The Mighty Mississippi? Dueling Paddlewheelers to Battle for Big Muddy Cruisers

August 10, 2011
(4 p.m. EDT) -- Don't tell Old Man River that Mississippi River cruising is dead.

The Memphis Daily News reports that the $15.5 million sale of the 436-passenger American Queen to Great American Steamboat Co. has been finalized, signaling another step toward resuscitating a cruise region nearly sunk since 2008. The world's largest steamboat will begin cruising out of Memphis April 2012. It'll face competition from American Cruise Lines' 140-passenger Queen of the Mississippi, which will debut in August 2012 as the first Mississippi-based new-build in some 20 years.

With just eight months until re-launch, specific itinerary information and pricing is not yet available, but GASC CEO Jeff Krida did tell the Memphis Daily News that pre-cruise hotel stays in Memphis will be part of the package. The newly formed line hasn't responded to a request for additional comment.

The last few years have been a slog for Mississippi cruise industry. The overnight niche suffered the loss of its two largest operators in 2008, Riverbarge Excursion Line and the aforementioned MAL, and only Blount Small Ship Adventures continued to offer a handful of seasonal sailings.

There was nowhere to go but up. Joining Blount and the Great American Steamboat Co. in 2012 will be the aforementioned Queen of the Mississippi. The brand-new sternwheeler aims to re-create the spirit of 19th-century riverboating and will feature a dining salon with crystal chandeliers and a panoramic lounge decked out with rich woods. Modern touches, like a high proportion of balcony cabins and speed capabilities that will allow it to reach as far as St. Paul, are also part of the design. Here's a look at the under-construction QOM hitting the drink for the first time:

--by Dan Askin, News Editor