By Dawn Woolcott
A Time Portal
The American Queen is an experience unto itself. From the moment you take that first step aboard, you have a feeling “Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It is a time portal taking you back in time to an idealized time where river boat cruising was an elegant adventure. They quite literally roll out the red carpet for your entrance and you know immediately you are going to be treated like royalty.
You step aboard onto polished wood floors glancing to your right you see the Ladies lounge and to the left the Gentlemen’s Lounge, both rooms straight out of a historic Victorian mansion. Continue forward into the Mark Twain Room and you swear the author himself could be sitting at one of the wing back chairs that line the walls under Tiffany-inspired lighting. The dark tones envelop you as you pass through until it opens up into a circular landing where you’ll find a grand piano, the purser’s desk, the gift shop, and a grand staircase leading down to the deck below.
As you continue to your stateroom and enter, you quickly realize this is not your standard cruise. The rooms, although not large, are full of personality. Veranda rooms offer a pair of wood doors that lead out onto the deck. The room is furnished with authentic vintage furniture including a dresser and side table. Interior staterooms are smaller, but laid out well. This is not your cookie cutter cruise ship.
Life aboard the Queen is one of socializing. Staterooms are not designed to be a place where you spend all day – standard staterooms do not have desks, tables, or swivel chairs for sitting and watching t.v. like you might in a hotel. There is a t.v. for watching from bed, but you will find you spend most of your time in the common spaces rather than in your room. While it is a different experience for introverts like myself, it was not a bad one. There are plenty of common spaces to find that suit your needs. There is a bank of computers unobtrusively located in the Mark Twain Room for your use conveniently located near the coffee machine, and plenty of tables for use if you do need to do some work.
The Joy of Not Cooking
What is it about vacations that makes them so relaxing? For me, it is the lack of constantly having to make decisions. On my cruise aboard the American Queen, I happily relinquished the duties of making that dreaded decision “what’s for dinner?” to the capable chefs on board. I did not have to find recipes. I did not have to go grocery shopping. I did not have to cook my meals. I did not have to clean up afterwards. Joy!
While many on board enjoyed the smaller and more casual River Grill on deck 3, I chose to eat every meal in the grand and elegant J.M. White Dining Room – the highlight of the ship. Soaring ceilings make you forget you are on a boat, until you are seated next to a window and see the water drifting past outside. With white tablecloths at every meal, it was a special occasion every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My favorite meal of the day has always been breakfast, and on the boat it was no different. I could choose something from the printed menu delivered to me at my table, or choose something from the buffet – or a little of both. The excellent wait staff kept my coffee cup topped up, a giant glass of grapefruit juice was delivered, and I ate whatever my heart desired, all while blissfully unaware of what was going on in the world outside my little table.
Lunches were similar with choices from the buffet or a menu. Everyone raved about the hand crafted soup options all week long, while I was happily ordering vegetarian quesadillas. Dinners were open seating if you want, or you could return to the same table and sit with the same people. There was a lot of rotating around, and as I was a solo traveler, I specifically asked to be seated at any table where there was room. As a result, I met so many nice people and had enjoyable conversations throughout the voyage. For dinner, there is not a buffet and you order from the formal menu. There were usually 4 or 5 appetizer offerings, 5 or 6 entree options, and several salad choices. There are a variety of “always available” items every day. There was no limit to your order – if you wanted to try multiple appetizers, you could -the staff is very accommodating. A nice choice of wines were available and offered as soon as you sat down. Did I sample both dessert options? Absolutely. My sweet tooth led the way. The joy of not cooking and cleaning up afterwards is one of the best parts of cruising.
Rocking and Reading
How do you keep yourself entertained while on a small cruise ship? There are no rollercoasters. There is no basketball court. There is no big screen dance party. Personally? That makes me happy. I truly enjoyed having plenty of options for my time while on board the boat. There were activities and entertainment offered throughout the day and into the night. You could hear stories of the past from the Riverlorian talks, watch a cooking demonstration, see a film, enjoy a quality performance from a band, take a dance lesson. There were many options available to me while on board.
Honestly, my favorite spot while on board was in the row of white rocking chairs that line the observation deck on deck 4. I would sit and rock, watching the shoreline slowly slip past, as I felt my blood pressure dropping. To be honest, the Lower Mississippi isn’t particularly scenic to sit and watch, but there was a certain kind of beauty in the bare branches of flooded forests of February. This also gave me much needed time to just sit and read. I brought some paperbacks to read while on board, as I don’t have as much time as I would like to sit and read when at home. Depending on the time of day, you could have your cup of tea or coffee, or a glass of wine or gin & tonic while you sat outside reading.
There is a top deck with covered seating, open seating, and an outside bar area. The small pool and exercise room were available for those that desired. Many chose to soak up as much February sun as they could in the sun trap near the pool. When it gets chilly, head indoors to the Chart Room, one of the lounges, or down to the piano bar for some indoor seating. Outside every veranda stateroom, there are a set of two chairs and side tables to sit and enjoy the view and passing conversations with fellow guests. It is a very sociable atmosphere on board. You are sure to find your favorite spot.
Choose Your Education
If you choose, there are plenty of opportunities to learn about the area in which you are traveling. I was on the Lower Mississippi river cruise traveling between New Orleans and Memphis. While I had been to New Orleans once before, I had never visited any other areas in the south, and so it was all new to me. I chose to take advantage of the shore excursions visiting the small towns along the itinerary. The cruise line offers a hop-on-hop-off option in almost every port city, in addition to premium shore excursions which cost extra.
During my cruise, about ⅓ chose to stay on the ship, ⅓ did the hop-on-hop-off tour, and ⅓ did one of the premium excursions offered. For the hop-on-hop-off experience, the cruise line bus takes you in a loop, stopping at designated stops where you can get off, or stay aboard. A second bus will be around the loop in about 15-20 minutes, continuing until the designated “all aboard” time final loop. Sandwich boards are set up outside the designated stops so you know where the next bus will stop if you head off and wander. These were set up usually outside a museum, a church, a shopping district, or special tourist destination.
The towns we visited along this itinerary were fairly small, and so I usually just got off at the first stop and did my own exploring walking the downtown area, photographing, and wandering in and out of stores in addition to seeing their highlighted stops. The churches and museums are chosen with care, often open early and with guides there to answer questions specifically for the cruise guests.
The towns visited are very happy to welcome the visitors who arrive on the cruise ships, and the tourism dollars help with the local economy. The cruise line encourages supporting the local economies by offering special gifts from a local business which would show up on our bed at turn-down time every night, or bringing in special baked goods for the breakfast buffet from a local business (amazing fresh donuts!) I learned a lot visiting these small towns – experiencing much more than I would if I had just been driving through on my own.
Find where the Queen can take you!
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