Our first introduction to American river travel was on the American Queen, and our journey did not disappoint. In fact, our voyage on the American Queen wasn’t just my first river cruise… it was my first cruise ever. Overall, I would rate both this boat and our experience a 5/5.
When we arrived at the dock of the boat, we were a bit awe-struck. The paddlewheeler was unlike anything we had ever seen before. And even from the exterior, we were able to get a clear sense of the grandeur we were about to experience. Once inside, we immediately understood why an American Queen voyage is THE quintessential Mississippi River cruise. From the Mark Twain Gallery, to the J.M. White Dining Room this boat has an elegance that even top hotels can’t beat. The staff onboard was so friendly, it was like being welcomed home by our new family. Everyone always had a bright smile and loved to share the experience with all of us on board. The food was absolutely amazing, (I could go on but the delicious meals alone could have a full review themselves) but trust me when I say these chefs know what they’re doing.
While we absolutely enjoyed the experience on board, the real highlight of the trip was all of the places that American Queen visits. American Queen Steamboat Company has plenty of options for on land experiences, and even includes convenient Hop-On Hop-Off Tours. There are dedicated buses to take guests throughout each town, which feature included attractions. We also enjoyed some more in-depth “Premium Excursions” but the included tours were a big hit. For instance, in Natchez, there was an abundance to do. We’re a bit on the younger side so we were even able to walk around the town to experience the stops like Charboneau Rum Distillery – where the distillers provide a sample and a thoughtful talk about their rum-making process. In addition to multiple historic museums that really provide insight into the past of the town and the south as a whole. One of the town’s barbers even kept a journal for 16 years detailing the important events and day to day life.
During the voyage, we were fortunate enough to take 3 Premium Excursions. These excursions do come at an extra cost, but they are much more in-depth, specific, and are always guided. The offering was very expansive as well. We experienced a bit of everything. History, adventure, and the southern hospitality that everyone always talks about.
“On the Front Lines of the Civil War”
This excursion took place in Vicksburg, Mississippi. The tour was both entertaining and educational. The town of Vicksburg was a key southern holding ground in the Civil War, and the city was attacked by the Union and General Grant. The excursion began in the Grand Saloon where a short film gave background information on the battle and its significance to the war. Imagine a short history channel-esque documentary. After that, we made our way to the Battlefield. I could not say enough positive things about our tour guide. He knew the facts about the battlefield, each monument (there are over 1,000 of them in the park!) and history like the back of his hand. It was outstanding to have someone with encyclopedia-like knowledge guiding us. We traveled through the park and made a stop at the Illinois state monument, which is reminiscent of the monuments in D.C., just a bit smaller. This experience was one we will never forget. There is so much history in that small town, and the rather large battlefield.
“Home Hosted Visit with Ginger and James”
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how I would like this excursion at first glance. I’m not an avid jewelry collector, but the friendly couple and the story behind their repaired mansion sounded intriguing. Ginger and James are both thoughtful and friendly. They are a classic example of Southern hospitality. Their home is gorgeous, and it has a unique history behind it. It even lived through the Civil War! As Ginger guided us through her home, she showed us all kinds of stunning objects and decorations. Each one with a story behind it. You could really feel the passion Ginger has for each item in her immense collection. The home itself, and everything inside was a sight to behold. At the end of the tour we sat down in their enclosed back gallery for some southern comfort food. The chicken was very tasty!
“The Ultimate Cajun Adventure”
Perhaps the most exciting Premium Excursion that we participated in was the airboat ride on “The Ultimate Cajun Adventure.” This was a full-day excursion through Baton Rouge and while the airboat ride was the main draw for me, we certainly learned a lot about Cajun culture along the way. We started out at a museum which depicted the rural culture in Louisiana during the 1700s and 1800s. As we drove from Baton Rouge to our next stop, our guide provided narration throughout the ride. A lot of information on the Cajun culture, the natural landscape, the different regions of Louisiana and much more. At lunch time we arrived at the restaurant called “Pont Breaux’s.” Our visit to the restaurant was such a wholesome experience. Upon entering, a live band was playing traditional Cajun songs as we took our seats. The food was served family-style and it was DELICIOUS! There were plenty of offerings from fried okra, catfish, chicken and other vegetables. But the highlight of the meal was definitely the gumbo. After we ate, two dancers from Pont Breaux were dancing. It wasn’t long before most of us had joined in the fun! Then came time for the main event. We arrived at the Atchafalaya Basin Landing where we met our captain. When we first arrived, we were given headphones to wear to block out the loud noise of the boat motors. They were comfortable and effective. We boarded the airboat and flew through the swamp. It was a bright sunny day, so the colors were vibrant. The green foliage surrounding the swamp and clear blue sky paired well with the shimmering water. It was very scenic. The ride alone was very enjoyable, but our Captain also provided great information about his background, the wildlife, and ecosystem. We all made our way to a particular section of the swamp, where the motors were powered down and our headphones removed so we could hear the captain speak. As he spoke to us, he would point out wildlife in the area, and even though it was November (a bit on the colder side) we did see a small alligator resting in the water nearby!
These river towns are very distinct and without the American Queen’s Shore Excursions I would have never experienced them. The boat was pristine, and the staff members were all friendly. Traveling along the river was like home away from home. I enjoyed this unique trip. Thanks to the American Queen, I learned a lot about a section of our country that I had never seen prior, experienced centuries-old traditions, and even made some great friends along the way. If you’re looking for a cruise with outstanding service, and a dose of real life in America I highly recommend American Queen Steamboat Company.