Twice in recent years I’ve joined paddlewheeler cruises from New Orleans to St. Louis and thoroughly enjoyed those slow-paced voyages along the lower reaches of America’s mother of all rivers. So now it’s time to see the rest of Big Muddy, from St. Louis to St. Paul.
My vessel of choice for this 7-day voyage, October 10-17, is American Cruise Line’s (ACL) Queen of the Mississippi, a gleaming white, five-deck 150-passenger replica of the 19th century steamboats that routinely churned up and down the river, transporting both freight and passengers. ACL proudly proclaims itself an “All-American” line, utilizing American crews and U.S.-built ships. This one was turned out in 2012 by a company-owned shipyard in Maryland.
I’ll be accompanied/assisted on the cruise by my lady friend and fellow cruising enthusiast, Melinda Renner, who will join me a couple of days prior to departure in St. Louis so that we’ll have time to properly explore the city’s many attractions. We’ll spend an extra day in St. Paul at the conclusion of the cruise for the same purpose.
St. Louis is famous, of course, for its soaring Gateway Arch, symbol of the city’s role as “Gateway to the West,” and standing tall as the nation’s largest manmade monument. There’s plenty more to see, including the Old Courthouse, Museum of Westward Expansion, Missouri Botanical Garden, Anheuser-Busch Brewery and the beautifully restored Union Station complex. We’ll be overnighting at the Drury Pear Tree Inn at Union Station – right in the middle of things.
Moving up-river, we’ll first visit Hannibal, MO to relive the adventures of Samuel Clemens’ youth at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum and the Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher Houses.
Following a day of river cruising, we’ll pay a call on Davenport, IA, where we’ll join an ACL excursion to the John Deere Pavilion, home to the world’s largest agricultural exhibition. Melinda is ho-hum about that, but hey, this is corn country and for me it brings back fond childhood memories of riding shotgun on my grandpa’s rumbling green John Deere tractor during visits to the family farm in Illinois.
Day five will find us tying up in Dubuque, IA for a visit to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium on the city’s lively waterfront – and a ride on the Fenton Place Elevator, the world’s shortest and steepest scenic railway. The 1882 cable car makes a 65-degree climb to the top of a bluff for spectacular views of the river valley that extend to the adjoining states of Illinois and Wisconsin.
Chances are good that leaves will be turning as we cross into Wisconsin for visits on consecutive days to La Crosse and Red Wing. Fall, during foliage time, is said to be the most beautiful season in these parts, so we are keeping our fingers crossed. In La Crosse, we plan to join ACL’s Historic City Tour, said to provide insight into the architectural development of the city from its boomtown riverboat days through the Roaring 20s. ACL offers both included and “premier” tours, ranging from $20-$70, at each port of call. In Red Wing, we’ll visit historic Red Wing Stoneware Company, where they’ve been turning out distinctive stoneware pottery since 1887.
Our cruise concludes on Saturday morning in St. Paul, where we’ll join ACL’s included city tour to help orient ourselves to Minnesota’s capital city – then rush to bustling St. Paul Farmers Market with time to poke around and grab some lunch before it closes at 1:00 p.m. Operating since 1853, it’s one of the oldest and largest public markets in the country. With an extra day here, we’ll have time to take in the highly regarded Minnesota Museum of American Art, the Mississippi River Visitor Center and Landmark Center. The latter, housed in a castle-like 1902 former federal courthouse, is the city’s cultural hub, offering art exhibits and music, dance and theater performances.
I’ll begin blogging from St. Louis on Saturday, October 10 – so please tune in as I share our day-to-day experiences, cruising through Middle America onboard Queen of the Mississippi.