Yes, this cruise was in April, and it is now July, but I wanted to see if a few months would change the way I felt about the trip-Short Answer-No. A little background: I am 53, DH is 57. While we have been on a number of traditional cruises (19) this was our first River Cruise. This particular cruise, Southern Mississippi, had been on our bucket list for some time. As anyone who has sailed on the American Queen, or has looked into sailing on this boat, knows that the cruises are not cheap, and you pay a premium for this unique experience. I had very high expectations for this trip.
We flew into New Orleans Wednesday evening and took a cab to our hotel in the French Quarter. The price for a cab to/from the airport is a flat rate of $33 for two (+ tip), $14 for each additional person. My parents drove in from Texas for a couple of days before our cruise to visit, and they wanted to stay at the French Market Inn. I had read several not glowing reviews of this place, but I was More
pleasantly surprised; the hotel was clean, staff was friendly, and the price (About $98 per night) was very reasonable for the French Quarter. The rooms are on the small size, but had everything I require.
After a day and a half of exploring New Orleans, and eating some great food, my parents left to go back to Texas, and we moved to the Hilton Riverside for the beginning of our AQ experience.
While I can understand why AQ uses this hotel, I wasn’t very impressed by the building as I found it completely void of charm. It is close to where the AQ docks, and has the space to house a large number of guests, and conference rooms to do check-in. But like most large hotels it seemed cold and impersonal. However, I will give the staff an A+ as everyone was friendly and helpful, and in the case of the front desk clerk, able to fix a problem. When we went to check-in at first they could not locate our reservation. It turns out our last name was slightly misspelled (I didn’t even notice) and that extra letter in our last name gave us several moments of panic. Then we lugged our bags to our room and major disappointment-Not only did we not have the king bed requested (DH is 6’8” and needs all the space he can get), but our view from the window was a brick wall! For the price this room costs I thought this was unacceptable. DH went to front desk, and we were able to get the room changed to a deluxe king, that included a view. The person at the front desk told my DH that the AQ gets the lowest grade rooms for their guests. The next morning we took our included breakfast vouchers to the restaurant, which served a buffet. The line to the restaurant was very long, but moved relatively fast. The food was average, but the service was friendly and good.
Our check in was scheduled for 10am. Guests taking a pre-cruise tour had check-in scheduled for 8:30, and returning guests and suite guests were scheduled for 9 am. We walked by the room reserved for checking in around 9:10 and noticed no line, so we asked if we could check in early as we wanted to take a self-booked tour and the answer was yes. Check-in was very quick; a minute or 2 to get your cruise card. Another 1-2 minutes to register our credit card. If desired, one could book optional shore excursions at this time. There was one long line-for table assignments for dinner. It was moving very slowly and since I didn’t care where I sat we decided to forgo this part of the check-in process. I would rue this decision later.
After checking out of the Hilton we went on a self-booked swamp tour which was quite good, and got us back to the Hilton at around 2:45. Since we could begin boarding at 3:00 we walked around the back of the hotel, along the river front and got in line. There was already a considerable line, and by 3:00 it stretched for quite a ways. Promptly at 3pm they opened the gangway, and passengers began boarding. The line moved quickly, and they had staff to assist anyone in a wheelchair. I loved the fact that as we boarded crew members that appeared to hold positions of authority were greeting everyone as they boarded. We were only one deck up (Texas) and someone was there to point us in the right direction. We quickly found our cabin (Florida), and I opened the door and…….I was completely charmed. Yes, the cabins were a bit small, but at a glance I could tell the bed would be comfortable (It was with a pillow top mattress and two fluffy pillows each), and a quick glance into the bathroom I saw that we would have a decent size shower. All the linens were fresh, white and new looking. Even my DH, who normally could care less about our accommodation’s loved our cabin. After putting down our carry-on’s we started exploring the boat. At every turn I thought the AQ was delightful. Our first stop was the Front Porch Café, where we got a light bite, and then we toured the Gentlemen’s and Ladies Parlors, and other public areas. Our favorite space had to be on Deck 4, FWD where there were a number of rocking chairs available to just sit and rock, and watch the bank of the river go by. By time we had finished our exploring it was time for the Muster Drill. While very easy; one donned their lifejacket and stood outside their cabin, and a crew member came by and checked you name off a list, no real instruction was given. If there was an emergency and the call went out to abandon ship I think it would be complete chaos. I didn’t see any lifeboats so I can only guess that the drill is to jump overboard and make for shore.
No sooner was the muster drill over and it was announced that we would be setting sail at 5:30. This was something as a surprise as our itinerary had us leaving New Orleans at 9 PM. We had planned to go back on shore as soon as muster drill was over to pick up a few more souvenirs, and get another praline at Laura’s Sweet Shop (Best pralines ever!) on Decatur in the French Quarter. No reason for an early departure was given.
Then came, what for us was the only real negative of the entire cruise, the dining room. When I had booked this trip, and I had booked it as soon as the 2014 schedule was released, and I had selected Late Seating (There were two seating’s; 5:15 and 7:45). Apparently, late seating was overbooked, and we were bumped from late to early. I was not happy. I just can’t eat my dinner that early, and I don’t understand how if I had confirmed late seating for dinner according to my documents how I can be bumped to an earlier seating without my consent. I spoke to the Maitre d’ to no avail. Her suggestion was that we eat dinner in the Front Porch Café nearly set me over the edge. What I paid what we paid for this trip I wanted to eat a fine dinner in the dining room, not hot dogs in the café. I grudging agreed to accept early seating for the first night, with the promise we would get late seating the other two nights. It just went downhill from there. When we showed up for dinner there was mass confusion in getting people seated. We were first seated at one table only to be moved 5 minutes later to an 8-top in which we were the only people sitting there. Later we were joined by a couple that got bumped from their 2-top by the window to being stuck with us at a bad table in the middle of the room that had no waiter assigned to it. We found out we had no waiter when one came by and asked why we were sitting at a table that had no waiter assigned to it! Needless to say our service was horrible. Whoever had a second to spare would come over to take our order, clear plates, and if we were very lucky, refill our water glasses. I heard later that late seating had it even worst. There were suppose to start at 7:45, they didn’t allow passengers into the dining room until 8:45! We spoke to one couple that at 10:30 PM they were just then getting dessert. Lunch the next two days was just as bad. Even though lunch was served as a buffet, so no real service was required by the wait staff, it was still impossible to get water or ice tea. At brunch on Easter Sunday, and lunch the second day I know I shocked people by going to the wait stations and grabbing pitchers of water and tea and filling mine and my husband’s glasses, and anyone else at the table that wanted water/tea. Later on the second day I did go back to the Maitre d’ and asked about my late seating assignment that she had promised, and of course she had not been unable to fulfill that promised. Without raising my voice I did let her have it. Then I went upstairs and asked to speak to the Hotel Manager, and I let him have it too. I am not normally the type of person who complains, but when one pays $1000+ a day the expectations are high, and should be met. We did eat dinner the second night at the Front Porch Café and it was good, and wonders of wonders when I got up on our final day there was a note from the Maitre d’ that she had a place for us in the late seating. While still not up to my expectations, I will say service was better the last night. As for food I would say it ranged from good to very good. I had better in New Orleans, but the food was acceptable.
Back to the positives- Saturday night (The night before Easter) there were foil covered chocolate Easter Bunnies on our pillows, which I thought was an amusing touch, and they offered two Easter services on Sunday, one at sunrise, and the other at around 10 AM. We had a wonderful room steward, and the crew members assigned to the Front Porch Café were friendly and helpful.
I liked the entertainment. Each night they had a production show in the theater that while not as elaborate as to what are found on the big cruise ships was very enjoyable, and no issues with finding a seat. There was also a piano player just outside the dining room that appeared to be quite popular.
On Sunday we were suppose to get to Baton Rouge around 1:00 in the afternoon, but the captain asked that at least one representative from each party meet him in the theater at 1:15, where he announced that due to high water and a swift current we would not make it to Baton Rouge until about 6, by which time everything would be closed. We did go by the shore line and saw the City Skyline, and promptly turned around and headed south. It seemed to me that most people took the cancellation of our stop in Baton Rouge in stride. As we headed south we did pass the Queen of the Mississippi heading north. It was kind of neat to see the other riverboat on the Mississippi that carries overnight passengers.
Our final day had us docked near Oak Alley Plantation, and a tour of the plantation was included. We had a special “Before Hours” tour as we had signed up for the premium tour of Laura Plantation as well. Oak Alley was beautiful, and out tour guide very knowledgeable. Then it was a short ride to Laura Plantation. If you can only go to one plantation I would go to this one. While the house is not as grand as some of the other plantations, the tour is wonderful, and you can get a real feel for what life was like on a plantation.
And that was basically it. We set sail for New Orleans around 8:30 PM, and arrived somewhere between 2:30-3:00 in the morning. We were first off the boat to catch a cab to the airport for an early flight, and our trip was over.
To sum it all up: Did I enjoy myself? Yes, very much so and I would love to sail on the AQ again, BUT they need to work on the fiasco that is the service in the dining room, or they can lower the price to a point that my expectations are lower. Less