The Delta Queen, recently inducted into the National Maritime Hall of Fame, is a modest little steamboat, rustic and charming in her quaintness. American Queen, built in 1993, is bigger and much more sophisticated. If Delta Queen is Hannibal, Missouri, then American Queen is the jazzy and baroque city of New Orleans. Her onboard ambience feels more like a small luxury cruise ship than a riverboat.
On board, American Queen's decor pays homage to the grandest elements of the Victorian era, and to the gingerbread of Mississippi steamboats. She has four decks of staterooms, an elegant open-seating dining room, sumptuous buffets, first-rate entertainment in a state-of-the-art theater, sing-along nightclubs, ice cream and coffee available 24 hours in the observation lounge, and room service.
Some staterooms open to a central hallway, but many open to common outdoor decks, as on the original Delta Queen. You may have to brave the elements, but in temperate Louisiana this is rarely a problem. Some staterooms have private verandas. The staterooms, all decorated in traditional Victorian era splendor, are comfortable and come in a variety of sizes. There are cabins for special needs, suites with verandas and tubs, and more options like beautiful Victorian pineapple beds and ample sofas and chairs. The American Queen also has a variety of suites available.
Beginning in April, the onboard nightly entertainment will be updated to reflect the spirit of New Orleans. Tailored to a younger audience, it will feature a blues night, a Cajun night and a Mardi Gras Ball complete with Dixieland music and bead tossing. We got a sample of it on our trip - and it is not the usual cruise ship fare.
The company has plans to install Internet access on board soon. Telephone communications are not a problem, as cell phones work practically everywhere along the river. For the youngsters, there is a movie theater onboard but no in-cabin television. The staff will provide board games for the kids that they can take home at the end of the trip.
American Queen is worthy of any cruiser's attention. Lacking only a spa and casino, it has everything else a cruise ship enthusiast needs. The biggest challenge for Delaware North will be to overcome the perception that an American Queen voyage is only suited for seniors.
While Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen will continue to offer the authentic, languid 19th-Century steamboatin' experience, American Queen offers modern accommodations, activities for kids, boomer-oriented entertainment and the package deal that includes New Orleans.
More about Delaware North: it has consistently ranked in Forbes(r) "Top Privately Held Companies" list for the last several years. It owns the Fleet Center in Boston, has 28,000 employees, and Sportservice Corporation is one of its anchor subsidiaries. Boasting more than 100 accounts, the company runs concessions at Kennedy Space Center, Yosemite, Sequoia & Niagara Falls, several major airports (Los Angeles, Denver, New Orleans, Oakland, Ft. Lauderdale, Austin, Houston, Detroit and Buffalo) and many baseball, football and basketball arenas and parks.
Bruce Nierenberg, a co-founder of the late Premier Cruises, is now with the Delta Queen Company. Extremely savvy about the cruise industry, he is taking the company in a new direction. Look for innovative offerings and a younger audience in the future, especially on the American Queen.