BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With American Cruise Lines sealing a deal to dock at Fort Madison on their way up and down the Mississippi River, plans are quickly coming together to welcome the passengers.
A cruising schedule was released Wednesday and city officials, who were expecting to see 10 dockings this year, were surprised to see 14 on the list starting Aug. 6.
What was more surprising was the time of the layovers in town. Seven of the 14 tours will have six hour ports of call, and the other seven will be in town for 8.5 hours.
City Manager David Varley said both the itinerary changes are good for the city, but unexpected.
“Actually, I was expecting about a three to four hour call,” Varley said after Tuesday night’s City Tourism Board meeting.
He said officials with the cruise line have been meeting with Fort Madison’s part-time tourism director, Jean Peiton, to work out the details of the calls.
Peiton said the cruise line has already done its homework.
“They’ve been secret shopping us for a while,” Peiton said. “They have itineraries set up and are making plans, but not all of the details have been worked out yet.”
She said the cruise line has already set up Trailways buses that will provide one city tour on the six hour stays, but will have two tours on the 8.5 hour layovers.
Varley said the city has already had calls from individuals in town who want to help volunteer when the boats arrive. He’s also had calls from many people inquiring about getting permits to sell items.
“I think we need to be a little careful there. I’m not sure we want to have a gauntlet of vendors awaiting the passengers when they get off,” he told the commission.
Mayor Brad Randolph said news is good news, but he said the city doesn’t have too many chances to make a good first impression.
“We’re going to be bringing 150-200 people into town 14 times. That’s 2,500 people and we have to have a plan,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
Randolph said he was informed today that the trips will include new visitors, so you won’t have the same people visiting on a return trip back up or down the river.
“I was told just today that these will be all new people on each stop. So the people coming to Fort Madison on those boats will essentially be new people each time,” he said.
He said he was surprised at the length of the stops as well as the intention of the cruise line to promote itineraries that keep guests in town.
Peiton said she has been reaching out to area groups like the Fort Madison Chamber of Commerce, local clubs, the United Way’s Retired Senior Volunteer Program, and other groups to help set up welcoming committees and activities for when the boats arrive.
The first arrival is Aug. 6 at 8 a.m. Other 8 a.m. arrivals occur on Aug. 18, Aug. 26, Sept. 8, Sept. 19, Oct. 3, and Oct. 7. All the 8 a.m arrivals are six hour ports of call. The other seven stops are 9 a.m. arrivals, which are the 8.5 hour stays and those are on Aug. 15, Aug. 28, Sept. 4, Sept. 18, Sept. 28, Oct. 12, and Oct. 16.
The cruise lines will be sending three different ships to the Fort Madison shores including the Queen of the Mississippi, the America, and the American Harmony.
Cruise schedules are subject to change due to weather and other unforeseen circumstances.
Varley said work to prepare the pier for the ships’ arrival is being done this week by Hall Towing and will be done in plenty of time for the scheduled first docking.