American Cruise Lines

With all cruise companies fighting to come back and recoup some of the millions of dollars in losses they have suffered due to Covid-19 regulations, it’s a wonder they all aren’t bending over backwards to keep customers happy. Most probably are, at least for the European cruises as well as Alaska and other ocean trips. Viking Cruises simply can’t be beat, and so many other companies are working hard to compete and improve.

American Queen Cruise Lines, which offers far and away the very best cruises on the entire Mississippi, both the lower and the upper parts of the river, as well as several other rivers in the United States, certainly is offering great deals, specials, and lots of perks and safety measures to ensure customers feel comfortable and are ready to get back enjoying life and meeting other people.

Not so American Cruise Lines. They don’t seem to give a good darn whether their customers are content or not. They’ve certainly lowered their standards. But why or how that has happened is not exactly clear.

The cruise company was owned the family of Charles A. Robertson, begun by him in 1998 and growing in giant steps until his death in 2020. That’s when his son, Charles B. Robertson inherited the thriving business. Young to be the CEO of the nation’s largest river cruise line, he had jobs in the company, but perhaps never really had to work for his dad in the past. Or perhaps the company lost so many employees during the Covid pandemic, a fact that is evidenced by the large number of job openings and requests for help they advertise. Maybe the younger Mr. Robertson thinks it’s enough to rest on his dad’s laurels and remember the success of 13 ships in a beautiful fleet. Or maybe it’s because he is trying too hard to get bigger and better, with the accent positively on the Bigger, not Better.

The home company for American Cruise Lines is in Guilford, Ct., but it’s close to impossible to get any kind of written response from “the executive office” there. A certified letter listing dozens of complaints, insults and even suggestions for how to improve is met with a simple form letter saying thanks for your opinion.

The senior Robertson had been doing just fine, founding the business in 1998, founding affiliates in Pearl Seas Cruises and even Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Maryland where the shipyard designs and builds all the ACL ships. His hard work and enthusiasm resulted in the company being the largest small ship line in the nation, sailing to 30 states via rivers and coastal waters.

The younger Robertson, who admittedly was faced with what appears to be insurmountable problems because of the pandemic, called it a ‘trial by fire but said it’s getting better. He said he spent the year focusing on the long term plans, learned a lot of lessons, and is not losing sight of what he’s best at. Not sure what that exactly is. But responding to customers is definitely not his forte.

He also said he’s worked his way up through the ranks, meaning he’s pretty knowledgeable about every aspect of the job. After all, he was a deck hand on one of the boats before he went through management positions and by 2014 was promoted to vice president of marketing heading up all the expansion plans. So wouldn’t you think he would think a certified letter would deserve more than a form letter saying thanks, without any indication it had even been read!

Still, Mr. Robertson is focusing on getting bigger. There’s at least one more ship expected this year in either, or both, riverboat style and coastal boats. Certainly doesn’t leave any time for answering letters from customers.

Scanning the job openings Mr. Robertson has on American Cruise Lines makes it more understandable why their once high standards have come down. They’re still on the lookout for a maritime trainer to train shipboard maritime employees. That sounds a little scary. They’re looking for customer service representatives, those very enthusiastic and likeable telephone voices who tell you how spectacular the cruises are. These reps will start at $16 an hour, with benefits, but not necessarily with any experience on an actual cruise ship. They’re also looking for several sous-chefs to provide those menus cruise goers always savor and talk about, as well as an inside sales rep to coordinate the purchase of all the meats, dairy, seafood, fruits and veggies for all those meals.

But there’s more. American Cruise Lines is seeking a flexible and dynamic individual to deliver on-the-job training for hotel, restaurant, housekeeping, and hospitality staff on board the ships. They’d really like someone who already has some experience in the hospitality industry, but that doesn’t seem like a necessity. The company would like someone who is familiar with basic fine dining standards, housekeeping standards, customer service, standard operating procedures, and more. But, but again, it isn’t necessary.

The ads say the company is “committed to providing a highly personalized, creative, and enjoyable learning environment for Crew Members.” Really? Does that sound something like “Forget about the cruiser-goers paying thousands of dollars for the experience.” Haven’t send anything that says the paying customer should have a highly personalized creative and enjoyable environment.

The ads include a warning, though it isn’t clear whether it’s the would be employee or the customer paying the bills who is being warned. “Training new and current crew members will be challenging and rewarding.” Go back over that sentence. Did you read that training current crew members part? Does that really mean the crew members already employed, providing those very expensive services for unknowing guests are doing it without proper training? Is the paying customer the one who is providing the training rather than being spoiled and catered to by an experienced and well trained staff? No, it certainly appears it’s the employee who must be coddled, not the paying customer. Because the ad goes on to say how dedicated the executive department is to “the personal development of our team.”

So there you have it. Other cruise lines are struggling to come back because they want to please and entice more customers. American Cruise Lines is still counting on its passengers to continue to pay high prices to go on their ships with or without trained crew, sous-chefs, or shudder, even trained maritime employees.