We had been on the mega ships before, and had already seen a great deal of the Caribbean, Europe and Alaska. When I saw that the Great American Steamboat Company was beginning voyages up the Mississippi River, I was thrilled.
I am not going to rate this cruise or tell you what it didn't have that other cruises do offer. Instead, I will say that this ship is so beautiful, evoking an often romanticized era in American history. To see the big red stern-wheeler turn was remarkable, as was the very corny, but memorable sound of an old-fashioned calliope (a musical instrument that forces steam through various sized pipes to make that circus-sounding music well know all too well). The public rooms included the men's parlor, the ladies card room, a map room, and a sitting room, all decked out in a Victorian style. The dining room offered both a buffet option, as well as ordering from a fixed menu.
At the front of the ship is a small, indoor room serving basic food and drink. A door on either side of the small buffet area takes you to the Front Porch of America, an outdoor area with rocking chairs lining the view of the Mississippi. It wasn't the prettiest room, but most people really enjoyed sitting there up front, getting a chance to meet and talk with their fellow shipmates.
I am normally a bit more go, go, go when I'm traveling; however, my other half is very content to just sit, relax and enjoy. For those who don't need to be at the casino, jacuzzi or chocolate buffet, and simply prefer to relax, this might be the trip for you.
The staff was incredible. The level of service was incredible, as was the ship's follow through. Some might blame that on language barriers with the larger cruise lines, but I truly believe that the staff and crew feel an ownership stake in this cruise line and sincerely want everyone to return again and again. A shout out to my friend, the Dining Room Host, who walked over to Oak Alley with me and, over a Mint Julep, asked me my honest opinion of the ship and its crew. Kudos also to my steward who kept us laughing through the journey.
We made three stops: St. Francisville, a small town in LA, Baton Rouge, the Capital of LA and Oak Alley, the site of a former plantation. Due to how low the river was, we were unable to dock at St. Francisville and disembarked instead on the other side of the river. Three big buses (that travel onland along the route of the cruise) picked us up, took us over a bridge and into St. Francisville. It is truly a place time forgot. Small independent stores and art galleries lined the (basically) one business road through town; the other road was a lined with some old stately homes and churches that now sit next to newer, more recognizable ones.
Baton Rouge was OK. To be fair, we arrived on a weekend, and the downtown core was almost completely closed up. Some, because it was the weekend, but others because it appears that a good deal of the downtown business has fled to the suburbs. Still, the cruise line proved a hop-on, hop-off bus tour that was really enjoyable and allowed us to cover far more than we might have done on our own.
Oak Alley is really not a port town, but a port where the old plantation of Oak Alley stands. They offer a free, very informative tour of the main house, and then have re-built two or three of the slaves' quarters, to show the types of living conditions many had to endure. There was a also a blacksmith's shop, a garage and, of course, a gift shop. The highlight of the trip is the mint julep: mint, simple syrup and rum. I toasted the cruise three times before heading back to the ship.
Would I go back? I would, but only on a journey that did not make a circle, like ours did. I would travel, for example, from Memphis to St. Louis. But I will also continue to travel on larger cruise lines.