(11 a.m. EDT) -- American Queen Steamboat Company, which will christen its third river cruise ship, American Duchess, in New Orleans on Monday, has another vessel waiting in the wings.
The company bought a gaming vessel, the Kanesville Queen, "a year ago," said American Queen Steamboat Company President and COO Ted Sykes. Currently, there's no date set on when the ship will be refurbished and launched.
For an American cruise line that doesn't own a shipyard, old gambling boats have been a boon for expansion, Sykes said. American Duchess, which will carry 166 passengers, was originally a floating casino in Bettendorf, Iowa, before AQSC bought it and refurbished it. The Kanesville Queen operated in Council Bluffs, Iowa, as a casino for Harrah's between 1996 and 2013.
What sets the casinos apart from other Mississippi River cruise ships is how wide they are, Sykes said. American Duchess, which was still undergoing sea trials on Friday, is 100 feet wide; in contrast, the company's flagship vessel, American Queen, is only 95 feet wide. The company stripped American Duchess down during its refurb, making it the line's first all-suite ship, and also added a third deck and a paddlewheel.
The fourth ship, which doesn't have a name, will likely sail on the Mississippi River as well, Sykes said. Demand has been high for the line's current fleet, driven by Americans -- who, for whatever reason, are avoiding overseas travel -- as well as international travelers, he said.
Boosting the trend is the addition of non-stop international flights to Southern U.S. cities from Europe and the U.K., Sykes said. Earlier this year, British Airways launched a non-stop flight from Heathrow to New Orleans and on Tuesday, the airline announced it would be flying non-stop from London to Nashville.
That's a boon to river cruise lines, which have also made American music a calling card. American Queen Steamboat Cruises has hosted Music of America themed cruises, as well as sailings that feature music of the 50s and 60s and Big Band (and of course, a stop at Graceland is a must for many). With itineraries that stop in New Orleans, Memphis and Nashville -- all music cities -- American Queen is able to draw international visitors who often incorporate a Mississippi River cruise into a longer trip, Sykes said.
The line is also on the lookout for new rivers and new itineraries, he said. The line is selling "American Heartland" cruises that go up the Illinois River from St. Louis to Ottawa, about 90 minutes outside Chicago.
Cruise Critic will be boarding American Duchess on Sunday and attend Monday's christening. Talk about American Queen Steamboat Company in the Cruise Critic forums.
--By Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor