American Queen Cruise Review
Itinerary: Mississippi River - Louisville to Nashville - October 2014
What a fun trip this was. The American Queen for the first time participated in the Great American Steamboat Race against the Belle of Louisiana, a 100 year old steamboat. A race that used to happen every year with the Delta Queen, the popular retired steamboat. Prior to the race I went to a lecture by the ship historian. We were told of the history of the race and how the Belle of Louisiana was known to cheat and no one knows the rules until the race starts and then the rules are broken. Well, it was quite “the race”, maximum speed is 12 miles an hour. The fun part was there were paddlewheels from all over, who were day boats and no overnight boat as the AQ. Great photo op.
Well I am here to say the American Queen lost the race,. Belle of Louisville cheated. They started before the gun when off and they decided their own turnaround point and headed back to the finish line. This was all as we are on the top deck of the American Queen having champagne, I have to say, it was the best fun I have ever had being a loser.
Took advantage of the pre night hotel that is included on all the sailings, had a lovely room at the historical Seebach hotel in the center of downtown Louisville. Early morning, we put our bags out in the hallway. Included breakfast and down to do all the checking in. It was a breeze, organized and well done. We were out to explore the city within 20 minutes. Returning to take the last bus at 4:00pm to be transferred to the American Queen.
The buses are owned by the American Queen and are wrapped to look just like the steamboat. Can’t miss the buses around town. Ten minute ride with our driver Rosie who is quite a character and made it fun.
American Queen Boat
This is a boat not a ship as I was reminded over and over again. Walking up to the boat is a feast for the eyes. A beautiful riverboat, shining in the sun. Stepping on the boat is like going back in time 100 years when the rivers were full of hundreds of steamboats. They were the mode of travel both for passengers as well as for goods. She was built in 1995, the American Queen is the largest steamboat ever constructed. She was first owned by a company that closed their doors in 2009. She was purchased by American Queen Steamboat Company and started sailing again in 2012.
As steamboats do, she has a shallow draft that allows her to explore many rivers and able to get close to the banks. The boat does not dock or drop anchor and tender. The boat comes into port and her rope ties to a tree or whatever is available. Allowing for unscheduled stops along the river. Along the whole trip you will find people, families, kids lining the rivers when you steam by. Waving to you, when in port, many of the town comes out to see you. Makes you feel quite special.
The best suggestion I have is to look at the boat on-line or in the brochure. There is no way to describe her. She is new but old, traditional but modern. Beautifully decorated inside and out. There are many rooms to relax and read or do puzzles, play cards, work on your ship review :-) .
Each room decorated in traditional riverboat décor. China, old books, buffets, beautiful lamps and sofas. Everything is old and real. Many cabinets with beautiful collectables. They are all open not under lock and key as I would have expected. I actually checked some of the plates and they were Limoges. Large tea set was heavy silver plated. There are hundreds of items like this. The book cases have books from the 1800’s in the cases. It is like the ship is new and modern where it needs to be like the Pursers Office and old and traditional where it can be. There is a small swimming pool and small gym. Washers and dryers somewhere on the ship, I never looked for them. A general store, spa with many options offered. They have a fleet of bright green bicycles to take out for no charge. Seems many ports have a lovely river walk which is great for bikes.
We were in “Stone’s River”. Every cabin has a name and a photo on the wall to show where the name came from. This is like 200 cabins, what a creative idea. We had a deluxe suite with double doors that open to the veranda, the veranda that everyone walks around. I personally love this category. Each cabin has two chairs and a little table outside.. You can actually lay in bed if you wish and watch the river go by. Yes, others can look in your cabin so we didn’t do that, but we did spend a good amount of time sitting on our chairs watching the river go by. King bed with heavenly mattress. Much exceeding the regular small and large ships bedding that we are used to. Furniture in the room is fitting for the riverboat era as is the wallpaper and soft goods. Wonderful thick bathrobes and slippers. Bath is very nice, black and white checkerboard tile and touches of riverboat décor. Usual shampoo etc, hair dryer, good shelf space, full length mirror. This type of cabin is the most prevalent on the ship. If you are a person who wants privacy this is not for you. There are other categories that would be better. But if you wish to feel and experience the river going by and all the sights opening up your double doors this is it. Yes, people walk by and it is great to socialize. The inside cabins are very small. The cabins with a window seat are lovely. The balcony cabins would have the same double doors as we had only opening to a private balcony. Our cabin was in the aft of the boat. The sound of the paddle wheel did not bother us. If noise is an issue, you would be better to be closer up front.
Too good and too much. There are two main spots to eat, the J.D. White Dining Room and the Front Porch (my all time favorite spot on the whole ship). There is also room service which we did not make use of., and the River Front Grill which offers hot dogs/hamburger fare.
J.D. White Dining room is assigned seating, with early and late seating. The service is friendly formal , with food prepared from the famous American chef Regina Charboneau,, and offers both southern and French influences. Full five course meals, served with wine or beer of your choice, offering a large selection. Breakfast and lunch is usually a buffet, always a carving station and beautifully prepared display of varied foods, and dinner is plated. Never a single compliant on the food did I hear the whole cruise.
J.D. White Dining Room is beautiful with very high ceilings and large windows. One feels like in a French Chateau. Tables for 2 up to 8. Complete printed menu for each meal. Lunch and breakfast have a very large buffet with always one carving station, you can also order off the menu. Sometimes for lunch I would make a salad from the buffet and then order from the menu. The carving station, would sometimes be making fresh waffles, or pancakes or carving a meat dish. One lunch they were carving off a pig, I fund that quite disgusting, no one else said a word.
Front Porch of America
The Front Porch of America is in front of the ship on Deck 3. A bright and cheery room with rattan furniture all windows with large areas of outside seating along with rocking chairs and swings. This is open 24 hours a day. This really is like a front porch for the same reason you would sit on your Grandmas front porch. Watching the river go by you are able to see both side of the river as you are relaxing on the rockers and swing, or eating your meal. Breakfast, lunch and dinner is buffet, not extensive in choices as the dining room, but always good options. Beer and wine is also served, with a full bar in the room with you. For instance one night was Garlic chicken, prime rib at the carving station, Caesar salad, two types of soups, baked potatoes with all the trimmings and a number of desserts. This was my spot for early riser breakfast every morning so I could watch what was going on on the river. There is always the popcorn machine, soft service ice cream with all the toppings, homemade cookies, coffee machine, hot chocolate etc….at all times. And always well stocked.
Wow, they have this down so perfectly with their “Steamcoaches.” You receive a list of excursions with your final documents. On this particular sailing everything was included. I understand on other itineraries there are a few special excursions of which there is a minimal charge. Next to the Pursers Office is a computer screen with the times of bus departures. Pick your choice and outs comes a reservation ship. It even shows you how many spaces are still left on the bus. The buses are owned by AQ so you have the same drivers for your whole trip. Apparently they drive to the next port as we sail along. They stay in hotels rooms and are there for us the next day. The drivers are the same and in each port different tour guides from the town come on the bus to narrate. In most towns it is a Hop On Hop Off system. The bus makes 15 minute loops to all the attractions and we got on and off as we wish. Nice touch to have your bus driver know you by name when you get back on. All entrance fees have been pre-paid by AQ. We took these each day and not a hitch. Even in Clarksville, TN, we understood this was a new stop for the AQ, first time. Amazingly everything worked like clock work with the hop on hop off. It is so fun for these towns are so thrilled the AQ is visiting, the people on the street and in shops and museums all have big welcomes and questions about the ship. Makes you feel very special.
We had many and each were interesting. I suspect each itinerary has different focus since ours was the river and the river race. We had Jerry the Riverlorian who presented some type of lecture every day. History of the river, navigation of the river, a lecture at night on the deck of night navigation. A few lectures were advanced stuff that was of no interest to me, but the small group who attended these were hanging on very word and lined up for discussion afterwards. My favorite were the crazy stories on the river and there are many. Jerry’s “offie” is the Chart Room on the front of the boat. Charts, books, navigation everything you can think of, old and modern. He is always there for chats. We had Mark Twin on the boat with us, his lectures would probably more come under entertainment, fabulous and educational. . We had “Toots” who was full of river stories and educated us on the history of the boat races etc. A few Civil War lectures since they were so intertwined with the ports we visited. Civil War buffs would LOVE these cruises, especially the ones with Civil War themes.
Every night a show in the Grand Salon. Feels like a small town opera house. Comfortable seats and good viewing from anywhere in the room. There are box seats on the second level which were popular. Always pleasant with different themes. There is a five piece resident orchestra/band on the ship and they play in the Salon and other places around the ship. Versatile in all types of music. Dixieland during the race, and pop during a BBQ on deck. There are four resident singers and dancers. I went to every show, and one show I went to twice, as they were terrific. Gosh can’t remember their name but they did all the songs from Sun Records in Memphis. Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis etc.they were great, had us jumping in the aisles. The showroom Grand Salon, is lovely. The stage being a copy of the Ford Theatre where Lincoln was shot. Not quite sure I understand why you would want a copy of a theatre that a President was shot in. Every night was a different presentation. Bringing groups on and off the ship. We had a Riverboat Jug Band, Mandy Barnett wo signs Patsy Cline songs etc. There was always music somewhere on the ship. The lounge always had a lovely piano player and singer, Engine Bar, where it was hoping until the wee hours of the morning each night. There is also a Colipie on the back of the ship at the River Bar Grill. What a eat to hear that playing. Usually around the time we leave a port. We untie the rope from the tree, the gangplanks are brought in and we get underway. Always people on the shore waving us goodbye. The Coliape playing it is as much old time American as you can get.
Can’t wait to go again. In a perfect life I would like to sign up for the whole Mississippi River from New Orleans to St Paul.
This experience offers a unique glimpse to the past of America a century ago. But yet with all the comfortable and modern conveniences. The passengers are as a general basis older. This particular sailing was older and 70% repeat passengers due to the draw of the 100 year old Riverboat Race. Normal repeat rate on each sailing I understand is about 40%, they are doing something right. The age range went from teens with family groups who had a great time. In the evening they had wild board games going in the Mark Twain Lounge. This is not a family cruise per say for young children might not have enough to keep them entertained. There was a 12, 14 and 16 year old with their grandparents and they always look happy and busy. The bright green bicycles were popular for the younger crowd. Besides the entertainment, food, relaxing, beautiful scenery I felt this was a huge educational experience. Learning about the river, the history, the Civil War up front and personal was a treat in all aspects.