Here comes the American Queen Steamcoach rolling down the road. The road?
Yep, the popular riverboat now has three personalized steamcoaches decorated to look like their namesake. And they sure are getting second looks whenever they pass by.
The colorful motorcoaches are painted to closely resemble the exterior of the American Queen, complete with the big red paddlewheel and “passengers” waving from the decks.
People stop and stare at the unusual touring vehicle. It certainly is easy for American Queen passengers to identify their special bus when it pulls up.
Along with the steamcoaches, the American Queen is offering another perk I really appreciate. Shore excursions are free. Bus tours at riverside ports are included in the basic fare. On other cruises, those shore tours often cost $50-$70 each.
“We didn’t want to nickel and dime our guests,” said Jim Palmeiri, transportation and tour organizer for the American Queen. “You don’t have to pay extra for tours like you do on most cruises. It’s something we wanted to do as an economic addition for our passengers. We offer the free ride and admission to the museums and attractions.”
The well-organized program allows passengers to pick up a special American Queen map for each town where we dock, hop on a comfy large steamcoach, hop off at one of the attractions on the map and hop back on for the next stop or to return to the boat. Some passengers just like to ride the whole loop first to get the lay of the land and then decide where to get off.
The maps are very easy to read with a thick red line showing the steamcoach route, the stops at attractions along the way, the layout of the town’s main center and where the boat is docked. Each shore stop seems to have about six attractions.
The Queen does offer premium choice tours, which cost extra but I was very pleased with the free ones. A premium tour in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, for example, offered high tea in a restored Victorian mansion followed by classes in the art of watercolors, crafts and other art projects of the period. Participants make something to take home as a souvenir. Cost for that three-hour tour was $49.
The free tour in Cape Girardeau offered the Mississippi River Tales Murals, the Red House Interpretive Center, St. Vincent’s Church, the Glenn House, River Campus, Cape River Heritage Museum and Cape Girardeau Convention & Visitors Bureau. Of course, the steamcoach also stopped in the historic downtown shopping district for shoppers and browsers.
Since the American Queen has been back on the river for only three months, we were greeted at shore stops by very happy business owners, grateful to have so many potential shoppers brought to their doors. When the riverboats stopped running four years ago, many of the smaller shops that depended on river traffic went out of business.
“There are a lot of smiles when the American Queen pulls into the shore,” Jim said. “The boat is a very important economic boost to cities and towns along the rivers.”
The steamcoaches are also unusual in that they follow the vessel along its cruise itinerary route. Passengers have the same guide and the same coaches in each port. That really makes sense – not only because it is nice to see familiar coach drivers and guides but also because it assures that the bus will actually be there.
Recently I was on a cruise where passengers climbed a steep hill in the heat to catch a scheduled bus to take a tour. An hour went by and the rented bus still hadn’t arrived. When the cruise director called the bus company, she learned that they had forgotten about the reservation and would be happy to send a bus on its way. Too late.
Not a good thing. That tour was cancelled, of course. Passengers were unhappy because they had looked forward to the tour and waited in the heat. Cruise line representatives were unhappy because their passengers were and because the cruise line had to refund the tour fees to passengers. And that bus company sure got a serious black mark against its reputation.
The American Queen currently has three steamcoaches, one of which is handicapped accessible. The Queen’s crew did a great job of helping people with mobility problems get up the docking area to a waiting steamcoach. Historic cobblestones are very pretty to see at boat landings but they sure aren’t fun to walk on.
Golf carts and shuttle buses would be waiting at our stops to help people get to steamcoaches. For Peggy Lang and her mother of St. Louis, the attention to passengers with mobility problems was much appreciated.
“My mother just had knee replacement and is still in therapy but we wanted to come on this cruise,” Peggy said. Even if her mother didn’t feel up to walking through all the attractions, she could get a good look at any shore stop by riding the route on a steamcoach. Each coach would make a complete round in about 15 to 20 minutes.
Since we are cruising in record heat, I was pleased to see huge iced buckets of bottled water waiting for us as we left the Queen and arrived back, as well as at some of our stops.
“We want to do whatever we can to make sure our guests have a wonderful experience,” Jim Palmeiri said.
Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch