As predicted by Cruise Industry News in July, American Classic Voyages (AMCV) will name its new mainstream Hawaii brand United States Lines. AMCV made the news official on Oct. 27, at the same time announcing that it would rename its recently acquired Nieuw Amsterdam the Patriot. It is believed AMCV will name its first newbuilding America, the name of a vessel which previously sailed for the old United States Lines, before that brand ceased operation back in 1969. The America is set for delivery from Ingalls Shipbuilding in 2003, its sister ship in 2004.
United States Lines' first cruise aboard the Patriot is scheduled to depart its Honolulu homeport on Dec. 9, 2000, a seven-night itinerary sailing Saturdays and calling in Nawiliwili, Kauai (overnight); Kahului, Maui (overnight); Kana, Hawaii; and Hilo, Hawaii. AMCV will begin accepting reservations for the Patriot on Nov. 22, 1999.
AMCV will take delivery of the Nieuw Amsterdam in October 2000, after which it will be refurbished at a yet-to-be-chosen West Coast shipyard.
Work will include signage changes, any technical refurbishments required for the U.S. reflagging, and the replacement of the casino area with a destination learning center. (State law forbids inter-island gaming, and in deference to gaming opponent Sen. Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii), AMCV will not push to change the law themselves - however, its ships will be built to allow for the possibility of a future casino conversion.)
The Patriot's brochure rates begin at $1,599 per person, versus $1,335 per person aboard the Independence, which will continue to be sold under AMCV's original Hawaii brand, American Hawaii Cruises. The Independence will be shifted from its Honolulu-homeported route, which will essentially be taken over by the Patriot. Beginning Nov. 11, 2000, the Independence will begin seven-night cruises departing Satudays from its new homeport in Kahului, Maui.
At least until the newbuildings arrive, there appears to be at least some risk of confusion between AMCV's two Hawaiian brands. But U.S. Lines CEO Rod McLeod said the two Hawaiian lines would be differentiated by the hardware (with the Patriot 32 years younger and featuring more amenities such as in-cabin TVs, etc.); by the different price point; and by a more aggressive marketing campaign for the new brand.
And the choice of "United States Lines" - a new name which is more generic and less regionally pigeonholed - gives the company a better long-term ability to expand into high per-diem markets beyond Hawaii. Its first two newbuilds will be positioned in Hawaii, but U.S. Lines may make a move towards Alaska after that.
Discussing the branding process, McLeod explained, ''We went through a number of names of former U.S. passenger lines, but the names didn't sit well, except for United States Lines. And we considered Pacific America for a while, but it was too close to Holland America." Once a decision was made, AMCV acquired the name from an undisclosed owner whose father had been a U.S Lines officer and who had acquired the name in 1986. Meanwhile, AMCV has no plans to buy or use the actual ship United States, which is owned by Ed Cantor and remains dockside in Philadelphia.
McLeod is quick to point out that the new brand, despite its historic name, "is not going to be a retro product." The newbuildings will feature the decor of modem-day contemporary cruise ships. He explained, "What we've done is look back to what U.S. Lines was, and then we've tried to pick up where they would be now." He did note, however, that there will be one room aboard the first newbuilding - the Crossings restaurant - that will be themed to give passengers the feel of the circa-1930s transatlantic era.
Now that the dust has settled on the past few years of closed-door talks between AMCV and the major lines, McLeod was in the position to discuss the events which led up to his move from Carnival Corporation to AMCV. "I believe the first meeting we all had together was back in December 1997. Phil Calian, Jordan Allen and Sam Zell were there from AMCV. Myself, Micky Arison, Howard Frank and (legal counsel) Amie Perez were in the room from Carnival."
Back then, he confirmed, talks were not just about a possible ship-purchase deal, but on a much more expansive joint venture. AMCV likewise conferred on such a far-reaching arrangement with Royal Caribbean International (RCI) and Princess Cruises.
It was during these initial meetings between Carnival and AMCV that McLeod was first struck by the potential of the U.S. flag venture. At the same time, McLeod - who built his career at RCI - was not finding the same "fit" at Carnival. "I was sort of a fish out of water in the corporate environment there, and I think they (Carnival management) understood that."
When McLeod decided to lead United States Lines, he explained, "Carnival could have nailed me to the wall with my contract, but they didn't. Just the opposite. They were very cordial."