TORONTO — When a cruise line invests US$3 million into upgrades for two recently-acquired ships, you’d think that would trigger a fare increase for passengers. But that’s not the case for American Queen Steamboat Company, which took over Victory Cruise Lines in January 2019.
AQSC has lowered – yes, lowered – fares on the M/V Victory I and the M/V Victory II for the 2020 season.
A destination immersive product like Victory’s is for ‘time and money’ travellers, typically Baby Boomers, who are looking for unique experiences on smaller ships. They have the means, but they want value too. Incentives were in place for 2019 sailings now underway, for the first season under AQSC’s ownership. And one of the decisions AQSC made as the new owners of Victory Cruise Lines was to lower prices for the 2020 season.
The revised pricing brings fares in line with the product, says Senior VP Sales, Bob Salmon. AQSC also decided to ‘sweat the small stuff’, because as any agent selling cruises knows, the small stuff can make a big difference.
In just one example, the ships’ former owners had 9” thick mattresses on the beds. “And we said, we’re going to 13”. The former owners said, ‘But the mattresses are only two years old, they’re virtually brand new.’ But they’re too small, they’re not up to our standard,” says Salmon.
The renovation of the two ships earlier this year was just the start, with more work coming when the ships wrap up their 2019 seasons in the fall. The M/V Victory I and M/V Victory II are identical 202-guests ships sailing North America’s coastal regions, with all-inclusive cruises to the Great Lakes, St. Lawrence Seaway, Canada and New England.
Close to two Canadian dozen travel agents got a first-hand look at Victory I yesterday, taking part in an industry lunch onboard the refurbished ship as it made its way through Ontario’s waterways before docking in Toronto. Cruise Strategies, led by company founder Vanessa Lee, is working on building market presence for both AQSC and Victory in Canada, with both consumers and the trade.
Soon there will be a third ship to promote. A brand new-build, Ocean Victory, will join Victory’s fleet in April 2021 for Alaska sailings. The ship will be a full charter for the Alaska sailing season, back each spring to bring passengers up close to The Last Frontier.
Meanwhile in 2020 Victory I will sail 9-night itineraries from Chicago to Toronto, cruising all five Great Lakes. “We dip our toe in Lake Superior,” Salmon said with a smile, adding that these cruises are great for bucket list clients who want to check the Great Lakes off their lists.
Victory II will offer 7-night itineraries in 2020, from Chicago to Niagara Falls. Three of the Great Lakes are featured on those sailings.
AQSC has also added pre-sailing hotel stays for Victory Cruise Line departures, another one of those small but very important details.
Plus, says Salmon, “we will apply our level of shore excursions to the Victory product.” AQSC’s river cruises in the southern U.S. and Pacific Northwest are known for their destination immersive excursions and as Victory’s new owners the company wants to bring Victory I and Victory II’s shore excursions up to the same level.
There’s news from AQSC itself too, with a fourth ship, American Countess, joining the fleet in April 2020. AQSC already has American Queen and American Duchess and, in the Pacific Northwest, American Empress.
A solid 75% of business on the cruise lines come through travel agents, says Salmon, making the retail distribution channel a critical one for the company. “We’ve done a great job in the U.S. developing retail partnerships,” he says. “Now we’re starting to do the same in Canada.”
For more details see americanqueensteamboatcompany.com and victorycruiselines.com.