You read that correctly. Viking River Cruises planned to add the famous river to its portfolio of (d’oh) river cruises. But they backed down because of a law passed in 1886. From an article on Reason.com:
… President Grover Cleveland’s Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA). The 1886 law requires that in order to ferry passengers between ports in the United States, the ship must have been built in the United States and be owned and operated by Americans.
Viking investigated building ships in the U.S. but the economics would not work. In fact, virtually no cruise ships are built in the U.S. today. Which explains seemingly odd scheduling. Specifically the PVSA requires
Ships built and owned by foreign companies can depart and return from the same U.S. port, and they can go to distant foreign ports (outside of North America) and return back to a port in a different city. They cannot travel from port to port visiting locations within the United States. There are a very small number of exceptions, like Alaska.
But who’s really being hurt by this? We are. Again, from Reason.com:
The existence of the PVSA is particularly absurd because about half of all cruise ship passengers are American. No other country comes close. We are net exporters of cruisers. American tourists spend money overseas and the PVSA makes it impossible to reduce our “cruise tourism deficit.”
In other words, this prohibition is, effectively, a tax on … U.S. residents. And virtually no jobs were created by this protectionist anachronism.
Decades ago I taught computer classes on an American Hawai’i Cruises ship in the Hawai’ian islands. It was a fabulous experience. We departed from and re3turned to Honolulu. The cruise visited Maui, Lanai, and Hawai’i. Today Holland America offers similar cruises, but the departure points are in North America. That means instead of a pleasant five day voyage, you will spend at least 16 days — and a lot more money.
American Hawaii Cruises
As they were no longer American-flagged ships, C.Y. Tung was not able to operate them within American waters. in 1979, however, both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives approved their return to the States. In 1980 C.Y. Tung transferred Oceanic Independence to their newly established, US based American Hawaii Cruises Inc. After extensive repairs and a refit at the Kawasaki Dockyard Co. Ltd, Kobe Japan, Oceanic Independence was configured to accommodate 750 one class passengers and was listed as being 20,220 GRT. Oceanic Independence departed on a maiden cruise in June, 1980, operating 7-Day cruises around the Hawaiian Islands from Honolulu. On September 24, 1981, the cruise ship sustained minor damage off the coast of Nawiliwili [southern end of the Big Island], however passengers were safely taken ashore and flown home. After repairs in San Francisco the vessel returned to service. American Hawaii Cruises Inc became part of the American Global Line, Inc, in 1982 and restored the original name Independence to the liner once again.
With Independence having been successful in 1980, Oceanic Constitution was refitted in Taiwan and departed for Honolulu with a passenger capacity of 1,088 and listed at 20,199 GRT. There the cruise ship was transferred to the American Global Line, Inc, was rechristened by Princess Grace of Monaco under the ship’s original name, Constitution, and commenced cruising out of Honolulu in June 1982. In 1984 passenger capacity was reduced to 800 and in 1987 both ships were officially reregistered in Honolulu. In 1994 Independence was withdrawn from service and headed to Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry dock Company for an extensive refit. In April 1996, however, American Hawaii Cruises decided to retire the then 46-year-old Constitution due to high running costs and required renovations. Laid up due the company’s financial problems, many of Constitution’s parts were used on Independence. After the demise of Constitution, the older sister ship became the last US built ocean liner to sail under the American flag. Celebrations were held on board during Independence’s 1,000th voyage in August 1999. With the 2001 bankruptcy of American Hawaii Cruises, the owners of the American Hawaii Line, Independence became the property of the US Maritime Administration and sailed from Honolulu to San Francisco, arriving on November 8, 2001 to be greeted and led by the fireboat Phoenix.