Updated by Theodore W. Scull, Cruise Critic contributor
Originally built in 1996 for the now-defunct Delta Queen Steamboat Company, 436-passenger American Queen had been laid up since 2008, when its most recent owner went bust. But you just can't keep the world's largest steamboat down -- particularly since this classic form of transportation on the Mighty Mississippi and its tributaries has been missing in action for several years.
Hence, the boat's reemergence -- courtesy of its new owners, the American Queen Steamboat Company (formerly the Great American Steamboat Company) -- came as heartening news to everyone from history buffs to river aficionados longing for a return to days of old.
Before relaunching in April 2012, American Queen received a $6.5 million sprucing to make the Victorian decor -- chandeliers, upholstery, polished wood -- pop. Cabins got new bedding and flat-screen TV's, and a top-deck dining venue (River Grill) was added. Six decks swathed in swirly white gingerbread trim received a fresh coat of paint. A swarm of staffers, many mined from the boat's homeport of Memphis, Tennessee, was brought onboard and trained. Famed Southern chef Regina Charboneau was recruited to oversee American Queen's cuisine, developing new recipes in the process.
After a bit of settling in with a mostly new crew, American Queen worked out its inaugural-season kinks by mid-summer 2012. Now service flaws can't obscure the ship's status as a true American original celebrating the nation's river history, lore, traditions, music and food. Whether it's tying up at a little town like Madison, Indiana, navigating a river lock, or docking at New Orleans, it makes quite an impression. And where else in the States can you watch a boat lower its ornate black funnels so it can go under a bridge?
River cruisers will note that tariffs are higher than for mainstream ocean cruises. Keep in mind that rates include a pre-cruise hotel stay; transfer to the boat; soft drinks, coffee and tea all day; beer and wine with dinner; a complimentary set of shore excursions; and use of bicycles during river port calls. The line also pays American wages and benefits to its crew.
American Queen cruises the upper and lower Mississippi, as well as the Ohio and Tennessee rivers on 5- to 14-night theme cruises. Cruises depart from New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, St. Paul, Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Chattanooga.
American Queen Fellow Passengers
American Queen passengers tend to be mature, and many have already experienced Mississippi River cruising in the past, as well as ocean cruises. Add in the fact that the boat is more lace-and-doily than neon-and-glitter and not geared in any way toward families, and the demographic becomes clear. (A few families do come onboard in the summer.) The boat accommodates passengers with mobility issues with an elevator and helpful staff, but getting on and off in port may still be tricky (see Public Rooms).While Americans are the predominant audience, line executives believe that European travelers who want a feel for true Americana will latch onto the vessel.
American Queen Dress Code
Casual, comfortable attire is encouraged for both onboard and off. Shorts and T-shirts are discouraged during dinner in the J.M. White Dining Room, and passengers generally comply. Many exhibit a laid-back elegance, with casual dresses and khakis prevalent in the evening. Comfortable walking shoes are a must for time off the boat and for merely strolling around the decks. At the Captain's Welcome and Farewell Receptions in the Mark Twain Gallery, blazers with collared shirts and nice dresses were common.
American Queen Gratuity
Tips are not included in the cruise fare; gratuities of $14.50 per person per day are added daily into onboard accounts. In addition, a 15 percent service charge is automatically added to all alcoholic drinks purchased onboard. Passengers are encouraged to tip guides on the Premium Choice Tours, but that is left to their discretion.
We have done River Cruises in Europe before, but this was our first in the USA, There are some differences in this inclusive cruise package depending on where you book - my friends booked through the National Trust and my wife and I booked through ...continue
The American Steamboat Company AKA American Queen takes care of everything. All excursions are included, although it also offers the option of taking additional paid excursions. One particularly nice feature is the hop-on hop-off buses (which look ...continue
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The American Queen is definitely back and better than ever. We have just returned from a 9 day New Orleans to Memphis cruise and not only was the shipboard experience excellent the hop-on hop-off bus routes and the premium tours were excellent. ...continue