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American Queen
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American Queen
Reviewed by Chris Dikmen and Rickee Richardson
A cruise review of American Queen Steamboat Company American Queen in U.S. River
 
 
 
American Queen Steamboat Company Review  
Long Live The Queen!  

 
by Chris Dikmen and Rickee Richardson
June 2012
 
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Memphis, New Madrid, Paducah, Cape Girardeau, Chester, St. Louis

Stepping aboard American Queen is like stepping back 150 years to the hustle and bustle of the day when thousands of steamboats ruled the rivers of America. Back then, sternwheelers and sidewheelers were used to move mountains of goods and passengers up and down the Mississippi. The steamboat was the symbol of a prosperous and expanding young country. And, steamboats were uniquely American. Today, America is no longer expanding, and some might argue, far less than prosperous. This makes a trip back to the "good old days" more appealing than ever. While the rivers are still used to transport goods, steamboats have been replaced with massive multi-barge tows powered by tow boats (think of a tug boat). People today move between cities largely by automobile, train or airplane. Steamboats over the past few decades have all but disappeared. In fact, when Majestic America closed its doors in 2009, it was the first time in more than 150 years that no steamboat could be found on the Mississippi River.

In April 2012, the grand American Queen was brought back to life by American Queen Steamboat Company, a new company with new leadership. American Queen is the largest steamboat ever constructed (1995) and can carry up to 436 guests. The boat presents an impressive profile as she lumbers along the river at speeds that make one wonder if she will ever reach her destination. But, steamboating today is not about speed or efficiency, it is about reliving the experience of a previous generation.

THE BOAT

American Queen Steamboat

The first lesson in river vernacular is that American Queen is a boat, not a ship, hence the term "steamboat". We sailed aboard American Queen five years ago, almost to the day! So, we were very anxious to see what, if any, changes we would find. Anyone who sailed American Queen under previous ownership will be immediately familiar with the vessel. Virtually nothing has changed. Notwithstanding some fresh paint on the dining room chairs, the ship looks exactly as she did when we stepped off in 2007.

You board the boat via one of the two gangways that extend from the front of the "stage" located at the bow. Steamboats do not "dock" or "anchor" as ships do, they "land" at a port. Basically, when a steamboat lands ashore it is a controlled grounding of the boat into the muddy river bank.

The American-built, American-crewed American Queen is the largest paddlewheeler ever constructed. It was purpose-built expressly for exploring America's great rivers and coastal waterways. The shallow draft allows for exploration of tributaries and for getting close to the banks to see sights of interest. The public areas are quite roomy and comfortable. Even the public restrooms are large and nicely appointed. The Mark Twain Gallery serves as the main lobby and is the largest space onboard with multiple seating areas furnished with sofas and chairs. Here you can check out books and DVDs from a small library area and coffee and tea are available 24 hours a day here. Large windows line the gallery and look down onto the ship’s J.M. White Dining Room. Both the Ladies' Parlor and the Gentlemen's Card Room are furnished with period pieces such as swooning couches and hand-painted wallpaper to make the area feel more "homey". Many of the antiques onboard have been donated by families from the Lower Mississippi area, although 85% are replicas. A stuffed bear in the Gentlemen's Card Room is reported to have been around for 125 years. And, don't miss the "peep show" found here which was most likely quite risque for that time period. Afternoon tea is served daily in the Ladies' Parlor. A selection of board games is available for checkout here.


One of the most popular areas on the boat is The Front Porch of America located forward on Deck 3. This area includes a covered porch with tables and chairs, rocking chairs and wooden swing chairs and sweeping views of the river. Front Porch of America is where early risers congregate for continental breakfast of pastries, cereals, fresh fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, muffins and fresh coffee. In the afternoons, the area is popular because of its soft-serve ice cream machine, popcorn and freshly baked cookies. All are quite good, by the way. There is a soft-drink dispensing machine and coffee and tea are available around the clock, all at no charge.

Farther aft on Deck 3 is a neat little Movie Theater where current films are shown. Actually, it is a large flat screen TV playing videos, but there is room for about 25 people in comfortable seating and a basket filled with bags of popcorn and mini candy bars keeps everyone satisfied during the films.

Deck 2 amidships is where you will find the Purser’s office, shore tour desk and gift shop. The gift shop, the AQ Emporium, is very well stocked with such things as logo gear, jewelry, souvenirs, books and CDs. Deck 2 aft is the location of the Engine Room Bar, a lively lounge where Jackie Bankston, the "Princess of the Piano" and Bob Schad on the banjo, entertain guests nightly.

American Queen Steamboat
Gentlemen's Card Room Deck 3 Forward

The boat’s main dining room is located amidship on Deck 1. The J.M. White Dining Room is large enough to accommodate everyone onboard in two dinner seatings. The dining room features large windows on both sides of the vessel where you can watch the river as you dine. Large tapestries and huge mirrors make this a beautiful space. The ceiling is a replica of the beautiful ceiling in the steamboat J.M. White which plied the Ohio and Mississippi in the 1800s. Aft of the dining room is the Grand Saloon, the boat’s entertainment venue. The Grand Saloon features a stage, plenty of comfortable seating and a large wooden floor that is used for after-dinner dancing. There are even semi-private box seats available on Deck 2 that look down on the Grand Saloon.

Deck 5 aft is where you will find the River Grill (formerly the Calliope Bar). And yes, there is a real calliope that is played every time the boat leaves port and often whenever it goes through a lock on the river. From 11am until 4pm each day, you can make yourself a hot dog with all the fixin's.

Deck 6 is the Observation Deck and is just that. This open space is a great place to sit and view the river; however, you will be completely exposed to the elements up here. There is also a small pool and a small gym with treadmills and a few weights. Seven laps around this deck equals a mile and it was not unusual to see people taking their daily laps.

The beauty salon and spa is located just forward of the Grand Saloon. I also read that there were self-serve washers and dryers available onboard, but I never looked for them.

Getting around the ship is easy with elevators available to go from floor to floor for those who don't want to take the stairs. The entire boat is wrapped with outer promenade decks with outdoor stairways on every level. All outside staterooms open onto a wide promenade which is very convenient. For the cabins that open onto the outer decks, there are new wicker and metal chairs outside each room where you can sit and watch the scenery.

Smoking is only allowed on Deck 2, port side wing of the Engine Room Bar. Attire onboard is casual, even at dinner. I saw people in the dining room for dinner wearing shorts.

Complimentary Internet access is available through the boat's Wi-Fi (wireless) system. Internet access was slow, as is to be expected on a ship/boat, but it did work most of the time when the boat was in port. When the boat is sailing down the river, access is hit-or-miss. I was even able to get Wi-Fi access a few times in our cabin, however, for the best connection, a trip to the Mark Twain Gallery is advised.

ACCOMMODATIONS



Back in the 1800s, a passenger could take a ride on a steamboat for as little as 50 cents. There was no bed, no meals included and not even a room! What you got was a section of deck space where you could put your luggage, if you had any, roll out a blanket, sleep and enjoy the ride. The “wealthy” could purchase a 6’ X 6’ cabin for about $12 which did include food, a bed and a chamber pot.

When we boarded in Memphis, we were notified that our cabin assignment had been changed from 337 (Category AA) to 323 (Category A). When we asked at the Purser's desk why we were changed to a lower category cabin, we were told that 323 was the same category as 337, which of course, it was not. We decided to go ahead and start unpacking in 323. I found someone from the Purser's Office in the hallway who was helping another guest with a room change, so I decided to ask her about our new cabin assignment. She said that we were moved because the previous guest in 337 had decided to stay on for another week and asked if they could stay in the same cabin. I told her that we had been moved to a smaller cabin and she immediately said "no problem, I can put you in 348." Problem solved. In fact, there were at least two Category AA's that were empty, so I am not sure why we were not moved into one of those automatically. That remains a mystery; nevertheless, we ended up in 348!

The bedding in our cabin is superior to what you might expect on a riverboat, and as good or better than you will find on any modern cruise ship. If memory serves me, the mattresses had been replaced with all new new pillow-top mattresses not long before Majestic America closed its doors.  Every room has flat screen TV and a good selection of satellite programming. Bottled water is complimentary and replenished daily. There is an ice bucket, but ice was only delivered to our room once during the 7 days. The stateroom bathroom has a full-size bathtub with shower, thick cotton towels and shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and body lotion supplied; however, as shampoo and soap ran out, it was not replenished. We had to ask for more shampoo and conditioner at one point. A hair dryer is furnished. There is a 3-shelf metal storage unit for stowing personal bathroom items and a glass shelf above the sink can hold a few things. A magnifying mirror is attached to the wall beside the mirror above the sink, but was positioned such that you could not see well because the light could not be directed toward the mirror. Speaking of light, we found the bathroom to be a little dark with only one small light bulb in each of the two fixtures on the wall above the sink. A full-length mirror is mounted to the inside of the bathroom door and a decorative, framed mirror is mounted to the outside of the bathroom door.
 
We experienced a problem with our shower on the first day with the tub not draining properly. Taking a shower would result in our standing in about 12 to 14 inches of water that took several hours to completely drain. When we notified our cabin attendant of the problem, she said it was a common complaint. Not too reassuring. We were told that maintenance would come take a look. The drainage problem persisted for the first three days, then on day four, mysteriously the tub started draining properly. Right before the problem was solved, Rickee had submitted the mid-cruise Comment Card and asked for the problem to be addressed. So, perhaps action was taken on the comment card.

Our room had a private balcony with two chairs and a small table. Apparently, we were above the only area where smoking is allowed on the boat as we could often smell cigarette smoke when we sat on our balcony. If you are ultra sensitive to cigarette smoke, you may wish to avoid booking a cabin aft on port side.  We had an electronic safe in the room for valuables. There was also a closet area and a 4-drawer dresser. Another piece of furniture was positioned on the right as you entered the cabin door and had 4 drawers in it. Our cabin attendant placed the bottled water on top of this piece of furniture each day. There were four US-110v electrical outlets in the cabin and two in the bathroom, great for charging up all of my electronic gear.

The A/C system works almost too well. The system will literally turn the cabin into a meat locker if you let it. Unfortunately, in our cabin it was "feast or famine" with the thermostat. Turn the knob a fraction toward the WARM side and it would begin blowing warm (heated) air! So, you could either be freezing cold or hot. We finally figured out a system that worked for us. We would get the room as cold as we could stand it, then just turn the system OFF and let the room gradually warm to a comfortable temperature that would get us through the night. Perhaps this could just be an issue with this one cabin.
 
Our major issue with the cabin was noise. The walls are paper thin and you can easily hear your neighbors having a normal conversation. This becomes problematic when your not-so-courteous neighbors come back to their room at 11:00pm and start talking loudly and turn the TV on while you are trying to sleep. A good set of earplugs is recommended just in case. When the boat is going through a lock late at night, it can get noisy. Since our cabin was located aft, we got a fair amount of noise and vibration while the boat was underway.
It would be wise to book early and request a cabin at least five or six cabins away from the aft of the boat.


DINING

American Queen Steamboat

Food service is the one area where we felt American Queen is still trying to get the kinks worked out. Dining room service was spotty, almost like the wait staff needed more training. Interestingly, we had this exact same experience when we sailed on American Queen in 2007. The food itself was good, but not remarkable. American Steamboat has enlisted celebrated American Chef, Regina Charboneau, as its "Culinary Director". You can see Chef Charboneau's influence on the menus which now reflect a much more Southern U.S. flavor than when we previously sailed on AQ back in 2007. Once the execution in the galley matches Chef Charboneau's POV, the dining on board AQ will be something really special.


Unza carves up some excellent meats at River Grill (Front Porch)

The breakfast buffet line can get chaotic when in full swing. Buffet items could use some work. Biscuits and gravy, a southern staple, combined rock-hard biscuits with under-seasoned sausage gravy. The omelet station prepares egg dishes to order, but causes a serious traffic jam on the buffet line. The a la carte menu is a better option if you don't like standing in line. Made-to-order eggs were cooked perfectly and the brown sugar bacon alone is worth a trip to the dining room.


A la carte breakfast menu in J.M. White Dining Room

Afternoon Tea is served each day the lounge area in front of the dining room. A variety of sweet and savory treats are set out buffet-style along with a selection of teas for guests to enjoy.

A full buffet lunch is served in the J.M. White Dining Room each day. A menu offers a few a la carte choices in addition to the buffet. There is a carving station each day with a different meat on display. A choice of vegetables, salads, fruits and cheeses are also available. However, only one bread choice was available.

American Queen Steamboat
The Front Porch of America

Dinner service is divided into two distinct seatings: Early Seating at 5:15pm and Late Seating at 7:45pm. For us, 5:15 is a little too early and 7:45 is a little too late, but that is just because we are used to eating around 6:00 to 6:30. The dinner menu changes daily and offers a nice selection throughout the week. Items made to order are much better than the buffet items at breakfast and lunch, so dinnertime is the best dining on American Queen. Each evening, in addition to the dining room, the River Grill on Deck 5 offers a choice of smoked and grilled meats as a casual dining option along with a few salad choices. It was so hot on our sailing that this service was moved inside to the Front Porch of America where there was air conditioning. We really enjoyed the flexibility of going to dinner there at 6:00pm, even though the choices were somewhat limited. Overall, this alternate dining experience has a lot of potential and, with a little tweaking, could be really outstanding. We found ourselves opting for the River Grill dining almost every night. Unza, one of the chefs onboard, was always on hand to carve the meats and did an excellent job. We were also able to have the complimentary wine choices while dining at the River Grill/Front Porch of America.

The Front Porch of America is available 24 hours a day with hot dogs, sandwiches, cookies, popcorn, soft drinks, coffee, tea and juices. All of these items are complimentary. If you are an "early riser" like me, this is the place for early morning breakfast. They serve Starbuck's Coffee on board (not my personal favorite, but hey, it's popular) and the automatic coffee machine puts out a very good cup of coffee. You can also make Cappuccino, Latte, Hot Chocolate or other coffee drinks from the machine.


ACTIVITIES


American Queen Steamboat

The main daytime activities on American Queen are the lectures presented by Jerry, the boat’s Riverlorian. Whether talking about the locks and dams of the Mississippi River or Mark Twain, Jerry's talks were very well presented and extremely informative. Jerry made announcements heard out on deck about things to see along the banks of the river and local points of interest. Jerry's headquarters onboard is the Chart Room on Deck 4 forward. Here you could check out binoculars and get questions answered or just chat about the river.


Civil War buffs will want to check out American Queen's many Civil War theme cruises that are steeped in the war's history. Guest enrichment through the variety of lectures is one area where American Queen really shines.

American Queen Steamboat
A fleet of shiny new bikes available for guests to enjoy on shore

The daily schedule is outlined in the River Times,
which is delivered to your stateroom each evening. While most time is spent exploring ports, our itinerary included two days of "steamboatin''" (like an "at river" day). There are a few activities such as Bingo, audience-participation games, and a wheelhouse tour.  A different movie is shown in the theater each day. Each evening after the late show, there was dancing to the music of the Steamboat Syncopators, the resident band.

Our voyage was the first to have complimentary bicycles on board that could be checked out and ridden in town or along the levees. There were six of the bright lime green bicycles and they were always reserved and in use when we checked. Riders had to wear a helmet while on the bike and a chain and lock was provided in case you wanted to stop and explore an inside venue.

ENTERTAINMENT




The quality and variety of entertainment on American Queen is far better than what you would ever expect on a 436-guest boat. The onboard band, the Steamboat Syncopators, provide the music for the four resident vocalists who put on several good shows in the Grand Saloon. During our cruise, we also enjoyed several guest entertainers including the Juggernaut Jug Band; Touch of Harmony; Lewis Hankins who impersonated Mark Twain; Bodine Balasco, Riverboat Gambler and magician; and Blend, an acapella group. We certainly don’t want to overlook Steve Spracklen, the boat’s Cruise Director, who is a very accomplished ragtime pianist and capable master of ceremonies. Jackie Bankston, the "Princess of the Piano," along with banjo player, Bob Schad, entertained with a different theme every night in the Engine Room Bar. Resident pianist, Phil, played in the Captain's Bar. It was always fun to hear the Steamboat Syncopators play Dixieland music at the River Grill.

ITINERARY AND THE STEAMCOACH

American Queen Steamboat

One of the most innovative concepts we were really impressed with was the "Steamcoach". American Queen has a fleet of three motor coaches that shadow the boat's itinerary on land. When you arrive at a port, the Steamcoaches are already there, ready to shuttle you to nearby points of interest. American Queen has identified several museums and other attractions in each town along the river and paid the admission fee for its guests, and the Steamcoach acts like a "Hop-On/Hop-Off" bus for these spots. You can get on or off the coach at any location, and stay as long as you like. One of the three coaches will be along every 15 minutes or so to drop-off/pick-up guests, so you never have to wait very long for a ride. And, the Steamcoach service is complimentary! In addition to the Steamcoach, American Queen offers a few other optional shore excursions for a nominal fee, but the Steamcoach is always available and highly recognizable with its outer wrapping that makes it look like a steamboat on wheels!


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The towns we visited on this itinerary were quaint and very easy to explore on foot. In most cases, you can walk right off the boat into town. This was true for New Madrid, Cape Girardeau and Paducah for sure. Chester, Illinois, requires a pretty intensive uphill climb to get to town, and St. Louis really requires the use of the coach. Paducah and Cape Girardeau had restored downtown areas with shopping and dining available.
Note: the landing in Chester, Illinois was not part of the planned itinerary.

DISEMBARKATION

Guests were informed that we needed to be out of our cabin by no later than 8am on the day of disembarkation. Luggage can be put out the night before for delivery to the pier, or you can walk off with your own luggage if you prefer. All were asked to be off the ship by 8:45am. Breakfast was available in the restaurant until 8:00am. American Queen offered a transfer to the airport for $20 per person, a reasonable price, but it left so early we decided to wait and take a taxi which cost about $35. We did not receive our final bill the night before, so a trip to the Purser's Office was necessary before we disembarked. Getting off American Queen was quick and efficient.

SUMMARY

American Queen Steamboat

The American Queen offers guests a unique glimpse into the past, one that can only be had by sailing on the river by steamboat. This is Americana immersion at its finest. Even in an age of cell phones and video games, the local townspeople come out to greet the boat as she steams into town, just like they did over 150 years ago.


The demographics of American Queen’s guests are decidedly older. There were a few kids on board sailing with their parents, but this is not what you would consider a “family cruise” by the standard definition.

With a few tweaks here and there, American Queen has the potential to rival any cruise ship/boat on the market today. Even as it stands today, it offers something that no other cruise experience can, a relaxing and nostalgic trip into America's past. American Queen is a floating time machine.

WHAT WE LIKE:

  • Steamcoach "hop-on/hop-off" bus
  • Entertainment and enrichment lectures are excellent
  • River Grill alternate dining
  • Front Porch of America
  • Nostalgia - like a trip back in time

WHAT WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE IMPROVED:

  • Service in dining room
  • Quality of food on buffet
  • Housekeeping

VIDEO






It is common in the travel industry for journalists to be provided with complimentary cruise accommodations, and in some cases, hotel accommodations, for the purpose of a review. While it has not influenced this review, CruiseReport.com adheres to a strict policy of full disclosure to all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, please refer to our Ethics Guidelines
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8 Comments
DANETTE
Just got off the boat August 30th housekeeping was awesome so was the buffet and dining room service no complaints for a first timer
Monday, September 01, 2014 11:21 AM  
GEORGE WERDERICH
Have taken two cruises on the American Queen June of 2013 and August of 2013. I cannot say enough good about both of them. The food on both was superb and the Dining Room service wonderful. Every crew member we met was as friendly as could be including the Captain. Same one both trips. The entertainment once again this year was as good as it gets. with the rotation of casts we had half of last years ensemble as well as some of the Steamboat Syncopators. During the entire seven days there was no reason to get bored whether you stayed on board at stops or used the Steamcoach as we did most of the time. Your choices of dining are wonderful, the Front Porch can be a nice relaxing informal venue for every meal with great food. We chose to dress up , not formal but nice for dinner in the J.M White dining room. Our experience was perfect sitting either two alone or with 4 others it was delightful. I cannot say enough about the politeness and attetativeness of the crew perfect..
Wednesday, August 28, 2013 9:58 PM  
A TOUCH OF HARMONY
we had another great time on the boat. thanks tony
Sunday, June 09, 2013 12:24 AM  
LORI COURTAWAY
Sailed aboard this beautiful boat last fall 2012 for a Civil War Themed Cruise. Service, excursions, food, entertainment and housekeeping everything was FIVE STAR! I would recommend to anyone! Getting ready to sail again July 2013
Friday, April 26, 2013 9:27 PM  
SANDY NORRIS & BLAKE WILCOX
JUST SPENT THE BEST 7 DAYS OF OUR LIVES ABOARD THE AMERICAN QUEEN ...GEART FOOD, GREAT SERVICE, SUPER EXCURSIONS ...
Monday, April 15, 2013 11:48 AM  
TONY SAKOWITZ
I want to read your follow-up review in a year. Great video.
Saturday, December 14, 2013 6:39 AM  
BARBARA R.
Thank you for the detailed report. It helps my making a decision without surprises .
Saturday, November 17, 2012 8:10 PM  
JOE SIMSON
We are huge fans of American Queen Steamboat and glad that this ship is back in action!
Monday, July 16, 2012 11:39 PM  
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