River Cruise Review: American Queen Steamboat Company

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Perhaps more than any other river and ship, the Mississippi and the American Queen steamboat evoke the grandeur and history of a bygone age. The world's largest paddlewheel steamboat, the American Queen is resplendent in her white wedding cake design with gingerbread trim, iron railings and bright red paddlewheel.

With six decks and a 90-foot cross-span, the American Queen is not constrained in size like her European river cousins. There's room for multiple restaurants, bars and parlors (the Ladies' Parlor comes complete with a fainting couch), a swimming pool and gym, spacious cabins and plenty of open decks from which to admire the ever-changing views.

The ship's interiors evoke the luxury of grand antebellum mansions, with mahogany-paneled walls, ornate chandeliers and antiques, while the cuisine is pure Louisianna, with catfish po' boys, crabmeat beignets and Bananas Foster on Texas toast.

Onboard entertainment is sentimental: a resident river historian, or "riverlorian," tells tales of local history, customs and people, and there are card games, sing-alongs and calliope music recitals.

Signature shore excursions are included in all American Queen voyages, many in the form of narrated tours aboard the cruise line's dedicated hop-on hop-off "Steamcoach" buses, while expert speakers provide enriching entertainment on cruising days.

The Mississippi is the main act here, but the boat does take time off during the summer months to sail along the Ohio River through Bluegrass Country, calling at small towns and big cities in Kentucky, Ohio and Missouri. Come 2014, when the American Empress is launched, it will be possible to navigate the Columbia and Snake rivers between Portland, Oregon, and Clarkston, Washington.

Selling point: The American Queen is the most luxurious and all-inclusive passenger boat operating on U.S. rivers. A voyage aboard this boat is, quite simply, the very best way to embrace the history, grandeur and age-old grace of the Mississippi and American steamboating.

Keep in mind: The American Queen offers a nostalgic boat ride down memory lane at a gentle pace, which is arguably best suited to mature travelers happy to lose themselves to the sedentary pace of the Deep South. Active types might grow frustrated, despite the provision of fitness classes and mountain bikes.

Operating since: 2012, after the ship was refurbished (previously operated as the Great American Steamboat Company)

Number of ships: 1, plus a second ship scheduled for 2014

Rivers sailed:
  • USA: Columbia, Mississippi, Ohio, Snake

Most popular route: Nine-day voyages along the Lower Mississippi, from Memphis to New Orleans (November to July; the American Queen navigates the Upper Mississippi August to October). Prices start from $2459 per person.

What's included: Cruise fares include full board with house bottled water and soft drinks at lunch and wines, beer or soft drinks with dinner; specialty coffee; shore excursions; and Internet.

Contact: 888-749-5280; www.americanqueensteamboatcompany.com




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