My wife and I were on the very first cruise of the steamboat American Queen on April 13, 2012, a round trip six-day voyage to Vicksburg out of New Orleans. The folks at Great American Steamboat Company were anxious to please and they succeeded; our expectations were met on every level.
The cruise fare included a night's stay at the Westin Canal Place and transfer to the boat via the line's exclusive motor coaches. The coaches followed us up the river, providing transport to the river towns and plantations along the way.
The Queen's wooden paddle wheel really works, though the boat is augmented with bow thrusters and special 360-degree engine pods. Just forward of the wheel is the Engine Room Bar and the River Grill is on the top deck. There were 436 passengers and 175 dedicated all-American crew and there never was a sense of crowding.
Our cabin was on Texas deck, near the Front Porch of America at the bow, which offered a great river view, fresh popcorn, gourmet hot dogs, ice cream and cookies 24 hours a day in case a passenger might feel peckish.
In the evenings (two sittings for dinner), we sat down to one of Chef Regina Charbonneau's culinary masterpieces. Her food, full of Southern sensibilities (and lots of alcohol) got better each night; the pompano baked in parchment followed by prime rib of pork, Veal Oscar, tournedos of beef and -- finally -- a choice of beef filet with apple/bourbon/bacon daube glace or deviled lobster with crabmeat topping.
I had the latter, but our waitress, Toni, overheard me tell Nancy that the beef looked awesome, so she snuck out a serving for me as well.
Surf and turf on the mighty Mississippi as the river rushed by outside. Wine at dinner was included in the cruise price, a nice touch.
Other dinner treats included white bean and andouille soup, crab with asparagus appetizers, crawfish beignets, slivered, blackened beef salad, Oysters Rockefeller, mock turtle soup with a distant sense of sherry lurking in each mouthful, shrimp remoulade, bread pudding with creamed Irish whiskey and dense bourbon-infused pecan pie.
Not to mention the breakfast buffet with cheesy grits and giant shrimp and the guy carving a slice (or three) of buttery soft roast beef.
Or the wait staff delivering individual silver wine buckets with champagne to our cabins. And the jazz brunch with incredible offerings (can you say sacher torte?) and lots of time to enjoy them. Hey, we live like this all the time, don't you know?
Oh, man, life on the river was sweet.
Basic shore excursions (plus first night's hotel, all food and wine at dinner on board) were included in the price. Each stop offered a special tour as an option, but we only took the Vicksburg battle excursion which was worth the money.
Our days were full: When not visiting ashore, we descended into the engine room for a tour with the Chief Engineer and climbed to the pilothouse for a talk from the "riverlorian" about navigation and how the American Queen worked. One day, Nancy went to the Grand Saloon and learned to make flaky biscuits from Chef Charbonneau. Sometimes, the Queen would hydraulically lower her smokestacks to pass under low bridges; quite a sight.
At night, we went to professionally-mounted shows, including a "Night with Mark Twain," and a revue of Hollywood musicals.
There were a few early personnel glitches that were quickly resolved and I understand the management has made efforts to upgrade some of the mechanicals.
There were several long stretches of just cruising past tugs and huge sea-going ships -- it's called riverboatin' -- and that was the best part of all.
Natchez and St. Francisville folk were on the riverbank to welcome us and say farewell. Nice people were encountered everywhere, most especially the friendly, helpful crew.
Overall, this cruise was well worth every penny we spent and I wouldn't hesitate to go again, perhaps on the upper Mississippi or the Civil War-themed cruise.