American Queen Steamboat Mississippi Cruise

Mar 27, 2013 Avatar Gary Francesconi Gary Francesconi

Aboard the American Queen Steamboat

This “Boat” (and that’s what it IS called because it’s a real paddle-wheel steamboat) is a truly unique product. It is the largest steamboat ever built, accommodating 432 passengers.

And, it is a veritable time machine that will transport passengers back in time to the Victorian Era… when there were literally hundreds of steamboats plying the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

We enjoyed the “time machine” effect, enjoying the itinerary, Lecturers and “Riverlorians” and re-lived the history of the Mississippi River at some of the most fascinating times of early and mid-19th Century Americana!

The very good on-board entertainment complimented the old-time feeling, with headliner groups brought on for their special sounds: Blue Grass; Dixieland (“The New Orleans Jazz All-Stars”) and the famous “Juggernaut Jug Band” from Louisville, KY. Other entertainment included themed shows such as “Hooray for Early Hollywood”, a wonderful “Showboat Jubilee” and a great tribute to “WWll USO SHOWS”.  A small movie theater screened oldie movies.

After the evening shows there was dancing in the main lounge to the boat’s six piece band, and fun late-night dancing in the “Engine Room Lounge” with a pianist and guitarist.

To facilitate the feeling of time-travel, the Boat’s décor and furnishings in all the public rooms and cabins are done in a Victorian style, from the carpeting right up to the wall paper and then on up to the chandeliers, which are copied from famous, historic steamboats. While the staterooms are relatively small (except for the larger suites), there was more than ample drawer space in antique cabinets, and the suitcases did fit right under the beds.

But, even though this is a recreation of a somewhat historic steamboat, it doesn’t lack in creature comforts.

All the cabins have telephone, TV and the truly comfortable “Heavenly Beds,” with lovely 600 thread-count linens, soft robes, great showers with super-hot water and incredible water-pressure… plus a selection of very nice amenities.

The cabin service was fine… except for the Room Service. We tried just once to get sandwiches after a day on shore and they brought nothing we had ordered… so we gave up and went to the “Front Porch” buffet restaurant which was open most times of the day.
As regards dining — It was obvious they were trying to re-create New Orleans-style menus, but they just didn’t succeed in interpreting it for modern tastes from our point of view.

It seemed every day the menus included jambalaya, gumbo, grits, fried chicken and biscuits with sausage and white gravy. All these, as well as the shrimp, catfish and crawfish dishes were too heavily spiced with overdoses of cayenne pepper. The buffet items were left out too long — in some cases so long that they dried out. Other menu choices were very limited. Often we had to resort to requesting a plain strip steak and a baked potato (which were always available). Also, there was an over emphasis on adding pork to everything, including green beans, soups, salads and even mac & cheese.

The dining room service was spotty and erratic. Our stewardess was fine, but her bus-boy was inexperienced and poorly trained. He just couldn’t keep our water glasses filled, and with such spicy food we needed the water to put out the fires. However, the staff was always very friendly!

There were some unexpected bonus highlights on this voyage: Besides the friendly staff, there were two champagne receptions on-board, although without accompanying appetizers (but, the Captain and the Hotel Manager really are very gracious hosts). Also, there was an excellent piano bar, plus a real steam-powered calliope (which is traditionally played upon departure from each town).

And, at each town, one has the opportunity to take a complimentary shore excursion on one of the line’s own very comfortable, all air-conditioned “Steam Coaches” that follow the boat to each town. They have qualified drivers and step-on guides (for the first four hours of each day) that take you all over each town on very convenient “hop-on, hop-off” style tours. These are all very well done. However, passengers looking for in-depth, guided history tours would be disappointed and should take one of the Premium Shore Excursions that are offered (at a price).

I took the fascinating and comprehensive tour of the Civil War Battlefield at Vicksburg that had two guides, including one from the Vicksburg National Military Park, who was the best guide I’ve had in years.

This itinerary began in Memphis, with a complimentary night at the downtown Marriott Hotel, and there we bought the “Graceland” tour.

The boat continued to Helena, AR, for the first of the Antebellum Homes, then to Vicksburg, MS, to Natchez, MS, for more beautiful Homes and Gardens, then to St. Francisville, LA, for its tiny historic district, on to Baton Rouge, LA, the Capital of Louisiana, to Houmas House, an important special stop for just one Antebellum Home (but the finest of them all!).

The last stop on the voyage was, of course, my favorite, New Orleans. This same one week itinerary also operates in reverse. Note: There are NO motion problems to worry about on a “River Boat”.

Recommendations: We went in March, which was just a little too early for the flowers and foliage to be evident. So we’d recommend either April/May in the Spring or October/November in the Fall, otherwise the heat and humidity to deal with would be considerable. Because of this, the boat cruises north in the summer to the Upper Mississippi and Ohio Rivers… and the homes of Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer!

We were told that this is not a good cruise for children, because of the lack of activities for them. So it’s not very appropriate for families with young children. To care for the less-mobile travelers, the American Queen has two golf carts on board, as well as two elevators that go to all decks. Plus, even the Boat’s own motor coaches are equipped with lift-gates for passengers confined to wheelchairs.

This boat is just not right for sophisticated foodie-type yuppies or seniors that need the pampering found on Crystal Cruises or Regent Cruises.

For more information and travel assistance about river cruises on the Mississippi, you can reach me Gary Francesconi.