Crowning the Queen of the Mississippi
By Theresa Norton Masek
August 27, 2012 11:45 PM
The weather was bright and sunny in downtown Nashville on Saturday, Aug. 25, which most definitely matched the mood onboard the new paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi (for a photo of the new vessel, click here). The 150-passenger vessel, built from scratch by American Cruise Lines, was christened by Phyllis Dale, co-owner of Great Escapes Travel in Lake Mary, Fla., an unabashed fan of small-ship cruising and a top producer for the company.
Queen of the Mississippi’s christening ceremony (for a photo, click here) was low-key and heartfelt.Dale smashed the champagne bottle against the railing and the 150 passengers -- many of whom are clients she booked on the cruise -- watched from the upper decks. The bottle of bubbly exploded, splashing onto Dale, as well as American Cruise Lines President and CEO Charles Robertson and Director of Sales Susan Shultz, but no one seemed to mind. The Queen soon departed on a sold-out, eight-day cruise to St. Louis.
In fact, most of Queen of the Mississippi’s cruises are sold out.“We’ve sold out virtually every cruise this year,” says Robertson, calling demand “unbelievable.” The riverboat will operate nearly year-round, except for most of January.
No doubt there was pent-up demand because cruising on the Mississippi River and its tributaries ended back in 2008.They only began again this year when American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company both introduced new riverboats. Beyond that, however, river cruising has come into its own as millions of experienced cruise passengers look for new ways to sail and new destinations.
Queen of the Mississippi has a Victorian décor and a wedding cake exterior, but its technology is decidedly 21st century.The vessel’s engines to help the real paddlewheel propel the vessel at 12-13 mph, which might sound slow, but it’s faster than most riverboats. That means the vessel can cover more ground during the daytime hours when passengers like to watch the scenery pass by while they sit on their private balconies or on white rocking chairs outside on deck.
The riverboat’s staterooms are a roomy 300 square feet plus. Most have private balconies with floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors, while those that don’t have windows that open to let in the breeze. There also are 12 single staterooms.
The vessel also offers room service, complimentary Wi-Fi, a complimentary cocktail hour everyday from 5:30-6:30 p.m., wine and beer with lunch and dinner, and open seating at dinner.That’s an almost totally all-inclusive experience. “There’s nothing you can buy on our boat other than shore excursions,” Robertson says.
Queen of the Mississippi has a number of small lounges scattered throughout.With a living room-like feel, these lounges encourage passengers to gather to play cards, chat or simply to read. The main gathering spot, the Magnolia Lounge, can accommodate everyone for a lecture or a musical performance. The Paddlewheel Lounge overlooks (you guessed it) the paddlewheel. And yes, there is a calliope.
The riverboat’s 2013 itineraries include many seven-night voyages to and from New Orleans and Memphis in the cooler months.The vessel then heads further north in the summer to Midwest cities such as Cincinnati and St. Paul. Fares range from $3,995 to $6,685 per person, double; singles are $5,380 or $5,945.
River cruising is booming in Europe and now in the U.S. as well (for more information, click on Sell River Cruises).American Cruise Lines also operates Queen of the West on the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest. And given the high demand for the Mississippi, the company also is building a second paddlewheeler for the Mississippi for delivery in 2014 (Robertson says its name and destinations will be announced in late fall).
It’s all part of a rebirth of Mississippi river cruising, a niche once thought to be in eclipse but one that is now back big time!
Theresa Norton Masek, editor in chief of Vacation Agent magazine, covers ocean and river cruising for TravelPulse.com.