At the Yard: Queen of the Mississippi
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- Gingerbread trim is not a phrase generally associated with cruise vessels, but when you're paying homage to 19th century steamboats, it fits. You can just make out a touch of paintwork on the trim and a white railing above the first deck (near the red stripe). Both railing and painted flourish are experiments -- and neither made the final cut. The plain white railing with vertical panels wasn't deemed sufficiently ornate, says Charles.
- Building the ship from scratch means the QOM is being designed with (some) speed in mind. The seven diesel engines will propel the ship 50 percent faster than GASC's American Queen, QOM's chief competition next year. QOM's top speed will be about 13 miles per hour vs. about 8 m.p.h. for AQ. Charles' aim is to maximize scenic cruising during daylight hours, and speed helps achieve this, especially when you're battling a 5 m.p.h. upstream current. The higher top speed means QOM can cruise from NOLA to Vicksburg in half the time it takes American Queen (subtract 5 from 13 and 8).
- The first passenger deck contains a dozen riverview cabins (square window, no balcony). But these aren't your typical inside, bowel-of-the-boat rooms -- they're 268 square feet, some of the largest standard cabins in cruising. A number of the accommodations have connecting doors, and Charles tells us that a number of passengers have booked adjoining duos to create suites. They'll set up one as a living area, the other a bedroom. That's no cheap proposition. Each cabin starts at $4,000 per person for a week-long cruise.
- Here in the dining salon, the dangling bulbs will be replaced with eight crystal chandeliers, and the now-gutted walls will be paneled in lacquered wood. The whole complement of passengers -- right now it's set at 150, but that could change if some double cabins become singles -- will gather here for dinner during one sitting.
- Meals, which include cocktails, wine and beer, will come from the adjacent galley. American Cruise Lines is still finalizing menus (we volunteered to help), but a sample version had our mouth watering. The focus is on Creole and Southern cuisine, with options like seafood gumbo, pecan-crusted grouper, beef tenderloin and bananas foster crème brulee.
- Sixty-six of the 78 cabins have private balconies (partitions still need to be added). On older riverboats, the balcony area is often a walkway that's actually the only point of entry to the cabin. Standard verandah accommodations on Deck 2 have solid doors and picture windows, over which blue tape currently holds protective plastic in place. Deck furniture hasn't been signed off on, but they're considering cushioned wicker chairs with a table. Charles wants breakfast on the balcony to be a key component, so careful consideration is being made to chair and table height. American Cruise Line isn't technically considered a 'luxury' brand, but some of the touches -- like the balcony breakfast or being able to swap your chair for a lounger with the proverbially ringing of a bell, puts it up there service-wise.
- The ship's top accommodations are the 460-plus-square corner suites with sliding glass doors and balconies that wrap a few feet around the bow for forward river views. Prices are subject to change, but they start at over $6,000 per person. Too pricey? QOM's standard balcony cabins have a door-next-to-window set up. Still, more than a dozen passengers who've come to tour the ship were so smitten with the light-loving sliding glass that they swapped their balcony rooms for the pricier suites. Suites and cabins alike are custom built -- no giant cranes slotting in pre-fab rooms here.
- With more than 9 months till launch, there's a lot of work still to be done before the Victorian vibe -- achieved through paneling, etching, chandelier hanging -- is realized. Instead of installing wainscoting, workers are at this point busy welding support beams and joining panels. Look above our masked welder. The stuff that looks a bit like Berber carpeting is fire retardant insulation that lines almost, well, everything.
- The Paddlewheel Lounge is the only public venue with an official name at this point. Those gaps beyond the ladder are actually frames for sliding glass doors, through which you'll be able to see the top of the fire truck red paddlewheel smoothly spinning. Inside, the lounge will be decked out in walnut paneling, etched glass flourishes and possibly a colorful mural.
- A pair of welders work on a railing on a stern deck.
- Queen of the Mississippi's sun deck will feature a glass-covered fitness area, putting green and plenty of chaise loungers. Farther forward are the wheelhouse and cabins for the ship's top 10 officers.
The ship's 23-ton, 28-foot wide (or tall) paddlewheel looks like the fruit of a giant erector set. The long central shaft and rotors were built elsewhere and delivered to the site, and workers are now assembling the parts with a little motivation from the local country music station. Wood panels will soon fill in the gaps -- you can see one test panel -- and then boat and wheel will be wed in February.
Queen of the Mississippi's sternwheel isn't the only means of propulsion. Tucked underneath the stern are a pair of Z-drive units, and the 1,900 horse power twin engines that will help maintain speed especially when cruising up river.
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