ON THE OHIO RIVER_As our river cruise on American Queen concludes, here are some overall impressions — our first time to cruise a U.S. waterway — that will hopefully help decide if this cruise is right for you.
Based on our conversations with other guests, and the fact American river cruising has been one of the industry’s fastest-growing segments over the last few years, it’s clear the popularity of traveling one’s own country’s waterways is on the rise. Part of the reason you can probably attribute to COVID, and the reluctance of travelers to face the uncertainty of going overseas. We heard that more than once.
Then there’s the allure of recreating that Golden Age of steamboating, when it was the preeminent way to go from one town to another. American Queen has embraced that desire and brought it up-to-date with modern amenities and technology. But the basic idea remains the same: A leisurely vacation on a river where, if you like, you can sit in a chair and watch the world go by.
That’s the essence of a river cruise, and American Queen delivers that experience.
— We liked that a pre-cruise hotel night was included in the cruise. You not only get a chance to meet your fellow passengers, but also they take care of your transfer to the boat. Your luggage is ready and waiting to unpack in your room, making boarding is a breeze.
— Most of our fellow travelers are all senior citizens, several with mobility issues. The boat is well equipped to help those who need it, and even accommodates service dogs, of which we’ve seen several, all well-behaved. It seems most guests hail from the mid-West and many are repeat customers. The mood is friendly and it’s easy to strike up conversations.
— Our room is a junior suite, and accommodates a queen bed. The antique furniture, fixtures and paintings reflect the “Golden Age” motif. The bath is roomy but could use an updated shower head. Storage was adequate but it could be challenging if we had to pack for a longer time aboard (they do have a laundry). It was nice to have a writing space for my PC. There are two USB plugs and extra plugins bedside, but we always need more, so pack an extension cord. Rooms also have a selection of music channels you can play by twisting a knob to the music of your choice. As mentioned before, most rooms don’t have private balconies, but have two chairs and table in a communal sitting area on the deck. Again, it promotes meet and greets.
— We found the service outstanding. Friendly, efficient, accommodating. Special shoutouts to Richard, our room attendant, Daniel, the Food and Beverage Manager, Jasmin, Sherman and Shelly on the dining room wait staff and Manuela, the Chief Purser.
— The food has been excellent overall. The Front Porch Cafe (it really does resemble a classic front porch) and the J.M. White Main Dining Room serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. The former serves its meals buffet-style, while the latter has buffets for breakfast and lunch, with a more formal seating at dinner. The majority of guests on our sailing opted for early dining, which stars at 5:15 pm (for us, that’s like a late lunch). We choose late dining, which starts at 8 pm. In between, the Front Porch offers tasty cookies, popcorn, self-serve ice cream and all the fixings, plus fruit and other snacks. Pam loved the coffee stations placed around the boat. Room service is also free and available until 11 pm. After the dining room closes, that’s pretty much your only food option if you crave a late-night snack.
— Drinks, alcoholic and otherwise, are included in your fare, along with the basic tours, meals and WiFi. There are some premium, extra-charge drinks, but we didn’t go there. You’ll find bars at the Front Porch, the Captain’s Bar, outside the main dining room, the Engine Room Bar on deck 2 (where you get a view of the spinning paddlewheels through the port holes) and the River Grill and Bar, aft on deck five. Some of the bartenders could use a little mixology help, but if you want it done right, see Soli at the River Grill. She’ll take great care of you.
— The entertainment in the Grand Saloon earns an “A.” They are a small but mighty group that knows how to sing, dance and keep an audience engaged without the benefit of flashy productions and scenery changes, with help from lighting and sound guru, Mike. Norman Bergen leads the Steamboat Syncopators house band, with Jay, Sean and Logan on piano, guitar and keyboards. I found the daily lectures by ship Riverlorian Chris Westey informative and interesting.
— One of the most impressive aspects of the cruise are the tours. Well-organized and executed, the “hop on, hop off” buses take guests to places of interest at every port stop. The buses actually follow the boat, so you have the same drivers, which is nice. Local guides and docents were on site to provide expert insights, and it all ran like clockwork, starting with getting eight tour times to choose from. Premium tour options are also available for an extra charge.
— The main attraction for the majority of guests is the boat itself. Faithfully modeled after the grand steamboats of the 1800s, and 60 percent powered by steam, it’s the largest steamship operating in the world. Hanging on its walls are classic steamboat paintings, and river-related memorabilia are on display in the Mark Twain Gallery and other public spaces. Its six decks are easy to navigate, and the most popular gathering spaces are the front Porch forward on deck three and the observation area on deck four. Entertainment is featured in the Grand Saloon and movie theater. There is a small pool and fitness center, designated areas for smokers, a small spa and a library in the Chart Room. Adjacent to the Mark Twain Gallery are Ladies and Gents game rooms. Except for the TVs in the rooms, you could easily see yourself transported back in time.
— Don’t expect the free WiFi to be always available. As I have noted, our room happened to be located in a dead spot, so we rarely got service there. There are computers and a printer in the Mark Twain Gallery, and that’s where I went to send these missives. I bet even Mark Twain would have liked to have had that available for his use.
— Even though ours was the last cruise to require pre-cruise COVID testing, the boat highlights health awareness by placing sanitizing and hand washing stations throughout. Masks are not required, but several guests were wearing them. There was only one stop on the tours we took that required a mask — The Castle in Marietta, OH. Each room is also given two refillable water bottles to cut down on plastic waste. Refill stations are located by all the elevators.
Bottom line: I asked one guest who had taken almost 20 river cruises why he and his wife keep coming back to American Queen. In a word, he said, “Tradition.” Basically, it’s the only way to experience the kind of romantic travel that enraptured Americans more than 150 years ago.
If you want a real break from the hectic, workaday world, and don’t mind if you can’t check your email every 10 minutes, embrace settling back in a chair with the drink of the day, enjoy being pampered by an attentive staff and want to get lost in thought while you watch the world slowly go by, this is the cruise for you. If you try it, I think you just might like it. We did.
PHOTOS by Gerry Barker
- Night view of the Chart Room (Cover Photo)
- American Queen Steamboat
- The deck outside the staterooms
- Reboarding at one of our tour stops
- The Grand Saloon
- The Gentlemen’s Card Room
- A river sunset
- Inside the Chart Room
- Paintings decorate the hallways
- Our Riverlorian
- Water refill station
See American Queen and other steamboat cruises here American Queen Voyages (cruisecompete.com)
See all of our earlier American Queen steamboat cruise posts here:
- Day 8 Cruising the Ohio River~on the American Queen~Marietta, Ohio
- Day 7 Cruising the Ohio River~on the American Queen~Point Pleasant, West Virginia
- Day 6 Cruising the Ohio River~on the American Queen ~Maysville, Kentucky
- Day 5 Cruising the Ohio River~on the American Queen ~Cincinnati
- Day 4 Cruising the Ohio River~on the American Queen ~Madison, Indiana: ‘Most Beautiful River Town in America’
- Day 3 Cruising the Ohio River~on the American Queen ~Indiana
- Day 2 Cruising the Ohio River~on the American Queen ~Louisville
- Day 1 Cruising the Ohio River~on the American Queen