The first cruise I ever took was on the beautiful Mississippi Queen. I was immediately hooked. There is something so luxurious and peaceful traveling on America’s rivers aboard one of these floating palaces.
My Mississippi Queen cruise was during her inaugural year in 1976, timed to celebrate America’s bicentennial. At the time, the Mississippi Queen was the largest steamboat ever built with a capacity of 412 guests and 157 crew members.
Her paddlewheel bar and 44-whistle steam calliope – the largest on the Mississippi River system – were legendary.
Now I am going to be returning to the river aboard the new American Duchess riverboat. Christened on Aug. 14, 2017, the 166-guest American Duchess is billed as an all-suite vessel, featuring four Loft Suites – the first of its kind on American waterways.
I’m booked in one of the Loft Suites which means I will have the services of a River Butler, a fella who will deliver sweets and savories to my suite, serve afternoon tea in my room, arrange complimentary laundry, bring room service and escort me to special seating at evening musical programs. I’ve never had a River Butler so that should be quite an interesting experience.
The two-story Loft Suites feature a bedroom with two side tables, a dresser with a large flat screen TV, big closet and full bathroom in the loft. The lower level has another full bathroom, kitchen counter with a mini fridge, Keurig coffee maker, storage drawers and cabinets, small dining area with a table and four chairs, desk with large flat screen TV and lounge area with a full-size sofa bed, comfy chair and coffee table.
Almost floor-to-ceiling windows have lower sliding glass doors that open to a private balcony with two chairs and two small tables. The balcony is where I plan to spend a great deal of time watching the river flow.
New modern decor
Typically, American riverboats have decors designed to evoke the Mark Twain era – plenty of wood and brass and traditional Americana furniture. The American Duchess, however, has broken that tradition.
Created from a 1995 casino boat hull, the new paddle wheeler still has the white wedding cake exterior but its interior is definitely modern and contemporary. The boat’s two-story atrium features large Austrian chandeliers and colorful Murano glassworks.
Executive chef Jeff Warner has created a large menu served in the Grand Dining Room or the more casual River Club and Terrace. I’m told the cuisine is delicious and I’m sure it is.
For my four-night cruise, I will be flying into New Orleans, driving to Natchez, spending a couple of days touring Natchez and then boarding the American Duchess when she docks at Natchez Under the Hill. Natchez used to be one of my favorite stops on the old Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen so I’m looking forward to seeing some familiar places again.
After leaving Natchez, the American Duchess will stop in Vicksburg and Greenville before heading to Memphis where I will disembark and fly home.
Sad ending for grand old lady
As for that grand old lady, when the Mississippi Queen traveled the rivers, she was the big sister to the 1926-era Delta Queen. In 1995, the MQ and DQ were joined by another sister, the American Queen which took over the title of the largest steamboat ever.
At the time, the Delta Queen Steamboat Company was based in Cincinnati and I cruised on the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen dozens of times, taking photos for the Delta Queen Company brochures and writing travel articles.
Sadly, neither the Mississippi Queen nor the Delta Queen are still cruising. Designated a National Historic Landmark, the Delta Queen was taken out of service in 2008 because the upper portion of the steel-hilled boat is primarily wood. The boat lost its Congressional exemption from the 1966 Safety at Sea Act which prohibits wooden ships of a certain size from carrying passengers on overnight trips because of fear of fire.
For a while, the Delta Queen was permanently docked in Chattanooga where she served as a floating hotel and restaurant. Now I’m told she is sitting in Louisiana while supporters take their case to Congress to have the boat cruising again with a home base in Kimmswick, Missouri. In the meantime, she waits.
However, the lovely Mississippi Queen didn’t fare as well. In a sad finale, the magnificent paddle wheeler was sold for scrap and torn apart in 2011.
Now, the American Queen Steamboat Company takes good care of the American Queen and her sisters – the 2017 American Duchess and the 2014 American Empress which cruises the Columbia and Snake Rivers.
I’m looking forward to seeing what the new American Duchess is like and enjoying some memories from my riverboat past. Hope you will come along for the journey. May the three sisters celebrate a long happy cruising life.
Photos courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company