We recently returned from a 9-day cruise on the American Queen Steamboat, round trip from New Orleans from Feb. 22nd to March 1, 2014. The weather in some of the ports was rather ‘brisk,’ but the cruise itself was WONDERFUL, with stops in St. Francisville, Nachez, Vicksburg and Plantation Row. There are a number of different itineraries available on the American Queen (other than our Round Trip New Orleans), as it cruises the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers as well. Check the www.AQSC.com website for all of the options.
Since an overnight stay at a local hotel is included in the price of the cruise, there was a registration desk set up in the lobby to greet everyone and give them breakfast tickets for the next morning. After breakfast we then went into the Registration Room, where we picked up our boarding passes and signed up for our dining room table. They also were taking reservations for the Premium Excursions (more on that later)
The ship itself is just gorgeous. It was built in 1995, but has recently been refurbished and you really DO feel as if you are on a riverboat ‘in the day,’ yet with modern conveniences (like the elevator). The ship holds 436 passengers, although our cruise only had about 250, most in the 60-80 age group, with no children … at all.
There were a number of beautifully furnished public spaces available to nestle in with a good book, such as the Mark Twain Gallery, Ladies’ Parlor or Gentlemen’s Card Room, although I only saw a couple of people in them at any given time. There was also areas at the bow of both Decks 3 & 4 with rocking chairs and swings that WERE used when we did have bursts of decent weather.
The two story Grand Saloon on Deck 1 (where all of the shows were) featured beautiful hardwood floors. Chairs would be moved onto the floor for the shows and then removed for later in the evening when the dance band would play and couples would dance.
There was also an elevated area around the perimeter of the dance floor, which is where we usually sat. There were also six small box balconies that held four guests each and were available on a first come first serve basis from Deck 2. We sat there one night, but felt the view was better from the perimeter seating on Deck 1. As is the case on most cruises, people tend to sit in the same places throughout the cruise and this cruise was no exception, so there were some ‘balcony hogs’ … alas.
Although this was somewhat of a small ship with just 436 passengers, it even had a spa! Both my husband and I both had an excellent massage.
I understand that there is also a gym onboard, but we never found it, but we DID find the pool, which was up on Deck 5, next to the River Grill Bar and Calliope. The Calliope was usually played as we were pulling out of each port.
Our stateroom, 315, was on Deck three, category D, with a shared balcony. The double entrance doors opened onto the deck and was the only entrance to the room as the bathroom was at the rear of the cabin. On those brisk evenings, returning to the cabin was somewhat of a dash, but since it was a short distance, it was not a problem.
There were plantation shutters on the beveled windows in the door, which allowed us to control light as well as privacy. Fresh air was available through the transom window over the door. Two chairs and a small table were available outside each cabin and those were used by many guests throughout the ship, weather permitting.
Each cabin was named after a state, river or historical person, in our case our cabin was “Idaho,” which also had an information sheet about Idaho framed and hanging on the wall inside the room. It was kind of fun to walk around the boat and see the various names on the cabins! The Idaho plaque outside the cabin really did help us locate our cabin coming back in the evening when it was dark (remember this was on an outside balcony walkway).
Because the bed frames enabled the suitcases to be stored under the bed, the hi-loft beds were rather high so getting into bed was a bit of a challenge (for me), BUT the beds were wonderfully comfortable and allowed us to get a good night’s sleep.
The dresser doubled as a desk, which also had a safe, but there was NOT much room for anything else. There was an armoire to hang clothes, but with the plushy robes and life vests also hanging in the closet, there wasn’t much room for clothes, so I ended up rolling up one of the robes and sticking it in the upper unusable shelve to allow for more room in the closet. In our cabin there was just one desk chair, although in some of the larger cabins there were larger chairs and settees, which would have made for a more comfortable experience, I’m sure.
The bathroom floor and bathtub sized shower was tiled with a black hexagonal pattern, true to the day.There was a small glass shelf above the pedestal sink and a small double glass shelved unit behind that for storing toiletries, so the storage space in the bathroom was VERY limited. A hair dryer was available as well as a magnified lighted mirror next to the mirror on the wall. Towels were plush and because we were the first cruise of the new season, brand new! NOTE: Some cabins have a full bathtub.
Since this was a first/second seating arrangement, we were assigned a table that we would return to each night for dinner. However, at dinner the first night, one of the other couples enjoyed the ‘unlimited wine’ just a little too much and became quite rude, so we asked to be reseated for the balance of the cruise – they were more than happy to reseat us.
The service by our new waiter, Percy, and asst. waiter, Karen, was excellent. They were also serving two other tables, one of which was a little ‘demanding,’ so it was interesting to watch them wait on us and the demanding table with a smile and desire to make us all happy.
The dining room tables were set with white tablecloths and black cotton napkins, embossed gold chargers and white china and a red rose – simple, yet elegant.
The food in the dining room was EXCELLENT – each night there were specials that featured two appetizers, a soup, a salad and then four entrees, as well as standard items available each night if you didn’t care for any of the specials. Each of the items was nicely presented also.
For dessert, there was always some kind of bread pudding, as well as a variety of other favorites – we were never disappointed.
About the only thing that was amiss in the dining room, at least at the beginning of the cruise, was the frigid temperature. But things did warm things up by the end of the cruise, so it ended up being quite nice.
Since our cabin was just a few cabins away from the Front Porch dining room, we ate all of our breakfasts and lunches there and even had breakfast outside a couple of mornings when it was warm enough. For breakfast there was a nice variety of items, including yoghurt, eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, grits, biscuits, oatmeal, variety of breads as well as an omelet station. They also had a WONDERFUL blend of coffee and fresh fruit, as well as soft serve ice cream, homemade cookies available any time of day.
Lunch varied daily, but there was always a nice soup, variety of salads as well as roasted chicken (that you would see roasting while having breakfast) a hot entree, panini sandwiches and pizza and then, of course, desserts too.
There was a cappuccino machine, but it was out of order most of the cruise (which I have seen happen on many other cruises), but the ice cream machine worked the entire cruise, which made my husband happy!
There was also the River Grill up on Deck 5, but we never went back there, other to listen to the Calliope one time.
Since this was billed as a Big Band Cruise, I was expecting most of the entertainment to be of the Big Band era, but as it turned out there were only three Big Band nights, but the Big Band entertainers WERE fabulous!
The other four nights were the four singer/dancers in production numbers accompanied by the Steamboat Syncapators, a truly EXCELLENT orchestra.
There was also a lounge pianist that would entertain everyone before and after dinner in the lounge separating the dining room and the Grand Saloon. He was very entertaining and was able to honor most of the requests from the passengers and had couples up and dancing before dinner, even on the carpeting.
There was also a two man duo, Jay and Will, in the Engine Room Bar that played after dinner in the evenings, but we never made it back there.
One of the REALLY nice things about this cruise is that the cruise line provides 3 to 4 busses that follow you from port to port so you can ‘Hop on, Hop off’ at each port. This Hop on Hop off is included in the price of the cruise (which, if you do ocean cruises can add hundreds of dollars to your exit tab!)
The night before each port, a map is available that shows the bus route and where it will stop. You simply go to the kiosk next to the purser’s desk to sign up for the departure time you want, as there are eight options in 15 minute intervals. In some cases, our arrival into port was a little late so the ‘system’ didn’t really work as intended, but everyone ended up getting on the buses and everyone enjoyed the tours.
Once aboard the bus, there was a local guide that gave the history of the city and fun facts that only a local would know. What we ended up doing (as did a lot of others as well) was to go around the complete loop first and then return to the spots of specific interest to us on the next bus. The busses really did come by about every 15 minutes so it really did work out quite nicely.
There were also Premium Excursions available in most ports that went to a specific area(s) for a more in depth excursion. We opted to do this in Vicksburg and visited the Civil War Memorial. The guide was a HUGE Civil War buff and gave us LOTS of history about the war and pointed out lots of interesting things about the many memorial statues inside the park. It was well worth the $59.
The cruise also featured our Riverlorian (a historian and the river, hence Riverlorian), Jerry Hay. He was actually pretty knowledgeable about the rivers and gave us loads of information to help us to understand ‘why’ things were the way they were on the river. He would give talks during the day, announce things as we would approach them along the way and also led tours of the pilothouse once we were docked. The tours were done regularly throughout the cruise and as the pilothouse is not a very big space, they have to limit it to about 10 or so people. The new rule on the river is that a pilot must be in the pilothouse at all times, so John was there to answer our questions.
The other thing that was REALLY cool (actually rather warm) was to go down to the engine room. You can go down there any time, but it was quite fun to go down when the ship was under way so you could really watch things move. I was impressed with how CLEAN it was down there, but can only imagine how hot it would be in the hot summer months down there! YIKES!
This is not a cruise I would recommend to a family as there just is nothing for children to do, but it is a perfect cruise for people wanting to relax and remember a time gone by. It would also be good for folks that have motion sickness issues as there really is no ‘motion’ to get sick from. It was also a great way to really ‘experience’ the South and the people of the South. I hope to return to the American Queen and experience some of her other itineraries in the VERY near future since we had SUCH a good time on this trip!