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Hornblower in Chapter 11: American Queen Shuts Down, More Tourism Icons at Risk

The United States lost one of its only overnight cruise companies today.

On Feb. 12, Frommer’s reported that many of the most powerful travel sellers in the U.S. had suspended sales of trips with American Queen Voyages because of reported irregularities in the company’s dealings with agents and customers. 

“We are working to address the situation as quickly as possible,” a representative told Frommer’s at the time. 

On Feb. 21, news broke that American Queen had suspended all operations while its parent company, Hornblower Group, received a new majority partner, Strategic Value Partners.

With equity partner Crestview Partners, Strategic Value Partners will inject new funding into Hornblower, adding to other emergency financing in an effort to right the metaphorical ship. But as part of the deal, American Queen Voyages will get the chop.

The cruise line began operations as American Queen Steamboat Company in 2011 and was best known for its luxury excursions on the Mississippi River.

No American Queen Voyage ships were sailing at the time of the shutdown, and all passengers with future reservations are expected to receive full refunds. Instructions for obtaining them can be found at the special websites and

“It is most unfortunate that, despite great efforts by our team, crew and partners, AQV has been unable to fully rebound from the effects of the pandemic,” Hornblower Group president Adam Peakes said in a statement provided to Frommer’s.

Hornblower will attempt to sell the unit; if that effort doesn’t succeed American Queen Voyages will be closed forever, the statement said.

The cruise line is just a small portion of Hornblower Group’s considerable operations in North America and Europe. The company’s holdings have expanded over the years through acquisition upon acquisition upon acquisition.

Just look at all the crucial tourist institutions that Hornblower, which is now operating under Chapter 11 rules, has amassed:

• in New York City: the NYC Ferry system and the National Park Service’s official ferry service to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

• in San Francisco: Alcatraz City Cruises, the National Park Service’s official ferry service to Alcatraz Island

• in London: City Cruises sightseeing ferries on the Thames

• in Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico Ferry service between Cataño and San Juan and between Ceiba, Vieques, and Culebra

• in Niagara Falls: Niagara City Cruises, a major operator of tours below the falls

Hornblower’s City Experiences lists tours in 46 destinations globally, including the fast ferry between Boston and Provincetown, Chicago’s Seadog Speedboat and the long-running Spirit of Chicago dinner cruises on Lake Michigan; and a long list of day tours in cities ranging from Italy to France to Washington, D.C.

Hornblower also owns Devour Tours, a foodie walking tour brand that operates in 17 cities around the world, and Journey Beyond, an Australia-based tour company.

That’s a whole lot of vital tourism services that have been accrued by a single company that now finds itself in a court-supervised restructuring. 

In fact, Hornblower Group controls a list of vital tourism infrastructure far too lengthy to publish here—and far too important to lose.

If Hornblower were to fail despite offloading American Queen Voyages, the transportation chaos that would ensue at many of the world’s most popular destinations would be considerable and truly messy.

According to, an official website set up to inform consumers about the bankruptcy, apart from American Queen “all of our transportation services are running on their normal schedules” and “all tickets and passes are working as usual.”

The company says that its other holdings “are operating normally and continuing as planned”—and, in fact, the cash flow generated from continued operations will be crucial in getting Hornblower back on its feet.

Some published reports predict that if all goes well, Hornblower may emerge from Chapter 11 in about 4 months. But that’s only if all goes well.

There’s a lot at stake.