(2:15 p.m. EDT) -- On the banks of the Mississippi River at Louisiana's Oak Alley Plantation, American Cruise Lines christened its newest riverboat, 185-passenger America.
Women in hoop skirted costumes joined the boat, and the passengers on the christening cruise stood on the red, white and blue-bedecked forward decks with celebratory sparkling wine and mimosas. "You are not only experiencing history, you are a part of it," river historian Bill Wiemuth told the cheering group.
The godmother was Barbara Suttles, a member of the line's Eagle Society loyalty program who has been on eight cruises with American Cruise Lines and six on sister company Pearl Seas Cruises. It took her four tries to break the celebratory bottle.
"We don't do the large ships," said Ed Suttles, her husband. The Suttles – she's 70 and he's 71 - live in Brandon, Florida and are loyal to ACL because they like the small ships and camaraderie with other passengers and the line's American staff. "We've never had a bad cruise."
The christening day marked the fifth anniversary of Barbara's new kidney, her husband said. The two traveled on American Cruise Lines while she was on dialysis, with the line making sure that all the equipment got to their room and that they were accommodated.
Representing the line's Connecticut headquarters was vice president Paul Taiclet. "It means so much to have you on this ship," he told the group.
Following the christening, passengers sipped mint juleps and toured Oak Alley, a regular stop on Lower Mississippi River itineraries. The antebellum plantation is known for the live oaks that lead up to the historic mansion, framing it in pictures.
America has been in service since the beginning of May. The boat will sail itineraries on the Lower and Upper Mississippi River, with embarkations in New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis and St. Paul.
The line has already announced that it's building two more ships, to debut in 2017 and 2018, respectively. The 2017 ship is a 170-passenger small cruise ship named American Constellation; it will sail itineraries in New England, on the Hudson River and along the Coastal South.
--By Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor