Trip started with an overnight stay in Memphis at the Hilton. Hotel was in East Memphis but was within walking distance of a small mall so convenient for picking up last minute items at Target. Food at hotel restaurant was very good and reasonably priced. There was a delay in checking in as they had assigned my elderly aunt and I a king bed rather than two queens - the American Queen staff on-site ( a young lady by the name of Ms. Cruz) was very helpful. Extra AQ staff at the hotel would be a good idea - long line ups to ask questions about information that was contained in the literature provided.
Transfer to ship was relatively smooth. You were able to pick up a scheduled departure ticket. We had to check out at noon but our departure was not until 3:15. The earliest departure was 2:30. We chose to carry our own luggage on board rather than have someone come to our room at 8 am to pick it up.
Public areas on board were comfortable and well maintained. The Grand Saloon was the location of onboard entertainment which was surprising very good. The first night there was a wonderful singer, there were shipboard entertainers (two men and two women) a few nights, a New Orleans "Dixie" band another night and an interesting husband and wife team playing a variety of string instruments. The riverlorian lectures were very interesting and worth attending. Lots of seating but the balconies went first - two balcony sections are reserved for the suite cabins and the other balcony sections were often saved by one person in a group going very early to "hold" seats. Not a big issue as the view was good from all seats. We were on late seating in the J. M. White dining room so our entertainment started 6:30, usually over by 7:30 which left us about 30 minutes for a pre-dinner drink in the Main Deck Lounge (just outside the dining room) with piano tunes by Phil.
There was a plunge pool, good for a refreshing dip; a small, but well equipped exercise room (just behind the pool); and, several good bars. The River Grill had a great bartender but was often extremely busy, especially at sail away for the calliope concerts (the "grill" consisted of hot dogs on a rotating machine - think "The Simpsons"). The Engine Room Bar was a good stop and had outside areas very close to the paddlewheel (look out for the spray - I imagine the aft cabins on decks 3 and 4 were surprised by the amount of spray even a few decks up) Very sound pretty good so far right! There were drink specials daily and the wine served at dinner was of good quality.
The disappointing part of the cruise was the food. The most disappointing food onboard was the bread. Every night our wait staff came around with dinner rolls etc but each night the bread was really terrible. There were a sufficient number of choices (at least two main courses listed and other main offerings available, although you had to ask about the "daily specials"). We learned too late that these daily specials were often the best choice as they were individually prepared. The food was good but not special and often served cold, this was a problem especially for coffee. Every night there was bread pudding on the menu (as well as other desserts). The bread pudding were the unused "pastries" from breakfast. I believe in reusing however not when we are paying $800 per person per day. The unused "pastries" was not a rumour but confirmed by the pastry chef who was often present at the breakfast buffet. Delicious cookies were served daily-both in the Front Porch Café and also in the forward section of the Mark Twin Gallery. There was also an espresso/cappuccino machine in both locations, so at least there you could have hot coffee.
There was always an a la carte option as well as the buffet for breakfast and lunch. Buffets were usually very good. I tried the much publicized Bananas Foster French Toast one morning. It was very unappealing (a unidentifiable gooey mess) and the taste was even worse - too much of a good thing!?!
Bottom line... despite the hype about the food and Madam Charbonneau the food was at best okay with failing grades for the temperature of the food, presentation and the bread.
The pluses included the entertainment (previously mentioned) and the staff (although a surprising number were "in training" so, although they were wonderful, they were obviously inexperienced). The hop-on, hop-off buses were extremely well run (you picked up your departure ticket at the pursers desk the night before or in the morning). AQ handed out excellent maps of the hop-on, hop-off routes along with details of the various stops. Most of the stops included free admission for AQ guests. In the morning i.e. the first four hours of the hop-on, hop-off there was a local guide talking about the city and the various stops. At each port there were also "premium" excursion available. We opted to take a few - one in Natchez, The Story of Cotton, a full day tour of three plantations and finally a tour of New Orleans including airport drop off. Bikes are available (reserve one of the lime green bikes along with a lock and helmet at the purser's desk)These were good value for money. On our sailing the premium excursions sold out quickly and there were a number of people on a waiting list. We had booked our tours prior to sailing and were glad we did.