American Queen: Not Your Father's Riverboat

| Friday, 01 Dec. 2006

 

The American Queen
Delta Queen Steamboat Company's new owner, Delaware North Company of Buffalo, N.Y., has brought the American Queen out of retirement to join her sisters, Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen. We recently took a voyage on American Queen -- the newest and largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built -- and what we experienced was a far cry from our previous Delta Queen Mississippi River voyage 10 years ago.

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.

Street Musicians
It's fitting, then, that beginning in April American Queen will offer the "New Orleans Getaway," a seven-day package combining three or four days in that city with a trip up the river to Baton Rouge. The package includes a three-star New Orleans hotel, city tours, and two dinners in top-rated New Orleans restaurants. Considering that New Orleans is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the U.S., and that its hotels and restaurants are first-class (as are their prices) the package is a good deal. Prices can be found as low as $348 per person (advanced purchase with 2 for 1 special offer). details: http://www.freeneworleansvacation.com/

 

Marti Gras World
The city portion of the package, in addition to the hotel and dining, includes escorted tours of the French Quarter, the Garden District, and a visit to Blaire Kern's Mardi Gras World (www.mardigrasworld.com), where workers create the large heads and floats for the yearly Mardi Gras spectacle. This sprawling (75,000 sq feet) facility is fascinating; nearly every float used in Mardi Gras parades for the last three decades is housed there.

 

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.

 

Theater
At night, the boat comes alive with fine dining and several entertainment options. The state-of-the-art showroom is modeled after Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., with floor-level seating and private viewing boxes on a second story surrounding the loge. Each box has a private entrance with a latching door.

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.

 

Oak Alley
Baton Rouge Rural Life Museum
This trip is a bonanza for people interested in American folklore and history. They will learn surprising things about the extent of the French influence on Louisiana and how even today the locals hold on to tradition. The river excursions include visits to authentic Creole plantations, some built by slaves and many used in feature films. Another tour visits Angola Prison near Baton Rouge -- a definite departure from the usual cruise tour. Visitors sample the prison food and visit a museum with exhibits of various escape devices and handcrafted weapons. An alternative is the Baton Rouge Rural Life Museum.

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.

 

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