American Classic Voyages (AMCV) is moving forward with newbuilding plans for both its cruise divisions, American Hawaii Cruises and the Delta Queen Steamboat Co.

On the Hawaii side, AMCV is continuing discussions with major cruise lines to form a joint venture which would bring at least three new ships to Hawaii - two $400 million, 1,500-to-2,000-passenger newbuildings contracted at a U.S. yard, and one reflagged vessel. (The reflagging of a foreign ship for Hawaii is allowed upon signing the newbuilding order, thanks to a Jaw sponsored by Hawaii Sen. Dan Inouye.) An announcement on who will be AMCV's partner, and which yard will build the ships, is expected by the end of the first quarter of 1998.

According to Phil Calian, AMCV's president and CEO, "Our plan is for the reflagged ship to go into service in Hawaii by the summer of 1999." He said AMCV is not looking to reflag a "classic" ship like its own 1951-built Independence, rather, he said, "we're definitely looking for a ship built post-1980 or 1985, something that allows us to properly bridge into the introduction of newbuildings in the Hawaiian marketplace in the future." The reflagged ship will reportedly come from the fleet of the joint-venture partner.

AMCV is reportedly asking that the partner bring between $300 million and $400 million of "value" to the table, including the price-tag of the ship to be reflagged, marketing strength, brand recognition value, etc.

Who AMCV's partner will be is now the source of fervent speculation - with the strongest consensus of rumor still pointing towards Princess Cruises (one report: that Princess will move the 1984-built, 46,000-ton, 1,200-passenger Sky Princess, or an even newer ship, to Hawaii).

Current frontrunners for the construction and/or design bids are Nassco and Avondale (which confirms it has signed a consulting deal with Princess builder Fincantieri for the purpose of this bid), with the new Kvaerner Philadelphia yard.

Calian also confirmed speculation that AMCV's other cruise operation, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., is also on the verge of announcing a newbuild order at a U.S. yard, albeit a much smaller one. That announcement, also, is expected by the end of the first quarter of 1998.