A River Runs Through It

The mighty Mis­sis­sippi is one of to­day's fastest-grow­ing cruise des­ti­na­tions.

Porthole Cruise Magazine - - Porthole - by THERESA NOR­TON MASEK and BOB GOSS

IS THERE A TRAVEL EX­PE­RI­ENCE MORE TRA­DI­TION­ALLY AMER­I­CAN THAN ROLLING on the Mis­sis­sippi River on a steam­boat with a red pad­dle­wheel splash­ing? The Great River is the heart­beat of the coun­try, con­jur­ing up thoughts of steam­boat pi­lot-turned-au­thor Mark Twain, the haunting clas­sic song “Ol’ Man River,” grace­ful South­ern plan­ta­tions, and the cheer­ful, pierc­ing whis­tle of a cal­liope. ¶ For­tu­nately, trav­el­ers to­day have sev­eral op­tions to sail on the mighty, muddy Mis­sis­sippi, but just a few years back, the river­boats had van­ished from the heart­land. ¶ Now the Mis­sis­sippi River is a hot, fast-grow­ing cruise des­ti­na­tion, with three pad­dle­wheel­ers cur­rently op­er­at­ing and more on the way. Many Amer­i­cans like trav­el­ing through such a his­toric part of the coun­try, es­pe­cially if they can drive to the ship or take a train or a short flight. ¶ Plus, while not in­ex­pen­sive, these river cruises are a value, as fares in­clude some shore ex­cur­sions, wine and beer with din­ner, and more.

VES­SELS OF­TEN OF­FER THEME CRUISES, FO­CUS­ING

on the AMER­I­CAN CIVIL WAR, the MU­SIC of the RE­GION, and, OF COURSE, MARK TWAIN.

FIRST, SOME HISTORY _ Some will likely re­mem­ber the Delta Queen Steam­boat Com­pany, which op­er­ated three ves­sels on the rivers and in­land wa­ter­ways for decades, un­til it changed hands sev­eral times and ul­ti­mately closed down oper­a­tions in 2008. The river­boat Delta Queen, which be­gan ser­vice in 1927 and is a Na­tional His­toric Land­mark, be­came a per­ma­nently docked ho­tel in Chat­tanooga, Ten­nessee, and the line’s other two boats were laid up.

The U.S. econ­omy went south at that point, so it wasn’t un­til 2011 that the new­est river­boat, the 1995-built, 436-pas­sen­ger

Amer­i­can Queen, emerged un­der new own­ers and a new com­pany. It was rechris­tened and be­gan op­er­at­ing in April 2012 by the ap­pro­pri­ately named Amer­i­can Queen Steam­boat Com­pany, which set up head­quar­ters in Mem­phis. Just four months later, a sec­ond Vic­to­rian-style river­boat be­gan op­er­at­ing on the Mis­sis­sippi River sys­tem — the newly built, 150-pas­sen­ger Queen of the Mis­sis­sippi, op­er­ated by small-ship cruise spe­cial­ist, Amer­i­can Cruise Lines. And so be­gan a new era of river cruis­ing in the heart­land. The new­est river­boat re­cently en­tered ser­vice in late April when Amer­i­can Cruise Lines chris­tened its 150-pas­sen­ger Amer­i­can

Ea­gle in New Or­leans. At that time, com­pany pres­i­dent, Charles A. Robert­son, re­vealed that a third, slightly larger river­boat for the Mis­sis­sippi is un­der con­struc­tion. Ten­ta­tive plans have the 185-pas­sen­ger ves­sel be­gin­ning oper­a­tions in sum­mer 2016.

But there’s even more in store: Euro­pean river cruise pow­er­house Vik­ing Cruises un­veiled plans to base six river­boats in New Or­leans to op­er­ate Mis­sis­sippi River cruises start­ing in late 2017. Vik­ing’s plan, an­nounced in Fe­bru­ary by Louisiana Gover­nor, Bobby Jin­dal, is to de­ploy two river­boats a year — built in the United States at a cost of $90 mil­lion to $100 mil­lion each — in three years.

More de­tails haven’t been re­vealed yet, but Vik­ing’s river­boats might be more mod­ern in ap­pear­ance than the Vic­to­rian style of the cur­rent trio on the Mis­sis­sippi. Amer­i­can Cruise Lines, which plans to fur­ther ex­pand its river fleet, has also hinted that some of its new­builds might be more con­tem­po­rary in style. We’ll have to wait and see. What’s more, ef­forts are un­der way to re­turn the beloved Delta

Queen to ser­vice. Sup­port­ers bought the his­toric ves­sel, re­vived the Delta Queen Steam­boat Com­pany name, and are start­ing re­pairs in hopes of re­turn­ing to overnight pas­sen­ger ser­vice in 2016. First, though, the new own­ers must se­cure a fed­eral ex­emp­tion to safety and fire reg­u­la­tions. The leg­is­la­tion has been in­tro­duced, and the own­ers say they are pre­pared to make nec­es­sary up­grades.

AL­READY ROLLIN’ ON THE RIVER _ Cur­rently, there are three Mis­sis­sippi River pad­dle­wheel­ers in op­er­a­tion. The new 150-pas­sen­ger Amer­i­can Ea­gle is a vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal sis­ter to

ON BOARD, PAS­SEN­GERS EN­JOYED SIT­TING on the TOP DECK and WATCH­ING

the MIGHTY MIS­SIS­SIPPI GO BY.

Queen of the Mis­sis­sippi with one main dif­fer­ence: Amer­i­can Ea­gle has nine state­rooms on the top of the boat on Deck 5 in a prized lo­ca­tion oc­cu­pied by crew cab­ins on the sis­ter ship. The crew cab­ins were moved to the Main Deck.

The ves­sels are com­fort­able through­out, with wicker fur­nish­ings in the bright and airy Sky Lounge, deep jewel tones in the Pad­dle­wheel Lounge, fas­ci­nat­ing river maps in the cozy Chart Room, and white wooden rock­ing chairs on out­side decks.

The ac­com­mo­da­tions are ex­tremely spa­cious, rang­ing from 260 to 600 square feet. All but six of the 84 state­rooms have pri­vate bal­conies. The 19 solo-oc­cu­pancy state­rooms mea­sure a roomy 210 square feet.

Amer­i­can Cruise Lines es­pouses a “Cruise Lo­cal. Eat Lo­cal” phi­los­o­phy and sup­ports farmer’s mar­kets, sus­tain­able in­gre­di­ents, and fresh lo­cal pro­duce. Amer­i­can Ea­gle mainly cruises for seven nights on the Lower Mis­sis­sippi River be­tween New Or­leans and Mem­phis, although it also of­fers two sail­ings, 14 and 21 days long, along the en­tire length of the Mis­sis­sippi River be­tween New Or­leans and St. Paul in Au­gust and Septem­ber.

Queen of the Mis­sis­sippi sails through­out the Mis­sis­sippi River sys­tem, some­times on the Cum­ber­land and Ohio rivers to places like Nashville, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Pittsburgh, on the Up­per Mis­sis­sippi be­tween St. Louis and St. Paul, as well as many 7-night roundtrips from New Or­leans. The ves­sels of­ten of­fer theme cruises, fo­cus­ing on the Amer­i­can Civil War, the mu­sic of the re­gion, and, of course, Mark Twain.

Billed as the world’s largest pad­dle­wheeler, Amer­i­can Queen is a mas­ter­piece of gin­ger­bread trim, glis­ten­ing wood­work, 20-foot ceil­ings, crys­tal chan­de­liers, and an­tique fur­nish­ings.

The river­boat boasts a num­ber of public spa­ces, in­clud­ing the li­brary called Mark Twain Gallery, the two-deck-tall Grand Saloon show­place, and even a small pool on the sun deck. Cab­ins in­clude 140-square-foot in­sides, 190-square-foot deluxe out­sides with bay win­dows, 210-square-foot ve­randa state­rooms, and suites of 230 to 500 square feet.

Famed Chef Regina Char­boneau de­vel­oped the so­phis­ti­cated menus for Amer­i­can Queen, which celebrate the Amer­i­can South and heart­land river­front com­mu­ni­ties.

Amer­i­can Queen op­er­ates a va­ri­ety of itin­er­ar­ies to iconic river port cities in­clud­ing Mem­phis, New Or­leans, Cincinnati, Louisville, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and St. Paul. A ho­tel stay is in­cluded the night be­fore the voy­age de­parts.

Amer­i­can Queen also op­er­ates a num­ber of theme cruises on big band swing, Delta blues, Civil War, south­ern gar­dens, Mark Twain, and even Ken­tucky bour­bon, to name a few.

With these pop­u­lar river­boats and fu­ture plans for more ves­sels, it looks like we’ll be rolling on the rivers for years to come.

All aboard Amer­i­can

Queen; Illi­nois Me­mo­rial, Vicks­burg Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park; Mem­phis’ bustling Beale Street

Down­town Min­neapo­lis

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