Originally built in 1996 for the 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 seen a rise in popularity of late.
Hence, the boat's reemergence -- courtesy of its current 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 spruce-up to make the Victorian decor -- chandeliers, upholstery, polished wood -- pop. Cabins got new bedding and flat-screen TVs, and a top-deck bar/snack venue (River Grill) was added. Six decks swathed in swirly white gingerbread trim received a fresh coat of paint. A swarm of all-American 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. Management stayed busy during the brief few off-season months that American Queen was not sailing; in early 2013, the line continued to make upgrades, specifically improving the Front Porch buffet venue and the J.M. White dining room.
After a bit of settling in with a mostly new crew, American Queen seems to be sailing smoothly. In fact, the steamboat is delightful and feels much more like a small and historic boutique hotel than.
These days, there's not much that can obscure the ship's status as a true American original that celebrates the nation's river history, lore, traditions, music and food. Whether it's tying up in a little town like Madison, Indiana, navigating a river lock, or docking in 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 for this boat are higher than they are for mainstream ocean cruises. Keep in mind that rates on American Queen 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 port calls. The line also pays American wages and offers benefits to its crew.
American Queen cruises the upper and lower Mississippi, as well as the Ohio and Tennessee rivers on five- to 14-night theme cruises. Cruises depart from New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, St. Paul, Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Chattanooga.