One of my good clients, Jo Ann L., just returned from a Mississippi river cruise trip on the American Queen Steamboat Company, and I wanted to share her review:
I just returned from a two-week trip aboard the American Queen Steamboat Company (paddlewheel) cruise from New Orleans, to Memphis. The theme: MUSIC OF AMERICA. I was in music heaven, thoroughly enjoying all the different kinds of music, from jazz to Dixieland to blues to bluegrass to 50-60's, and everything else! The on-board band and 4 singers and dancers were outstanding. Other entertainers were brought on board to perform as well. On Sunday morning, we went to a Baptist Church to hear the gospel choir; and then to a blues club to hear a blues guitarist likened to B.B. King! The boat is beautiful and quite comfortable, the meals and service excellent. There were many travelers from Canada, England, Australia, and New Zealand.
One of the two waiters at dinner invited his tables to an impromptu cello concert one morning during his free time. He is a senior at Loyola majoring in cello and music. He played Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart for us! How's that for a well-rounded musical cruise??
I chose several premium shore excursions rather than the included Hop On/Hop Off sightseeing in each city. One was in the small town of St. Francisville, Louisiana, where I went to prison--the Louisiana State Penitentiary!! This is the only maximum-security prison in the state, housing the worst criminals serving life sentences. This used to be known as the most dangerous penitentiary. What makes this facility unique is its mission of redemption and rehabilitation of its residents. There are cattle herds, K9 training facilities, horse breeding and training, farms. Within this 18,000 acre facility are smaller units. All inmates have to work, and they can choose their work. The inmates can earn their high school equivalencies, their college degrees and graduate degrees as well; many earn their certifications and licenses in the trades and skills areas and are sent outside to work. One of the more trusted trustee-inmate told us he was in for 2nd degree murder; he had committed a robbery during which someone died of a heart attack. He’s been in for 19 years, probably since he was 18. He has a parole hearing in a few months. A well-spoken young man, very active in the operations of the facility, a mentor, honest. During our visit there, we walked among the residents, who were friendly and courteous toward us. This concept of redemption and rehabilitation is most certainly unique in the US, and hopefully more prisons will adopt such an approach.
In Memphis, we visited Elvis’s Graceland, a place I had visited before. Also on the grounds are his automobile museum, his airplanes, and a separate wing for all his gold records and other awards. I was still impressed by how simple and comfortable the house is, considering he gained such fame and fortune at age 22 when he purchased the property.
In Natchez, MS, I visited the home of Chef Regina Charboneau, the "culinary creator and chef de cuisine" of the American Queen. She has a lovely historic home and offered a sampling of cocktails and gourmet sweets for us. She then proceeded to demonstrate making biscuits! Her method produces flaky layers of buttery goodies! She generously provided each of us a CD with her recipes!
Other specialty tours that were offered but I did not take included a visit to Vicksburg, Mississippi, to learn about the Civil War and to visit the battlefield. On a visit to learn about life in the Bayou swamp, people were taken out in swamp boats seeing alligators, ibis, turtle and other inhabitants of the area. I was told that a baby alligator (about 12 inches long) with its mouth taped was passed around (eek and yuk!). When the baby gets a wee bit older, it no longer is tame enough to hold; it must be let go into the swamp. Others learned about the story of cotton in the Antebellum South, including visits to plantation homes. All in all, something for everyone. Surprisingly, the two weeks went by quickly, as there was always something to do or to listen to, including interesting lectures.
With this pleasant experience behind me, I look forward to another such cruise in September but on the Upper Mississippi from St. Paul to St. Louis. I recommend these cruises wholeheartedly!
If you, too, would like to experience an American river journey, reach out to me...
posted by Heidi Hoehn