I will be onboard American Queen next week for a first-hand account of cruising the middle Mississippi amd Ohio Rivers. This part of our great American rivers not been available for cruising for many many years.
Plus - American Queen is a wonderful boat (and I can say "boat") - even though she is really grand enough to be called a ship.
Please continue to check back here for my updates next week.
River Cruising Returns to the Mississippi
The Mississippi has not had regular cruises since 2008, but with a remade American Queen regular cruising of the great American rivers has finally returned.
There is good news for fans of American river boating - it is coming back in 2012 with the Great American Steamboat Company of Memphis Tennessee, which acquired the newest and biggest steamboat ever built - the American Queen, and it will resume cruises on the Mississippi in April 2012.
American Queen is a beautiful river boat - with all the intricate details of a Mississippi steamer on the outside, including the paddle wheel and two smokestacks, and all the grandeur of a classic Victorian-era paddle-wheel steamer on its five full decks above the water line. There are 222 staterooms and berthing capacity for 463 guests and 160 crewmembers.
The rooms open to stately outdoor promenade decks on most levels.
Unlike the new generation of European riverboats, which boast of modern amenities such as big screen TVs and balconies, American Queen, built in 1995, is a modern recreation of the classic age of Mississippi steamboats. Her stern paddlewheel is actually steam-driven although she also has a set of Z-drive propellers (diesel-electric driven, just like a modern cruise ship). In fact, in many ways she is more like a cruise ship on the inside then a paddle-wheel steamboat, with a beautiful dining room and a large showroom.
American Queen has been laid up in Beaumont, Texas, under the control of MARAD, since the last company ceased its operations. A purchase price of $15.5 million was reported, and an additional $5 million will be used for renovations. Notably, the company and the boat will be based in Memphis, Tennessee, rather than New Orleans, its former home port. The city of Memphis and a group of local entrepreneurs are responsible for assisting the principals who created and will be running the new company. Memphis has also invested $30-million in the new Beale Street Dock project.
The new principals include John Waggoner, Jeff Krida (a former president of Delta Queen Steamboat Company in the 1990s) and Christopher Kyte, a well-known purveyor of all-American travel experiences through his company Uncommon Journeys which specializes in train and river voyages throughout the U.S. on small, chartered vessels.
American Queen will offer three- to 10-night river voyages through America's heartland, with embarkation points in New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh beginning in April of 2012. Every cruise will come with a pre-cruise hotel stay so people can fly to the boat the night before the cruise and have plenty of time to get onboard and get settled, according to the company's new svp of sales and marketing, Tim Rubacky.
The company plans to begins sales of its cruise this month, while actual cruises will begin in April of 2012. Meantime, the boat is undergoing renovations at HMS Global Maritime, one of the principle investors in the new cruise line. Tim says the interior of the riverboat is in almost pristine condition. Almost all of the work being done is mechanical, giving the boat a "full lifecycle overhaul" including the paddle wheel, engines, generators and all plumbing and electrical facilities.