I have cruised 68 times, but only once on a riverboat, in France, and never on a traditional steamboat. I had a opportunity to sail on the newly rechristened American Queen recently.
The American Queen was built in 1995, but completely refurbished in 2012 before being reintroduced to service at the end of June 2012. Based in Memphis, the ship carries 436 passengers in 222 staterooms and suites. Six decks high, it has inside single, double, and triple inside cabins, window staterooms, outside staterooms with French doors that open onto the deck or onto a private veranda, and some suites with verandas. All are furnished with Victorian style furnishings, most with bathtubs and showers, and flat screen TV?s. Bedding is ultra-plush pillow top mattresses.
Meals are served in the dining room, either ala carte or buffet for breakfast and lunch, and 2 traditional dinner seatings, 5:15 and 7:45. Meals have a New Orleans influence, thanks to the New Orleans based chef. Five course dinners include a choice of 3 entrees, which included such as prime rib, lamb chops, chioppino, shrimp Creole, and lobster stuffed with crabmeat. Crab cakes were available often. Wine and beer are included at dinner. Bottled water and soft drinks are included. Specialty coffees from machines are available at all hours. In addition to the dining room, the Front Porch serves light breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Another venue, the River Grill is available on deck when the weather is more moderate. Breakfast buffets included alternating waffles or omelets. Food was excellent.
They had 3,000 applicants for 300 staff positions, of which 172 are shipboard staff. The service was very good, with attentive wait staff. Some had worked previously on the Delta Queen or American Queen.
Entertainment during our voyage was focused on the music of the 60?s, with one night with a group called the Memphis Sons, who were superb, the original Loving Spoonful band, two nights with the ship?s 4 talented entertainers and orchestra, and the last night B.J. Thomas and his band, including 2 entertainers that have been with him over 30 years. The Grand Saloon is designed to resemble Ford?s Theatre in Washington, and there is even a Lincoln box. It provides for a more intimate show than a large venue.
Those with the late seating attend the shows at 6:45, and those with early seating attend the second show at 8:15pm. In the evening there is a lounge called the Engine Room Bar, where the band tended to jam and play some dance music after the shows. There was some ballroom dancing in the Grand Saloon after the late shows.
The itinerary for my trip was the last 5 days of a 7 day voyage from Louisville to Pittsburg. We boarded in Cincinnati, right downtown by the Reds stadium and Bengals field. Boarding is 3pm, no exceptions, but they have a fleet of 3 buses, 2 of them wrapped to emulate the American Queen, and they provide a hop-on/hop-off route in each port, with free entry to some of the museums included. In each port they also have some premium excursions available at additional cost. Other stops included Maysville, Point Pleasant, Marietta, Wheeling WV, and finally downtown riverfront in Pittsburg, within sight of the Pirates and Steelers stadiums. Each day when departing, they play the steam calliope for a while to the delight of the crowds on the riverfront.
Traveling at 8 knots provides a leisurely trip up the river, with people on the river banks coming out to wave and take pictures as we passed. Without bingo and all the activities of a cruise ship, there is time to sit and unwind, read, and watch the scenery from the promenade decks or the front porch. There is also a small swimming pool on the top deck, and a very small fitness center with weights, a cycle, and treadmill. They also have bicycles and helmets available for use in port.
The demographic is definitely mostly 60+ boomer and boomer?s parents, retired, who respond to direct mail rather than email, and have traveled to Europe, done river cruises there, and been to Alaska and National Parks.
While traveling the Ohio in mid-summer, they move to the Upper Mississippi for fall foliage trips up to St Paul, and then back down mostly doing Memphis to New Orleans sailings through the end of the year and until late June 2013. Price point is premium, but there are some value sailings, and the availability of the single occupancy staterooms is valuable, too.
I definitely enjoyed it and look forward to another opportunity.