OL’ MAN RIVER

Sail the Mis­sis­sippi

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Contents -

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

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