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, roundtrip, ... 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, roundtrip, Nashville-to-Nashville. Though both these paddle-wheelers are similar in many ways, we also found numerous differences. (The comments below apply to the AQSC American Duchess, unless otherwise indicated.)
Food: All meals were A+, with many selections available. Most 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. (By comparison, ACL required everyone to arrive at the same time, but allowed us to sit anywhere. Most of their tables were configured for 6 persons or more.)
Drink: No free alcohol for lunch. For dinner, one white and one red wine were provided, of mediocre quality. 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. (With ACL, drinks were provided at lunch, at an hour-long happy hour before dinner, and readily throughout dinner.)
Drink prices: Wine was between $8 and $10 a glass, to which a 15% surcharge was added. Beer was slightly less. (ACL charged between $6 and $8 a glass, with no surcharge; similar quality wines.)
Dining room: The outer 2/3 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. Our cruise was at about 70%; we were always seated on the outer sides, with the middle tables set but unused. (The ACL 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 despite being only one story high.)
The 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.
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. (Similar for ACL.)
Cabins: Our AQSC cabin was the "IS" (inside cabin) category, on the 2nd deck. The cabin seemed a little clastrophobic, but not overly so. The bathroom was fine, but oddly situated 10" above the cabin floor. Not so hard stepping up, but very awkward stepping back down. The temperature controls worked OK, and the shower had plenty of hot water. (On ACL, our cabin, also the cheapest, was an outside cabin with a balcony -- definitely better.)
Entertainment: The Duchess has a small house band and a 3-person troupe of professional entertainers. They 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. (ACL entertainers were local groups from each stop, performing in the main lounge. Some groups were excellent, some not so much.)
Tours: We were initially a bit skeptical about the AQSC "Hop-On/Hop-Off" system, but it worked great. Three buses ran a continuous route covering several stops. Each one 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 a staggered start times and a kiosk reservation system so that the entire ship isn't out there waiting for the first bus to leave. (With ACL, there is only one tour starting time, and all the buses leave the ship at the same time, and everyone returns at the same time. The AQSC system is much more flexible.)
Comfort: Our biggest gripe with the 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.
Viewing the scenery: Our biggest gripe with the Duchess was that 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. 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. (On the ACL America, there are three well-appointed lounges -- one facing forward, two facing aft --featuring 270-degree views of the outside in each lounge.)
Riverlorians: 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. (ACL had several Riverlorians -- two were also theatrical performers, and one was the great-grandson of Jefferson Davis.)
Glitches: Initial Duchess reviewers reported numerous problems in ship operations. We saw no problems; apparently the "shake down" bugs have been eliminated.
Overall: The spaciousness and quality decor of the 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. Still, considering the excellence of the ACL lectures and the overall "comfortability" of the ship, I would have to give the (slight) edge to ACL's America. Read Less