ON THE OHIO RIVER_It’s amazing how much the Ohio River winds around. Our cruise started in Kentucky, continued to Indiana, up to Ohio, back to Kentucky, then to West Virginia and now Ohio again.
Today the American Queen is docked in Marietta, Ohio, another one of those charming riverboat towns that served as a gateway to the West, and our last port of call. The skies are threatening, and the boat has ponchos and umbrellas at the ready should we need them. Several guests are taking advantage of the bicycles, available from the boat at no charge.
The first stop on today’s “hop on, hop off” bus tour is neither historic nor noteworthy, unless you’re in need of toothpaste. It’s the local Rite-Aid drugstore, which is really a good idea for those who need it.
Along the way, we learn interesting facts about the city from the guides on each bus. Besides finding it was named for Marie Antoinette, we are also told the Marietta College football team beat the mighty Ohio State team in the 1880s. That must have been a shock.
Other stops include Mound Cemetery, where the largest number of Revolutionary War officers are buried, The Castle, a stately historic mansion, the Ohio River Museum, showcasing the Golden Age of steamboat travel and the Children’s Toy and Doll Museum, where you can relive your youth.
Pam and I spent extra time walking the main downtown street, marked by hanging flowers and historic buildings, many of them undergoing renovation. It’s interesting how these small towns are undergoing a renaissance as more people embrace restoring these structures to their former glory — a good trend to see.
One sure sign the cruise is coming to an end: Our luggage tags arrive. We have chosen “Independent” as our departure option, meaning they will have our bags waiting for us on the pier in Pittsburgh, and we’ll take it from there. We’ll have to be off the boat Monday by 8:45. But that still means we have 36 hours left to enjoy ourselves.
Shortly after we re-board from the tour, the rain hits. Timing, as they say, is everything. They are serving a lunch buffet at the Front Porch, as well as buffet and menu selections in the main dining room. During lunch, we meet a woman who, lo and behold, attended the same high school I did, only a few years earlier. Talk about a small world!
Another couple at our table told us this was their eighth cruise on American Queen. They have cruised on American Empress and Duchess as well, but American Queen is their favorite because of its traditional steamboat ambiance.
American Queen has a guest loyalty program: The Steamboat Society of America. Guests are automatically enrolled as “Classic” members after their first cruise. You can achieve different levels of membership based on how many nights you’ve cruised. “Ruby” is 35-69 cruise nights, “Sapphire” up to 139, “Emerald” up to 209 and “Diamond” is 210-plus cruise nights. Benefits include onboard credits, discounts and upgrades. We have heard there is one person onboard that has logged over 400 cruise nights.
In the afternoon, Mandy is hosting a trivia contest in the Grand Saloon. I think I’ll try my luck. There are 20 general knowledge questions, but I can tell after the first three this isn’t going to end well. I mean, are we supposed to know “What year did Disney World open?” and “What country has a monkey puzzle tree?” I ended up with five correct answers. The winner got 12.
After that humiliation, we listened as the Steamboat Syncopators entertained in the Captain’s Bar with a selection of Dixieland favorites. Later, they joined the ship’s entertainers for tonight’s show, “Variety Tonight,” featuring songs from Motown to the Beatles. There was a very poignant moment during “Let It Be” when a screen came down and they showed a montage of slides depicting the anti-war movement, racism protests and the social upheavals of the Sixties.
After leaving Marietta, the river ahead is wide and quite beautiful, with water more bluish in the late afternoon sun. Long barges carrying coal glided by, and we watched from the observation deck as American Queen entered the Willow Island lock. With the rains departed, it was a postcard-worthy time to be on the Ohio.
The highlight of dinner was a wild rice corn fritter and chicken pot pie. One thing we really like about the food are the portions — they are a sensible size. So often, cruise ship food is served in ridiculously large amounts, and you end up feeling guilty about the waste.
There’s a special “Night Watch” event hosted by the ship’s riverlorian, Chris Wistey, held in the boat’s Chart Room, at the front of the boat on deck four. She goes into detail about how old-time steamboats used the leadline to measure water depth, and the terms associated with it. The measure for safe water (12 feet above the lead) was “Mark Twain,” which of course became the pen name for Samuel Clemons. Outside there’s a demonstration of the boat’s three-million-candlepower searchlight, which can see things miles ahead.
Tomorrow is our last full day on the boat, and we’ll spend it navigating locks on our way to our end destination, Pittsburgh. Of course there will be bags to pack, but that can come later. We want to savor all the time we have left.
PHOTOS by Gerry Barker
- One of the giant flutes is lowered as we approach a bridge (Cover Photo)
- The Castle historic mansion in Marietta
- Entertainers perform “Variety Tonight”
- Popcorn is a favorite at The Front Porch
- Riverlorian Chris Wistey in the Chart Room
See sailings here American Queen Voyages Cruises (cruisecompete.com)
See earlier American Queen posts here: