Artist rendering of American Song

(10:40 a.m. EST) -- American Song will be the first of a series of modern looking riverboats from American Cruise Lines, signaling a change in design and atmosphere for the vessels that ply U.S. waterways.

The 190-passenger ship, set to launch in fall 2018, will be 60 feet wide, and boast two four-story glass atriums. Unlike most riverboats currently sailing on the Mississippi, Ohio and Columbia rivers, American Song will have a modern feel, instead of the paddlewheel design that many associate with U.S. river cruising.

The ship is currently being built at Chesapeake Shipbuilding, the Maryland shipyard owned by American Cruise Lines. When Cruise Critic visited the shipyard earlier this year, American Song was still called "Hull 130." Owner Charles A. Robertson, who founded American Cruise Lines and Pearl Seas Cruises, as well as the shipyard said that the idea for the modern design came from passengers, who have seen sleeker riverboats in Europe – and want the same thing in the States.

While American Cruise Lines has river ships with paddlewheels as a design element -- America, which debuted in 2016, is the newest -- Robertson has said the company will invest in the more modern ships for the foreseeable future. American Song is the first of a series of five modern riverboats that he expects to build.

American Cruise Lines is not the first river cruise company to float the idea of modern river ships on U.S. waters. Viking River Cruises announced they'd be entering the market with sleek, modern vessels back in 2015, but were unable to attain the permissions from the U.S. government.

In the U.S. river cruise market, vessels that sail solely in American waters are subject to a federal law known as the Jones Act. It protects American maritime workers by requiring that the lines build their ships in American shipyards, using American labor and materials. It also requires the finished product to be staffed with American workers.

These limitations mean that cruise lines that concentrate on American rivers must either build their own ships in the U.S.  -- which can be expensive if you don't own a shipyard like American Cruise Lines does -- or buy American-built ships and refurbish them, the way competitor American Queen Steamboat Company has done. 

The law has kept companies such as Viking River Cruises from entering the American market; while the Norwegian company applied for a waiver from the Jones Act, it has not been granted.

A hallmark of American Cruise Lines' ships, both river and coastal, is that they have cabins that are much larger than the industry average. That will be true on American Song as well; the locks and low-lying bridges that restrict the height and width of European riverboats don't apply in the U.S.

All 102 staterooms on American Song will have private balconies. The ship will also have solo cabins with balconies that start at 250 square feet. Other cabins range from 304 to 328 square feet, while veranda suites are 405 square feet and owner's suites are 445 square feet.

The ship will also have a putting green, a bocce area and croquet on the top deck; six large lounges with views; a grand dining room and a library/chart room. An elevator goes to all of the decks.

American Song will debut in fall 2018 with Mississippi River itineraries. It will then move to the West Coast in 2019 to sail on the Columbia and Snake rivers. Bookings are now open.

--By Chris Gray Faust, Senior Editor