GALLERY: American Cruise Lines and Vidalia christen the American Serenade

Published 10:17 pm Sunday, April 23, 2023

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VIDALIA, La. — Miss-Lou city and state dignitaries gathered at the Vidalia riverfront Sunday afternoon to christen American Cruise Lines’ newest vessel, the American Serenade, and to name Vidalia its Godmother City.

Community members enjoyed music and a variety of foods and treats from several vendors, as well as seeing the impressive ship docked at the Vidalia riverfront at the ramp American Cruise Lines built for it.

At the ceremony preceding the christening, Charlie Robertson, president of American Cruise Lines, told the story of how that boat ramp came to be.

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“One of the first times I met Mayor Buz Craft, he asked us if we wanted to go out on his bass boat. He said to just meet him down at the river bank,” Robertson said. “So Paul (Taiclet, American Cruise Lines executive vice president) and I go down to the bank dressed just about how we are dressed right now. The mayor nudges his little bass boat in about 100 feet down. The water was about middle water, maybe. He said, ‘Just make your way down through those bushes there. Don’t get bit by anything on your way.’

“So we were there dressed in our suits, trying to make a good first impression. We dutifully made our way down, trudging through the mud. We get down there, dress shoes all covered in mud and he said, ‘Sure would be good if someone built a ramp.’ Two years later, I’m very glad no one needs to get bit to get to the American Serenade,” Robertson said.

He thanked Vidalia and the people of the Miss Lou for their support and partnership.

“We are so proud to bring this new landing and the brand new American Serenade to you. We first came to Natchez and Vidalia in 2012 and instantly fell in love with the Miss Lou. You all welcomed our one small ship and showed our guests how special this area is,” Robertson said. “The Mississippi River is one of the world’s great cruising rivers, but its real secret is the fantastic communities along the way. Vidalia and Natchez have always stood out among them to us. You welcomed us with open arms since the very beginning. We committed to grow with you. We’ve added a lot of ships since then and we have invested in places to dock. This new ramp is a critical investment in tourism for this region and it assures Vidalia’s place in the cruise industry.

“Last year, we christened American Symphony across the river and we are very proud to make Vidalia the Godmother City of the American Serenade. Sister ships in sister cities — I think it is just fantastic. Thank you for all of your support,” he said.

Brett Bullock, American Cruise Lines director of guest experiences, said American Cruise Lines is “absolutely honored that Vidalia is American Serenade’s Godmother City.

“Vidalia and American Serenade will be forever linked as a result. We look forward to seeing you a lot for years to come,” Bullock said.

Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft said God has blessed this area and this community. He introduced other dignitaries, including U.S. Rep. Julia Letlow, who represents Louisiana’s fifth district in Congress. Letlow won a special election in April 2021, filling the seat of her late husband, Luke, who died of complications from COVID just days before taking office. She is the state’s first woman to serve in Congress in 30 years, and is the state’s first Republican woman to serve.

“She is doing a really, really great job. She is doing things to help our families and to help our traditional ways in this country. We are really honored to have her be the Godmother of this ship,” Craft said.

He called Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser a “rock star all over the world. This guy has been so good for Vidalia. I can’t say enough about him and count him as a dear friend.”

Craft also introduced his “brother mayor,” Natchez Mayor Dan Gibson.

Nungesser thanked American Cruise Lines for its support of Louisiana.

“These cruise lines up the Mississippi are a game changer for Louisiana, and certainly for Vidalia,” Nungesser said. “They couldn’t have landed in a better place. This mayor — we need about a dozen more just like him all over Louisiana. Every time I talk to him, his love and passion for this community is contagious. And to have a partner across the river…It’s great to see that partnership working so well.

“I’m excited for the future,” Nungesser said. “As we come out of COVID and get back to those record breaking numbers we saw in 2019 for tourism, surely this cruise line is going to be an important part of getting us there. I’m proud to be a part of it and I will support you any way I can.”

Gibson, taking the stage, echoed “brother mayor” Craft and said, “God is blessing our community.”

He called Letlow “truly a rising star, not only in Louisiana, but in this country.”

To Nungesser, Gibson said, “You and I have become friends over the last two or three years and I now call you my lieutenant governor. And to have two lieutenant governors on your side is truly a blessing.

“And these these guys,” Gibson said, referring to Robertson and Taiclet. “When I first met Charlie Robertson and Paul Taiclet, I knew I increased my family by a few more brothers. They are doing so much for our area. It’s no small thing that the largest American cruise company has chosen the Miss-Lou to be home port and Godmother to two of its boats. That’s unheard of. I don’t think anyone else across the country can claim such an honor. We salute you and thank you.

“This means more tourists coming to the Miss-Lou. It means more tourist dollars coming to the Miss-Lou and it means more jobs coming to the Miss-Lou and we couldn’t be more excited. Congratulations to Mayor Craft and congratulations to the beautiful city of Vidalia,” Gibson said.

Letlow said the day was great not only for Vidalia, but all of Louisiana’s fifth district.

“We have the opportunity to showcase our warm hospitality and rich culture to tourists from all across the world. Our people are our greatest asset and we have a unique charm that cannot be replicated,” she said. “The arrival of the American Serenade cruise ship is just the beginning of what promises to be a long and fruitful relationship between our communities and the world of travel and tourism. We are committed to making Vidalia a destination visitors will want to return to time and time again.”