Riverboat Cruising Returns to New Orleans

00:00 April 29, 2013
By: Dean Shapiro


[Courtesy of the American Queen]
In 2009, when the Delta Queen hoisted anchor and departed New Orleans for its new permanent home in Chattanooga, Tennessee, it appeared that a great era of steamboating on the Mississippi River had come to an end. The port city where hundreds of paddlewheel packet boats once crowded wharves bustling with passengers and freight was, for the fi rst time in nearly 200 years, without overnight riverboat service.

The hiatus, mourned by steamboat buffs up and down the river, fortunately did not last too long. Last year, one riverboat offering overnight excursions returned to New Orleans, followed quickly by another.

On April 13, 2012, the newly refurbished American Queen put into the Port of New Orleans for the fi rst Mississippi River cruise originating here in three years. Four months later, on August 7, a brand-new, state-ofthe-art paddlewheeler, Queen of the Mississippi, set sail on its maiden voyage from New Orleans to Memphis. It returned here in the fall to spend the rest of the winter cruising from New Orleans to Vicksburg, Mississippi and back.

The American Queen, formerly one of three paddlewheelers owned and operated by the Delta Queen Steamship Company, had been out of service and in drydock since the early 2000s, when its parent company went out of business. Once the newest and largest of the Delta Queen Company fl eet, it is now owned by the Memphis-based Great American Steamboat Company, headed by Jeffrey D. Krida, who was the president of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company in the 1990s.

Queen of the Mississippi was built from scratch by a shipbuilding company in Salisbury, Maryland, and is owned and operated by the American Cruise Lines company. Based in Guilford, Connecticut, American Cruise Lines operates fi ve other riverboats that specialize in taking passengers through American inland waterways that can't be traversed by the larger vessels of the oceangoing cruise ship companies. Their territory includes Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, New England, the Middle Atlantic region, and the Southeast (including Florida).

[Courtesy of the American Queen]

Neither of the new boats are powered by steam generated by wood- or coal-burning boilers, as boats were in the old days. However, they still successfully recreate the ambience of the early steamboat era with their diesel-driven, waterchurning paddlewheels mounted in the stern (rear) of the boats.

Here are more details on each of the new riverboats:


Widely believed to be the largest steamboat ever built, the American Queen was constructed in 1994 and launched in New Orleans the following year. Its steam engine was salvaged from the U.S. dredge Kennedy. Since the boat's sternwheel is too small to move the large boat in every situation, there are two additional propellers that can be used if necessary.

The American Queen is 418 feet long and 89 feet 4 inches high. Equipped with 222 staterooms, the Queen can accommodate up to 436 passengers. It has a calliope with 37 gold-plated brass pipes, specially built for the American Queen.

In addition to New Orleans, the American Queen will tie up at close to 40 individual cities and historic sites along the Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers. Major ports of cruise origin are Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville, Chattanooga, Memphis, St. Louis, St. Paul and Vicksburg. Excursions will range from four to ten nights, with the average cruise lasting seven nights.

Although the American Queen won't be home-ported in New Orleans, the Crescent City will see the boat more than any other city along the Mississippi and its tributaries. Between the fi rst week of April and the end of June, there will be eight separate dockings here. Then, after a summer hiatus, the boat will return on November 1 to fi nish out the year with another six cruises from our port.

The American Queen offers round-trip cruises to St. Francisville, Louisiana and Vicksburg, Mississippi, as well as one-way excursions to Memphis and St. Louis. Stops along the way include Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, LA; Houmas House Plantation in Burnside, LA; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Natchez, Mississippi. Passengers who take the one-way cruises that terminate in Memphis or St. Louis must arrange their own return transportation by either bus or rail. The price for either one is $49 one-way from Memphis.

For more details about the American Queen, including voyages, destinations, price ranges, accommodations, amenities and other key information, visit their website at greatamericansteamboatcompany.com.


[Courtesy of the Queen of the Mississippi]

As the fi rst paddlewheel riverboat to be constructed for the Mississippi River in nearly two decades, the new Queen (not to be confused with the decommissioned and now-scrapped Mississippi Queen) features "all the amenities and comforts of the late 19th /early 20th century 'Golden Age of Riverboating,' but with the added advantages of 21st-century technology and ambience," according to company president and CEO Charles A. Robertson.

The Queen of the Mississippi will be homeported in New Orleans, and will be offering seven week-long, one-way cruises to Memphis between April 6 and June 22. Seven-day return trips from Memphis to New Orleans are available for a separate price. Those who take the one-way excursions to Memphis can return to New Orleans by bus or passenger train.

The boat will cruise the upper Mississippi and Ohio Rivers during the summer, returning to New Orleans briefl y in September for a seven-day round trip to Vicksburg. On September 21, it departs for a one-way excursion to Memphis, and will stay on the upper river for fall foliage trips. In November, the Queen will winter here with two one-ways to Memphis and three round trips to Vicksburg to fi nish out the year.

While in port, the Queen of the Mississippi will tie up at the Julia Street Wharf, adjacent to the Riverwalk Marketplace, where covered parking with 24-hour security is provided.

With a capacity of 150 passengers, the Queen of the Mississippi offers 78 well-appointed staterooms of varying sizes and price ranges. There are fi ve decks, four of which contain staterooms, and all of the rooms from the second through the fourth decks feature private balconies with twoseater tables that look out onto the river. Average stateroom size is 300 square feet, but some are larger. Most rooms are designed to comfortably accommodate double occupancy, but single rooms are also offered for those traveling alone.

One of the most impressive features of the Queen of the Mississippi is its spacious, freshly carpeted and ornately decorated Grand Dining Room, capable of seating all passengers in one unassigned sitting. The cuisine is varied, ranging from Cajun and Creole delicacies to Memphis-style barbecue to other specialties of the American Southland. Coffee, tea, soft drinks, snacks and pastries are available throughout the day in the Top Deck Cafe, and each evening features a complimentary cocktail hour.

For its cruises of the lower Mississippi River, the riverboat offers its passengers a number of specifi c themes from which to choose. The unique history, culture, cuisine and music of New Orleans are experiences in themselves, especially for those who are visiting the boat's home port city for the fi rst time. Other themes take in the plantation culture of the South as represented in several of the stops along the route, plus a tour of the Civil War battlefi eld at Vicksburg.

Another themed cruise features storytellers, folklorists and widely respected historians telling stories, both factual and apocryphal, about the fabled river and the cities and towns that grew up along both of its banks. One cruise in particular has a central fi gure whose strong resemblance to renowned American author Mark Twain is not a coincidence. In Twain-like fashion, this performer will regale passengers with stories about the river and the colorful cast of characters who traveled its course by whatever means of conveyance would fl oat.

Another cruise theme focuses on the music that originated in the South and spread throughout the world. The jazz that began in New Orleans, the blues of the Mississippi Delta country and Memphis, and the country/western sounds of Nashville all have their moments to shine as the boat rolls along "Old Man River," with performances by small live bands and individual entertainers. Many legendary musicians got their start playing on riverboats in the 1800s and early 1900s, and the tradition continues to this day.

For more information and to make reservations for the Queen of the Mississippi, call 1-800-814- 6880 or 1-866-975-8097, or visit their website, americancruiselines.com.

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