American Queen

Whether you've cruised the seven seas, are a river cruise fanatic or have never set foot on a cruise ship deck, deciding if a Mississippi River boat is for you can be confusing. How can you make an educated decision if all you know is the ship you're considering has a paddlewheel? (Guess what? They've all got paddlewheels!)

Built in 1996, but relaunched in 2012 after a $6.5 million refurbishment, American Queen radiates authenticity, warmth and Southern hospitality. Cruise Critic has compiled seven reasons why the river boat will appeal to people curious about the United States' largest waterway and the quaint and sometimes storied cities that line its shores.

American Queen might just be the ship for you if:

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You want to experience the Mississippi River with a 19th-century vibe.

Inspired by the best features of the many steamships that used to ply the river, American Queen offers classic Victorian decor from exterior gingerbread latticework and interior polished woods to sparkling chandeliers, with all lounges and rooms decked out in 19th-century-era furnishings. And the bright red paddlewheel at the back of the ship? It's not just decorative; it's the boat's actual propulsion system. In the Mark Twain Gallery, you'll find Tiffany lamps and artifacts dating back to the heyday of the steamship era; the two-deck Grand Saloon was inspired by Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C. Play a game of cards or gossip over a puzzle in the light, breezy and floral Ladies' Parlor or sip a bourbon while trading bawdy jokes in the dark, wood-paneled and animal-head-bedecked Men's Parlor.

Pool on American Queen

You want a small ship but like big-ship amenities.

With just 436 passengers, American Queen is a small boat by most cruisers' standards, but unlike most small boats, American Queen offers many of the same amenities you'll find on a big cruise ship. American Queen boasts six lounges, a two-deck theater in which a resident group of singers and dancers perform almost-nightly song-and-dance revues, two dining venues, a menu of spa services and even a small pool.

You don't want to spend extra money on sightseeing.

In every port of call, American Queen passengers can take advantage of free hop-on, hop-off buses that cycle through a series of four to seven stops every 15 to 30 minutes. Included are tour guides on the bus, as well as entrance fees for select attractions. For example, inclusions in Hannibal, Missouri might be the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum Complex, Cave Hollow West Winery with wine tasting, or the Mark Twain Museum Gallery and Big River Train Town museum. In Baton Rouge, you'll get entry to the USS Kidd DD-61 destroyer, which served in World War II and the Korean War; Old Governor's Mansion, built in 1930 by Governor Huey Long; Louisiana State Capital building, along with the Old State Capital building; Old Arsenal Museum; LSU Museum of Art; and Capital Park Museum.

You want an extra day of sightseeing before or after your cruise.

Pricing for all American Queen sailings includes a one-night pre- or post-cruise hotel stay. With most voyages beginning or ending in a major city -- such as New Orleans, St. Louis, Memphis, Cincinnati or St. Paul --  cruisers can easily tack on an extra day of sightseeing, without the hassle or expense of booking a hotel.

Live music

You like big band, jazz and piano music.

One of American Queen's strongest assets is its fantastic six-piece jazz and ragtime band. Whether playing backup for the onboard ensemble of singers or dancers or taking center stage with a series of big band hits, the ensemble will get your feet tapping and your body itching to get up and dance. (You'll get that chance to boogie at the '50s and '60s sock hop!) Additionally, two exceptionally talented piano players entertain passengers nightly -- one in the piano bar doing sing-a-long classics as well as some mean Sinatra covers, and a second coupled with an electric guitar player for more rockin' tunes.

You enjoy getting to know your neighbors.

With fewer than 500 people onboard American Queen, it's not difficult to get to know a fair number of your fellow cruisers -- especially your neighbors. With a handful of exceptions, cabins do not have private balconies. Instead, doors lead from your room to a shared promenade where wooden chairs are positioned to your right and left. It's common to find yourself engaged in a conversation with your neighbor over morning coffee, or pointing out wildlife in the late afternoon while gliding up or down the river.

You like Southern and Cajun cooking.

American Queen's fine cuisine is very much themed around Southern, Cajun and Creole tastes. From the Classic Southern Breakfast Plate (eggs and applewood bacon or sausage with grits or home fries) and a revolving choice of hashes for breakfast to smoked catfish, fried green tomatoes, prime rib of pork, jambalaya and other regional favorites for lunch and dinner, your hankering for Down Home Cooking will not go unsatisfied.