Following on the success of the introduction of American Duchess on the Mississippi in 2017, American Queen Voyages (formerly American Queen Steamboat Company) purchased a former gambling boat -- Kanesville Queen -- and substantially refitted it, stripping it down to its steel frame and adding a new 60-foot midsection and the company's now-trademark red paddlewheel at the stern, which is not just for show; it's responsible for about 50 percent of the propulsion power. The result: American Countess. While the hull might date from 1995, the rest is essentially a brand-new ship. The ship made its debut for American Queen Voyages in March 2021.
Predominantly based on the Lower Mississippi, American Countess enables AQV to operate even more river cruises along this most historic of American waterways. The Mississippi River continues to grow in popularity, and extra berths are welcomed for those looking to cruise to the heartland of the United States.
American Duchess introduced a more contemporary look in terms of its onboard decor and color schemes, and that is the same tack the company took with American Countess. (American Queen and Columbia River-based American Empress offer a Victorian-era atmosphere onboard.)
All cruises on American Countess include a precruise hotel stay.
Like AQV's other ships on the Mississippi, American Countess features inside and balcony staterooms. The ship doesn't offer big suites, though all cabins are comfortable and spacious. The smallest interior cabins are 170 square feet, and the largest balcony cabins are 255 square feet. Countess offers several other larger accessible cabins across different categories. Balcony cabins on the second deck feature 40-square-foot private verandas. On the third, balconies have verandas that open out to a public wraparound deck.
Cabins include twin beds that can be combined to form queen beds, flatscreen TVs, writing desks, coffeemakers, either couches or chairs, nightstands, small wardrobes and oversized bathrooms. Bathrooms offer large walk-in showers, sizeable vanities and amenities including bar soap, lotion, shower gel, shower caps, shampoo and conditioner. Staterooms also offer personal Keurig coffeemakers and reusable personal water bottles, which can be refilled at stations throughout the ship.
The staterooms are all beautifully decorated, with a modern approach that feels both sophisticated and comfortable.
Storage, however, is severely lacking. Even the biggest cabins offer only a small closet with a two-drawer bureau. The in-cabin safe as well as an ironing board sit atop the bureau, leaving little room for shoes. Long dresses have no way to hang. Two guests on a weeklong cruise will battle each other for space. Conversely, the bathrooms are wonderfully enormous, but this space might have been reallocated for additional storage.
Dining takes place either at The Dining Room or The River Grill. The Dining Room offers a more traditional dining experience, with set seating at dinner (either 6 p.m. or 6:45 p.m.), while The River Grill is more casual, with no set time. Both are open for all three meals each day.
The Grand Dining Room has open seating. The menus at breakfast and lunch offer buffet and made-to-order options. The buffet is waiter served -- you pick what you'd like off the menu, and it's brought to your table. You also can walk up to the buffet, point to an item you'd like, and a chef will hand you a pre-portioned serving. Made-to-order options might take a little more time but are so worth it: think amazing burgers (beef or vegetarian), comforting three-cheese grilled sandwiches and poached salmon.
Cuisine leans heavily into the local favorites, so expect elevated versions of dishes like jambalaya, gumbo, blackened redfish, fried chicken, biscuits and collard greens. It's generally excellent, with smart portion sizes so you don't have to feel guilty about indulging in a multicourse meal. Everyday favorites like grilled chicken and steak are available every day.
The main lounge is located on Deck 1, perfectly situated near the ship's theater and dining room. It's a beautiful space that stretches more than half the ship. Floor-to-ceiling windows offer river views, and passengers lounge here all day, when not ashore. Beer, wine, soft drinks and spirits and cocktails are included in your cruise, and, unsurprisingly because of the ship's itineraries, the bar is stocked with a well-rounded supply of bourbon. We were impressed by the skills of the onboard mixologists, who were quick with suggestions and remembered everyone's favorite orders.
Passengers also can visit Perks throughout the day for self-service coffee, espresso and tea, along with a seemingly endless supply of cookies and fresh-popped popcorn. This is also where guests can find the ship's soft-serve ice cream machine.
The best spot on American Countess might be the vast Grand Lobby. This serves as the ship's main lounge, and it's the hub of activities day and night. The two-level, floor-to-ceiling windows are the lure here, offering unobstructed views of the Mississippi River and the towns you pass along the way. For a ship this size, the lounge is large and spacious, with small table groupings as well as a long bar stocked with a generous supply of spirits.
The room itself features modern decor, brightened by oversized vases of fresh-cut flowers and potted plants. The beauty of the room is a tribute to a construction decision: When AQV bought the former gambling vessel, it decided to cut it in half and add a 60-foot midsection. This added section gives the lobby its grandness. It's large enough to accommodate a shipload of people along with a live band
The programming onboard is a lot of fun and has great variety, especially considering the small ship size. You can enjoy gameshows and movies during the day, as well as things like bourbon tastings and cooking demonstrations.
Shows, including a fun look at ragtime with an expert pianist, take place every night in the ship's theater, and riverlorians discuss the nuances and history of the places we were visiting.
American Countess primarily makes its home on the lower Mississippi, operating a variety of voyages that travel from Memphis to New Orleans or reverse. Typically, nine days in duration, these itineraries focus on the romance and the spirit of the so-called Antebellum South. Sail through the heart of the territory that is home to the Natchez Indians and early French explorers and discover the history of the American Civil War in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Included shore excursions are featured in every port of call, serviced by AQV's fleet of branded motor coaches that operate a hop-on, hop-off-style tour in many ports of call.
The company also offers a fleet of bikes onboard that passengers can check out for self-exploration.
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