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New modern riverboats to join U.S. cruise line's paddle-wheelers

American Cruise Lines, which sails on U.S. waterways, plans to build new contemporary-style riverboats.

With river cruising booming, expect to see more riverboats coming to U.S. rivers and waterways in the next few years. American Cruise Lines, known for its old-school paddle-wheelers, announced last week plans to build modern riverboats with open decks, glass-enclosed lounges, spas and roomy staterooms.

The Connecticut-based company that sails in the U.S. will add several contemporary ships to its fleet starting in 2017. President Charles Robertson says the expanded fleet may mean new U.S. cruises to such places as the Sacramento River in Northern California.

"We do see greater demand for sure, and that's the motivating factor," Robertson says.

The company currently sails two Victorian-style paddle-wheelers that look like something out of "Tom Sawyer" (in fact, they offer Mark Twain Tribute Cruises) and hold 120 to 150 passengers. A third one, called the American Eagle, will make its debut in April.

It also has four coastal small ships that carry 49 to 104 passengers.

The new ships would have a different look than the current fleet, a bit more like those found in Europe: open deck features, lots of glass and natural light that emphasize the views, big enough to carry about 160 passengers.

They will be designed and built in the U.S. at a company affiliate, Chesapeake Shipbuilding, in Salisbury, Md.

How big is river cruising? The number of passengers has been growing steadily in the last few years, especially on European itineraries, and it's a trend that will continue this year too.

The Cruise Line Industry Assn. in 2014 reported that agents said 61% of their clients were interested in going on a river cruise.

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