OL’ MAN RIVER
Sail the Mississippi
American Queen is the largest steamboat ever built, six decks high, longer than a football pitch and with room for more than 400 passengers. Stepping aboard is like taking a step back in time. Although the ship is relatively new (1995), it’s thoroughly vintage in appearance, with an abundance of filigree, fretwork, antique furniture, original Tiffany lamps and mahogany panelling. There’s even a maleonly card room and a ‘ladies’ boudoir’. Classic exterior looks include the pair of tall, black, spike-topped smoke stacks and the giant paddle wheel at the stern, one that really does help drive the ship rather than being there merely for show. Another timeless charmer is the steampowered, music hooting and tooting calliope whistle.
America’s south comes no deeper. On a one-week cruise you’re sure to hear at least one passenger utter the famous Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’hara phrase, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,’ probably when sipping a mint julep in one of the rocking chairs.
The cruise showcases the 200-year-old story of travel on the Mississippi, enriched by the ship’s ‘riverlorian’, who tells tales of the days when sugar cane – aka White Gold – and cotton were kings and when Ol’ Man River was as commercial an artery as an interstate highway. He also brings alive characters associated with the Mississippi, including Mark Twain.
The Queen scythes through a rich, but not always palatable, seam of American history. Ports of call include Oak Alley, a Greek Revival mansion that presides at the end of a drive lined by a canopy of oak trees. Once the grand dame of sugar cane plantations, what you see is not just the beauty of the 300-year-old property, but the slave quarters, the darker side of plantation history.
Half of all American cotton millionaires once lived in Natchez mansions, many still occupied by the same families. Southern belles welcome visitors with their warm, seductive, treacly vowels – a big hit with the Brits on board.
Another important port of call is Vicksburg, besieged for over a month by Union troops. The battle site marks the most significant Confederate defeat in the Civil War, described by Lincoln as the ‘key to victory’.
In between America’s two great musical cities, New Orleans and Memphis, you’ll be entertained by top musicians, swing to jazz, blues to ragtime, bluegrass to rock ’n’ roll.
Sail aboard the incredible American Queen