu-driven table service startin at 6:00 night;y, no extra charge, but reservatuions required.
We just saw our first production show onboard. It was a competently produced show with a live five-piece band (piano, drums, bass, sax and trumpet), and with four singers/dancers (bass tenor, alto, soprano), but I am sorry to say the theme nearly put me to sleep "A salute to Hollywood." I guess it will appeal to people who remember when "Singin' in the Rain" was actually in the theaters. Enough said.
I expected the boat to be a ittle more finished cosmetically by now. Tim Rubacky had told us they had already spent several millions of dollars refurbishing the exterior, but in fact we see them still working every day, repainting railings and stairways. I makes a big difference, and I am guessing it will be another month before the boat looks completely brand new again. There have also been some technical glitches with the stage shows - 15 minutes to get a slide show working.
So, we weren't surprised when partial owner Christopher Kyte told us "there isn't a single detail; cauking, paint, picture hangars, on our to-do list that you have seen that we don't already know about, we know every little thing that still needs to be done."
Still - a nice surprise has been the quality of the food. And more changes are coming. The company just signed an agreement with the Apollo Catering company (not to be confused with the financial company that partially owns Regent, Oceania and NCL). This Apollo is a Europen catering company that used to run Celebrity Cruises back in the Chandris days, then were hired by Frank Del Rio for Oceania and eventually Regent Seven Seas. Apollo will be managing the food service onboard American ueen starting May 1st - they currently have a two-year contract.
Another new addition will be a new executive chef coming from the Houston Ritz Carlton. A new hotel manager, Malcolm Chappel, will be coming to the line from Seabourn as of Apil 30th. May 4th a "cabin touch-up" team of professionals is coming to make sure all of the staterooms are ship shape.
And then the major Advertsing Blitz starts May 7th. IN addition, the company is in the process of hammering out a marjetin agreement with Avalon Waterays/Glibus a Denver-based company that already sells a number of Europen riverboats.
Mucg of the funding for this new project came from the city of Memphis. In exchange, over 83% of the home office jobs the company has created have been filled with Memphis employees, and 70% of the onboard positons are filled with Memphisians. The cost to Memphis so far in loans to Great American and to the Beale Street Pier renovation project is $47-million. But Memphis is expecting the line to bring in an additional 7200 visitors every year (not a cruises sail out of Memphis, the boat will also ail out of Cincinnatti, St. Louis and New Orleans.) Having the home office in Memphis also means all of the printing, a call center and much of the provisioning will take place in that city as well.
So far, in upgrades alone to the boat Great American has spent $6.5-million. As far as rhe entire financial committment the new GASC has made, Christopher Kyte says "Right now we have a $23-million committment in a project that received an appraisal value of $99-million."
How was it to buy a ship from MARAD? "well, picture trying to deal of Amtrac if it floated," Kyte said.
The company has an agreement with Starbucks Coffee, but as of ight now they do not serve coffee in the staterooms. They are sorting tht out now, and Christopher Kyte is guessing they will simply start offering Room Service in the mornings, rather than the pkanned coffee mkr in each stateroom.