By Dawn Woolcott
The sounds and hums of a boat moving upriver – gently splashing water, the toot of the horn to a passing ship. There are many sounds you’ll hear while on a river cruise that you probably won’t hear at home. During my weeklong trip aboard the American Queen, we slowly glided upstream on our Lower Mississippi River cruise from New Orleans and towards Memphis. As we pulled away from the dock in New Orleans late afternoon, the sounds of a dixieland band played and happy voices and clinking glasses were heard coming from the outdoor bar area as we cheered our departure and looked forward to adventures to come.
Once underway, the sun began to set sending out soothing rays of orange across the horizon. The bare branches of February silhouetted against the sky and the water gently lapped the boat on the calm waters. It was time to head in to dinner. The elegant dining room was abuzz with conversation and laughter as guests began to introduce themselves to their fellow passengers on this voyage.
A Boat That Never Sleeps
For unseasoned travelers, the first night on board may be full of unusual sounds as the ship never fully goes to sleep. Crews are working as the boat continues its journey. You might want to bring a pair of earplugs with you if you are a light sleeper, but you may find you quickly adjust to the sounds and wake up ready to start your first full day onboard.
Every day will be different, with some stops in small river towns, and others in larger cities. At some ports you may need to grab a ticket for an excursion bus heading into town, or you may just be able to walk directly from the boat itself. Either way, you check on/off the boat scanning your own traveler i.d. card with a “ding” and head off your exploration.
Chiming and Charming
The day we arrived in Vicksburg, many fellow travelers opted to ride the bus in to see the battlefield and tour there. Others opted to grab the bus into town – or if you chose, it was close enough to walk. I chose to see the highlights on our itinerary in the downtown area – several of which had arranged to be open early just for us. I enjoyed wandering the beautiful churches and seeing the details of the stained glass windows up close in near perfect silence. In another church, the pianist was practicing, and I could experience the church as intended – filled with beautiful music. The quiet of the town was punctuated when the clock tower began to chime the hour – echoing from the Old Courthouse building. I love the sound of clock towers as they remind me of childhood and the days before the digital era.
Once onboard and rested from our day of exploring, the ship readied to set sail once again. Upon departure, the calliope played a tune or two to accompany us on the way. The calliope is a steam organ found in the outdoor bar area overlooking the paddlewheel. A small keyboard is all it takes to issue a tune on this very vintage musical instrument. The player takes requests – so be ready!
Entertainment onboard offers a wide variety of very talented performers. With nightly performances after dinner or afternoon shows, you’re sure to find a pleasurable entertainment. Entertainment onboard is influenced by the itinerary – the area in which you travel should naturally be appropriate and give the right ambience. Leaving New Orleans, we were treated to Dixieland jazz. In the lower lounge, the very talented band there played the perfect jazz tunes in the background while we enjoyed cocktail hour. The evening entertainment was a combination of performances ranging from the humorous reminisces of Mark Twain and his life on the Mississippi, to a fabulous guitar player playing on a red guitar created from a piece of scavenged wood taken from the old paddle wheel. There was something for just about everyone.
Motion of My Own Creation
While I’ve talked about the sounds you’ll hear while cruising on the American Queen, some may wonder about the motion. Other than your toes tapping, you probably won’t notice any motion on board at all. I’m fairly sensitive to motion sickness, but I had absolutely no problem on board at all. The gently flowing Mississippi River was a perfectly peaceful companion the entire trip. Sitting and relaxing while in the comfortable white rocking chairs on the observation deck was my happy place, and the rocking motion of my own creation.