On October 24th we took an American Cruise Line (ACL) trip on their America from St. Paul to New Orleans. Then on December 4th, we took the American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) cruise on their American Duchess, round-trip, ... Read More
On October 24th we took an American Cruise Line (ACL) trip on their America from St. Paul to New Orleans. Then on December 4th, we took the American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) cruise on their American Duchess, round-trip, Nashville-to-Nashville. Though both these paddle-wheelers are similar in many ways, we also found numerous differences. (The comments below apply to ACL's America, unless otherwise indicated.)
FOOD: All meals were superb, with many selections available. Everyone had to arrive at the same time, but we could sit wherever we wanted. Most of the tables were configured for 6 persons or more. The food servers were all college-age kids, enthusiastic, and inclined to joke with the passengers. On only one occasion did their inexperience result in a problem when our food arrived much later than it should have.
(On AQSC's Duchess, food was even better, with many selections available for starters, appetizers, main courses, and deserts. Their tables were configured for 4 people; a few would seat 2. We could come to a meal at any time of our choosing; the staff would ask if we would mind sharing a table. If we said "no," we would be seated with another couple, or seated at a new table and another couple would later join us. The waiters, all male, were a professional but reserved lot, and seldom smiled.)
Bottom line: Service slightly better on America, selection slightly better on Duchess. A tie.
DRINK: Wine and beer were provided at lunch, at an hour-long happy hour before dinner, and readily throughout dinner. The wine was of mediocre quality, but we could ask for a better substitute, and it would be readily provided.
(For Duchess, there was no free alcohol for lunch. For dinner, one white and one red wine were provided, also of mediocre quality, but with no option for a substitute. Higher-quality wines were available at steep prices. After we had consumed about half our glass, the staff would appear and refill the glass. After that, no further servings were volunteered, but if we asked for more, it was willingly brought.)
Bottom line: Clear advantage to ACL's America.
DRINK PRICES: Wine was between $6 and $8 a glass, with no surcharge.
(On Duchess , wine was between $8 and $10 a glass, to which a 15% surcharge was added. Beer was slightly less.)
Bottom line: ACL's America was slightly cheaper.
DINING ROOM CAPACITY: The ACL America cruise was at about 50% capacity; they had some place out of sight to store the unused tables, so the dining room seemed very spacious.
(On Duchess, the outer 2/3 of the main dining room was an impressive two stories high, with very large windows. The middle 1/3 was only one story high, as the upper story was taken up by the Lincoln Library mezzanine. That cruise was at about 70% capacity; we were always seated on the outer sides, with the middle tables set, but unused. Duchess has a second dining room, with a much smaller seating capacity, and reservations here were required. With no carpeting, it was much noisier, but the tables were farther apart. It opens to an outside dining area, but was closed on our cruise due to cold weather.
Bottom line: AQSC's Duchess has slightly better dining arrangements.
DRESS: Not formal. A few folks wore jeans, and did not seem out of place. Several wore sport coats and ties, and also did not seem out of place. The overwhelming majority wore casual wear. (We found the same dress code on Duchess.)
CABINS: Our cabin, #202, was the cheapest having a balcony. (America does have a few inexpensive interior cabins, but they are few in number, and are on the 1st deck, mingled amongst the crew.) Our cabin was roomy, had extensive storage space, and everything in the cabin and the bathroom worked perfectly. The TV monitor included channels for a bow camera and a GPS map. The cabin speaker could be switched off or left on to hear announcements and the Riverlorian talks.
(Our Duchess cabin, #213 was an inside cabin, on the 2nd deck. The boat has a large number of these relatively inexpensive cabins. Our cabin seemed a little claustrophobic, with minimal storage. The bathroom was fine, but oddly situated 10" above the cabin floor. Not so hard stepping up, but very awkward stepping back down. The cabin had a speaker, but it had no controls and was never on. The TV had no bow camera or GPS map.)
ENTERTAINMENT: On ACL's America, entertainers were local groups from each stop, performing in the main lounge. Some groups were excellent, some not so much.
(Duchess has a small house band and a troupe of professional entertainers, who perform in a theater-style lounge with an elaborate lighting and sound system. They were very versatile -- shows ran the gamut from Broadway to Country & Western to 50's Rock & Roll. Their performances were consistently excellent.
Bottom line: AQSC's Duchess has the better entertainment.
TOURS: With ACL, there is one tour starting time, and all the buses leave the ship at the same time, and everyone returns at the same time. The tour guides were knowledgeable. We were provided with excellent maps of the town if we wanted to walk around on our own. The day before, the Riverlorians would always have a session to explain the upcoming tours and the historical significance of the stops.
(AQSC uses a "Hop-On/Hop-Off" system, which worked great. Three buses ran a continuous route covering several stops. Each bus had a local tour guide in addition to the driver. The guide would explain the first stop, then let those who wanted to do that stop get off (that was usually most of the bus). Then the guide would explain the second stop to those remaining, and so on. Having three buses and only a few stops meant that no-one had to wait very long for the next bus. Very explicit maps were provided for the tours, and each stop was marked with a prominent placard -- very hard to get lost. There are staggered start times and a kiosk reservation system, so that the entire ship isn't out there waiting for the first bus to leave.)
Bottom line: The AQSC system is far more flexible.
COMFORT: The weather was cold, but all the common areas of America were kept at a very comfortable temperature.
(Our biggest gripe with Duchess was...it was SO DARNED COLD! The two dining rooms, the Lincoln Library, and the theater were OK, but all the common areas averaged around 60 degrees F (my estimate). The "Perks" snack bar was frigid, as were all the hallways and common areas. The only places to sit when not eating or attending a stage show were in these cold common areas.)
Bottom line: More comfortable on ACL's America.
VIEWING THE SCENERY: America features three well-appointed large lounges -- one facing forward, two facing aft --featuring 270-degree views of the outside in each lounge.
(On Duchess, there was virtually no place where one could sit and watch the scenery glide by (other than at mealtimes). None of the common area seating had windows, except for the snack bar, which had two. Outside, there were only a few rocking chairs, without cushions -- of course, on our cruise, it was too cold to go out there. The top deck was closed, and the outside part of the second restaurant was too, most of the time. Yes, those with balconies could see out, but only a narrow slice of view straight to the side.)
Bottom line: Better viewing on America.
Riverlorians: The America had several Riverlorians -- two were also theatrical performers, and one was the great-grandson of Jefferson Davis. All gave superb lectures.
(Duchess had one full-time Riverlorian, who also performed as a musician, plus one Riverlorian-in-training. For the most part, the lectures were excellent.)
Bottom line: Better Riverlorian experience on America.
CLEANLINESS: Our room on America was thoroughly cleaned early each morning. We also noticed that the common areas were constantly being dusted and swept. One day I discovered that an oily soot (presumably from the exhaust) had just appeared on the upholstered furniture on the upper decks. After attending a lecture, I returned to find that all the soot had been removed.
(I didn't notice any problems in the common areas on Duchess; our cabin, most of the time, was well taken care of.)
GLITCHES: Everything on America worked perfectly, from embarkation to daily newsletters and everything in between.
(Initial Duchess reviewers reported numerous problems in ship operations. However, we saw no problems; apparently their "shake down" bugs have been eliminated.)
DISCOUNTS FOR CRUISES BOOKED WHILE ON BOARD: ACL offers one of the biggest discounts I've seen: 15% plus elimination of port charges.
(AQSC offers a relatively meager $200 for booking on-board.)
OVERALL: The spaciousness and quality decor of AQSC's Duchess is impressive. And had the ship been at 100% capacity, I think it would not have seemed crowded. But if ACL's America had been at 100% capacity, I think it would have seemed very crowded, at least in the main lounge. Still, considering the excellence of the ACL lectures, happy hour, and the overall "comfortability" of the ship, I would have to give the edge to ACL's America. Read Less