Updated by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor in Chief
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.
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 its senior demographic becomes clear. This is a particularly good cruise option for passengers with disabilities as, unlike those on many European riverboats, elevators go to all key decks.
Having said that, younger, more active travelers will find a lot to like about American Queen. It's a great option for a relaxing vacation. While Americans are the predominant audience, the cruise line is expanding its outreach to appeal to European, U.K. and Australian travelers who want to experience Americana.
American Queen Dress Code
Casual, comfortable attire is encouraged both onboard and ashore. 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 are 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.
My wife and I have taken 16 cruises and this was the worst one yet. But before I get to the problems, I will cover the general items.
This cruise started in Cincinnati with an over night stay at the Hilton on June 27 then cruised the Ohio ...continue
There are those of us who long for the romance of travel in a bygone era. We were born too late. We search for the opportunity of riding the rails behind a true steam engine in passenger cars from over 100 years ago. And there are those of us who ...continue
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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 ...continue