Last updated: 03:13 PM ET, Tue August 04 2015

American Queen Back on Schedule

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Theresa Norton | August 04, 2015

American Queen Back on Schedule

The American Queen paddlewheeler is back operating on the Upper Mississippi River after changing course due to high water levels.

“We’re back on track for the rest of the year on the Upper Mississippi,” Ted Sykes, president of American Queen Steamboat Company, told TravelPulse.

The company had to cancel two voyages — the July 17 and July 24 departures — between St. Louis and St. Paul, Minn., because the river was so high that the riverboat couldn’t sail under the bridges.

The American Queen instead sailed from Alton, Ill., the port across from St. Louis, to Cincinnati on the Ohio River. It meant passengers on the first cruise had to rebook flights home from Cincinnati instead of St. Paul and those on the July 24 cruise had to rebook or buy additional flights from St. Paul to Cincinnati.

Complicating the high waters was an accident in which a barge hit the bridge, knocking a painter off some scaffolding to his death.

“We got a call after noon Friday (July 17), a day before turnaround, that the river traffic was delayed and water levels were not dropping. We were a foot-and-a-half too high for the Eads Bridge south of St. Louis and couldn’t even get to Alton,” Sykes said. “Within in a half-hour, we started calling and text messaging people, but most were already en route because they were spending Friday night in St. Louis.”

Passengers were given the option of canceling and rebooking on another cruise later in the year and also received a $750 future cruise credit that can be combined with a $500 early-booking discount.

“We talked to passengers, and for the most part they understood,” Sykes said. “We sent somebody to the ship to help passengers book air from Cincinnati instead of St. Paul. We also offered to rebook another cruise in advance, and the majority opted to go now. We called everybody on the next cruise and gave them the same option. Quite a few people did rebook, and we were able to accommodate everybody.”

Passengers had to pay airline change fees, but many flew on Southwest, which doesn’t charge to switch flights although they may have had to pay any fare difference. Some had to buy additional air tickets to get to Cincinnati from St. Paul.

American Queen didn’t pay for everyone’s airfare, which drew some complaints, but Sykes notes that the company doesn’t sell air, just cruises.

“If you deviate a cruise before it starts, there’s no legal obligation if it’s force majeure,” which is also known as an unavoidable accident or Act of God situation, which includes flooding, volcanoes, hurricanes, etc.

Since then, the company has received a few complimentary notes. One, from a passenger on the rerouted cruise that ended July 26 in Cincinnati, said the trip was “super.”

“I certainly do understand some of the frustrations of the passengers, including my own, but  sometimes ‘stuff happens.’ However, you should be proud of how your team handled all the problems.”

Another wrote: “It WAS a wonderful experience. Our itinerary from Cincinnati to St. Louis was changed a number of times because of river levels. We were so excited to barely clear the Cairo, Ill., bridge and sail into the Mississippi. But a bit later, we turned around because of bridge closures and high water north of us. We never did get to St. Louis, having docked below Cape Girardeau (where barges were loaded/off loaded), which necessitated a two-hour bus ride to the airport.

“All in all, it was delightful because the American Queen is so welcoming in design and furnishings, plus the crew was exceptional! I’ve been on over a dozen cruises — the last one from the U.K. to New York City on the Queen Mary 2 — but this was the best of them all. I will definitely take some more American Queen trips, starting next fall on the Upper Mississippi.”

For more information on St. Louis, St. Paul, Cincinnati, Ohio

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