Mississippi Steamboat Cruising

The thought of cruising down the Mississippi in a paddlewheel steamboat conjures up long lazy days of drinking iced tea while reclining in a comfortable rattan chair in the balmy summer heat of Louisiana. Cole Porter’s evocative song, Summertime, plays in the background, while Mark Twain’s scallywag characters, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn wave lazily from the banks of the river. Meanwhile you are lulled to sleep by the rustle of Scarlet O’Hara’s dress as she sashays up and down the deck of the boat.OK, so it’s easy to dream about cruising during this chilly wet Auckland spring but, seriously, paddle wheel steamboating is enjoying a boost in popularity these days, with record bookings for 2013 being reported by the American Queen Steamboat Company.

The company’s American Queen is the only authentic paddlewheeler steamboat in America which takes you down the Mississippi from New Orleans stopping at old cotton plantations, historic towns and gracious mansions on the way.

Grand Staircase

Grand Staircase

The boat, built in 1995 by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, was then taken over by the Majestic America Line which went out of business in 2008. The ship languished on land for four years until the American Queen Steamboat Company was formed specifically to put the grand old lady back on the water in April this year.

In a New York Times article, US television critic, Neil Genzlinger, reviews his recent travel experience on the American Queen’s inaugural six-night cruise in April this year.

The roundtrip, from New Orleans to Vicksburg, took the 420 passengers down the Mississippi, stopping at Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, a US National Historic Landmark , (you really can imagine Scarlett O’Hara running down to meet Ashley through the oak tree alley); St Francisville, established in 1809 and still retaining some of the old buildings; Natchez, a town established by French colonists in 1716 ( named after the Natchez Indians who lived in the vicinity before European arrival); Darrow and Vicksburg.

Other trips included a boat tour of the Manchac Swap, where “the world’s least threatening alligators” were summoned with marshmallows and meat.

Genzlinger doesn’t just limit his review to the pleasures of paddle steamer travel, he also makes interesting comments about the history of the area and the state of its economy now.

The cotton plantation mansions “are enduring reminders of an economy that was built on the ownership of human beings,” he adds succinctly.

J.M. White Dining Room

J.M. White Dining Room

But although commenting on the history and the economy of the area, and impressed by the trips ashore, he reserves most of his comments about the steamboat itself.

He loves the food, served in the large formal dining room, “the food was better than food on a boat has a right to be.

“Even though my ticket cost me [US]$2,854, the dessert on our second night, a vanilla cheesecake with blackberry sauce, convinced me that I hadn’t paid nearly enough,” he writes.
And he notes the cruise is pretty relaxing.

“Steamboating is one of the most sedentary vacations a body can sign up for. The American Queen barely pays lip service to the idea of onboard exercise, with only a small gym and a runt of a pool….There are activities on the boat, but they’re of the sit-and-listen variety : talks about steamboat history or 19th-century dueling, a performance by a Mark Twin imitator, evening piano-bar sessions. A lot of listening and a lot of eating.”

Not that he’s moaning. He seems to enjoy it – listening, eating and watching the paddlesteamer at work.

“Some of the best entertainment is in simply watching a steamboat do what a steamboat does,” he adds.

“The engine room is open for touring almost anytime. There’s a pleasing grandeur in watching the boat’s imposing smokestacks fold down when a low bridge is ahead. And it’s amazing to see a boat this size pull right up to a sandy bank; it

Grand Saloon modeled after Ford's Theatre

Grand Saloon modeled after Ford's Theatre

draws only eight feet, so deep water is not required.”

The American Queen has many themed cruises coming up including the Washington Week voyage, in US election week, which will depart from St Louis and will have onboard a panel of political journalists, taking passengers through the election week.

Also in September this year is the nine-day Fall Colours trip from St Louis to St Paul trip, and cruising along the Upper Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers in autumn.

Another highlight is the Polka Cruise featuring big polka bands such as Jimmy Sturr and his Polka Orchestra.

 

 

View details of American Queen Steamboat Company Cruises

 

 

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