Having just returned from a 7 day cruise on the American Queen, plus a pre-night Hilton hotel stay, my wife and I certainly agree that the boat (it’s hard not to call it a ship, with its 400+ passenger capacity) is a lovely, nostalgia-inducing vessel with Victorian era furnishings and charming public rooms. We liked what we saw on their website video and booked one of the two flagship cabins to fully enjoy the boat (The Mark Twain Suite, #501), which was lovely and had a huge private balcony.
But after boarding the boat in New Orleans and settling into our cabin, things started to go awry. We joined our fellow passengers for the 8:00 PM second seating for dinner at the waiting room outside the restaurant … and waited … and waited. Some of us were now hearing grumbling from the first seating passengers that menu items were unavailable, or delivered cold. After we were finally seated we were served a poor and disorganized meal by frustrated staff who were clearly doing their best to please us. One of them apologized for the confusion and told us that many of the crew had walked off the boat without notice the night before and they were very short-staffed.
This staffing issue impacted the entire trip. The food quality never remotely approached the enthusiastic reviews I had read before booking the trip and many cabins were not serviced until dinnertime. Two of the "bartenders" mixed every drink by looking them up in a book (for a gin & tonic?!) But I have to give credit to the Engine Room Bar bartender, who was as experienced and professional as I have found anywhere. The on-board entertainment ensemble was also excellent.
After a fine day off the boat exploring Natchez, our third stop, many of the passengers were in a bit better mood. But when it was time to leave, the Captain announced that there would be a delay because the generator was inoperable and that a part had been ordered. The delay continued until bedtime and we woke to find ourselves still in Natchez. Later that day the Captain announced that we would be fixed soon, but that all future stops and excursions were being canceled so that we could be in Memphis by our disembarkation time. Since those future stops included Vicksburg, Mississippi, the highlight of the trip for many, all good feelings vanished, (as did the Captain) even after we were offered free drinks. When we learned that the same problem had occurred earlier this year and hadn’t been corrected, it was even more annoying.
By the time we all got off the boat a few days later, we found no one who was happy with the trip. By that time we had also heard the American Queen Steamboat Company’s solution to the issues – a $500 credit for each of us toward another of their cruises, which added insult to injury. For a fare of over $15,000 for those few days, we expected much better.
Perhaps these problems were unique events, and won’t be repeated again. But from the mood of the remaining crew (more left when we docked in Memphis) the American Queen is currently not a happy boat, as lovely as it may be. I would advise any potential future clients to reassure themselves that both the personnel and mechanical issues that are present now are resolved before booking a trip.