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American Classic Voyages won't cruise into Buffalo next summer.

The cruise line has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and shut down six of its vessels, including the Cape May Light. Last summer, the 242-passenger ship offered week-long, one-way cruises between Buffalo and Quebec City.

"That was our maiden voyage season," said Fran Sevcik, a spokeswoman for American Classic Voyages. "The ship was very popular with passengers. It was catching on with travel agents. The bookings were improving steadily."

Some of the cruises sold out, she said.

But companywide, American Classic Voyages said its bookings fell 50 percent and its cancellations increased by 30 percent in the four weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The company said it faced "a weak cash position," with no immediate prospects for additional capital. It's cutting more than 2,000 jobs as it dropped service on the East Coast and Hawaii.

Just two months ago, the cruise line was preparing for expanded Great Lakes service in 2002 that would include trips between Buffalo and Chicago. A new twin sister ship, the Cape Cod Light, was expected to share the workload.

Those plans have unraveled. The only vessel that the company plans to keep operating is the Delta Queen steamboat, which travels the Mississippi River, Sevcik said. It might also operate a second vessel on the Mississippi.

Local travel industry officials said the Cape May Light had a strong season in Buffalo this year.

"People responded to the product and liked the itinerary," said Carolyn Harding, a spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association of Western and Central New York.

The Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau set up an information booth at the Erie Basin Marina when the Cape May Light was docked, to promote area attractions to the passengers.

"We thought it was great potential for the individual who wanted to see the United States and part of Canada in a luxurious way, which the cruise ship definitely was," said Mary Summers, a CVB spokeswoman.

Harding said about 80 percent of the passengers who boarded the vessel in Buffalo came from outside the region, with some flying in from as far away as California and Oklahoma.

Harding and Summers said they hope another operator will step in and keep the coastal cruises alive.

"It would be unfortunate if it's something that isn't continued next year," Summers said.


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