Shelly started her journey with American Cruise a year ago and since has helped develop several itineraries including many of our land and cruise packages. Her role consists of guest experience development on land, including daily excursions and land packages, relationships with communities, and collaboration on new itineraries. To date, she has visited 49 of our great 50 states, and hopes to add the last one in 2024.
What are your first steps in planning a new itinerary?
First and foremost, the ships must be able to navigate the waterway along the route, so we look at which towns are accessible, and how far they are from popular points of interest. Then, the fun begins! I may travel with other colleagues who are experts in infrastructure and relationships. For example, Frank Klipsch, our Director of City Partnerships and Special Projects, and I work as a team by visiting city officials and Convention and Visitors Bureaus together. Other times, I may visit locations alone to explore in-depth and meet with visitor bureaus, local providers, and Downtown Mainstreet Associations. Once we have reviewed the route, communities, and offerings, we can determine if it will be a good fit for American Cruise Lines.
What do you look for when choosing excursions?
I look for unique experiences that may not be found in a Google search of a town. If a location has the word attraction in the description, I tend to steer away from that. I like to say that I do not create anything. EVERY community has something that makes them special. I just try to uncover these unique opportunities and find ways to offer them to our guests. We want to focus on authentic experiences that can be found in small towns. I look for experiences that provide a glimpse into the history and culture of the area and then add some adventure opportunities when available.
We want to have a portfolio of offerings that provides something for everyone to enjoy. Some guests may gravitate toward an active experience such as ATV rides, and others may like a discovery center that tells the history of the area in which they are visiting. Interactive experiences are becoming increasingly popular, so I find ways to incorporate a hands-on option that allows guests to learn, create, and when possible, take something home.
Do you select the excursions before, during, or after you travel to a particular port?
I research the area and what makes it unique before I travel. However, the best planning takes place when I am visiting a community. While exploring with locals, we brainstorm during meals, on a driving exploration, and while meeting with residents. You truly must be there to envision what an experience may become. The people who offer an opportunity to come into their business, home, or onto their land have a passion for what they provide, and that is where the magic happens.
When you travel to the region, how long are you usually there? What is the process?
I’m typically in a region for a week each time and visit two or three times while developing a full itinerary of shore experiences. I travel to each community, and even some along the way. I stay, shop, and dine at local, family-owned locations, when possible, to get a true feel for the community. This also allows me to immerse myself in the culture and history of the area, meet the residents, and walk along the streets to find all the special things they have to offer.
During each visit, I spend time with local tourism professionals for guidance and expertise. After all, they live there and can provide candid feedback and suggestions.
How many excursions are a good number for a particular port?
It depends on the distance from the dock or landing, the quality of the excursions, and the capacity that gives the best overall experience for guests. For example, if we have a special Signature experience that can only accommodate six people, we have the opportunity to provide several other excursions that day. We want to provide a variety of offerings for guests while supporting the community as well. I also find ways to pair experiences together. This may be a musical medley experience that visits several locations or a history exploration that pulls locations together into one incredible story.
Do you continue to evaluate how certain excursions are going after a new itinerary is up and running?
I obtain guest and Excursions Director feedback. This not only helps us tweak experiences and remove those that do not meet expectations, but it also provides important insight into future development in that or other locations.
What are some of the new itineraries you have curated excursions for ACL?
Thus far, I have developed experiences on the Tennessee River, Florida Gulf Coast & Keys, and for several of our National Parks Land & Cruise Packages.