Are they real paddlewheels?

#1 question our agents get asked about the cruises on the Mississippi and Columbia Rivers: Are they real paddlewheels? And this is a tricky question because yes, they are real – no holographic paddlewheels on these boats. But no, not all of the boats are maneuvered by the paddlewheels. If this issue is important to you, let me help you clear up the truth about paddlewheels.


The American Empress on the Columbia River

The Tradition of Paddlewheel Maneuverability

Paddlewheels are a historic part of the evolution of boats and water transportation, and were vital in the development of trade and tourism on the Mississippi River. There are two types of paddlewheel steamers: the sternwheeler with a single paddle wheel on the rear, and sidewheelers that have a wheel on each side. Overnight passenger cruise ships in America now are solely built on the sternwheeler model, although there are still functioning sidewheelers around the world.

If the most important part of your cruise is knowing that you are on a traditional, authentic steam-powered, paddlewheel maneuvered boat, then you have to book aboard the American Queen – its the only operating cruise ship that qualifies. It is a larger, older boat, but it has years of dependable experience and a ship’s captain that knows the curves of the Mississippi River like the back of their hand. Agent Tip: everyone should take the tour of the engine room when offered!

The American Empress on the Columbia River is a paddlewheel maneuvered boat, but runs on diesel instead of steam.

Full American Queen - authentic steam powered paddlewheeler - real paddlewheels

The Comfort of Modern Technology

On the Mississippi River, the American Splendor and the American Heritage both have stunning paddlewheels. On the Columbia River, the American West and American Pride both have beautiful, bright red paddlewheels. BUT… none of those paddlewheels are functional. They are real paddlewheels: they turn in the water, and you’ll get a nice mist or spray of river water in your face when you get too close. But the paddlewheel is not what’s moving these four boats. These boats have the most up-to-date navigation equipment, making for a safe and smooth ride. I was so impressed when I toured the pilot house of the America in May and heard the Captain explain that there were 2 Z-drive units that could be rotated 360°, that worked independently of each other. This gave the Captain much better control, especially when entering and leaving a dock. And considering how tricky our dockings were (the river was high and most docks were under water), I was appreciative of our Z-drives.

Queen of the Mississippi - are they real paddlewheels?

This isn’t a decision we can make for you – the functionality of the paddlewheel can be a deal-breaker for the more nautically-passionate cruisers. Fortunately, we have boats on two rivers that with functional and beautiful paddlewheels, no matter your preference. This is definitely something to consider when choosing your cruise. Talk to our agents about your cruise ship preference today: (800) 578-1479.