Review of American Countess Cruise: Pre-Cruise Night at 100-year-old Brown Hotel

A century ago, guests at The Brown Hotel in Louisville would dance until the wee hours of the morning. Then they would head to the hotel restaurant for a bite to eat.

Tired of serving the same old ham and eggs, Chef Fred Schmidt surprised his hungry guests by creating an open-face turkey sandwich with bacon, tomatoes and delicate mornay sauce. Diners were delighted.

And that’s how The Hot Brown was born.

My grandson Logan and I have just checked into The Brown Hotel and are impressed by the historic beauty of the hotel and our luxurious room. We are staying here one night with other American Countess passengers before our cruise starts the next day.

Great planning on the part of American Queen Voyages. We’ve already heard that one couple will not be arriving until the middle of the night because of flight delays. But they will be here to board the American Countess tomorrow.

That one extra day and night in our port of embarkation is a wonderful stress reliever. We’ve already checked in with cruise officials at the hotel, gotten a ticket for our bus transfer from the hotel to the ship, had our photo taken and have our boarding card. Our luggage tag is attached with our stateroom number on it.

So we are all set to go. But first we head to J. Graham’s Café to see for ourselves if that Hot Brown is worth the raves. It definitely is.

Logan takes a quick photo of his huge Hot Brown.

The Hot Brown arrives cooked to perfection in a little ceramic skillet. The Brown Hotel tradition is delicious for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Understandably, folks would be disappointed if they couldn’t order a Hot Brown at The Brown Hotel for whatever meal they want.

 Historic Brown Hotel

Now celebrating its 100th birthday, The Brown Hotel was built in only 10 months by wealthy Louisville businessman J. Graham Brown at a cost of $4 million. The magnificent hotel opened in downtown Louisville at the corner of Fourth and Broadway on Oct. 25, 1923.

Built in the Georgian Revival style, the 16-story concrete and steel hotel was faced in brick and trimmed in stone and terra cotta. The interior design is primarily of the English Renaissance style with Adam period detail. David Lloyd George, former Prime Minister of Great Britain, was the first person to sign the guest register.

Other famous people came to stay. While performing at the nearby Brown Theatre, Lily Pons, let her pet lion cub roam free in her suite. Before earning fame in Hollywood, actor Victor Mature worked for a short time as an elevator operator at the hotel.

The list of hotel patrons is long and varied including Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Gene Autry, George H.W. Bush and the Duke of Windsor.

The hotel survived the historic Great Flood of 1937. The story goes that a bell captain caught a fish in the lobby. A hotel cook prepared and served the flood fish. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Brown Hotel is now owned and operated by 1859 Historic Hotels as part of its 11 unique hotels in four Southern states.

Comfort and Elegance

The hotel is a blend of Old World elegance and modern-day comfort. Hand-painted coffered ceiling, Botticino marble floor, finely carved mahogany furnishings, crystal chandeliers and Palladian-style windows add to the dazzling beauty.

The hotel offers 294 guest rooms. Our room features two full-size, pillow-top mahogany beds and The Brown Hotel’s signature hand-woven throw. We have a flat-screen TV, complimentary WiFi, fridge, coffee/tea maker, hairdryer, safe, executive desk, iron and ironing board and plush terry robes.

Our bedroom at The Brown Hotel

The bathroom offers a shower with Gilchrist & Soames toiletries and hand-polished Spanish Ramora marble floors.

Our bathroom at The Brown Hotel

Look for Two Bronze Statues

A bronze statue outside the hotel honors J. Graham Brown. Born in Madison, Indiana, Brown made his fortune in the lumber business. Nestled near him is his pet poodle Woozem. Rescued after performing in a circus act, the lucky dog was said to be fed from silver spoons by Brown. Legend says that if you pat the bronze dog, you will return to Louisville. Worth a try.

A bachelor who left no survivors, Brown lived in the 15th floor Penthouse of his hotel until his death of congestive heart failure in 1969 at age 87.

But look closely. Some folks might miss the other statue across the street. It’s Thomas C. Simons. Although the two men didn’t know each other, they shared a love for the Fourth and Broadway area and it looks like Simons is waving to Brown.

Statue of Thomas C. Simons

Businessman Simons led a drive to renovate The Brown Hotel and the popular area. Simons died of cancer in 1988 at age 59.

Thomas C. Simons waves to J. Graham Brown.

Getting Ready to Board American Countess

For the rest of today, Logan and I plan to walk around Louisville and stop for a snack somewhere. Tomorrow we will board the American Countess for our eight-day cruise from Louisville to Nashville. Louisville has definitely made us welcome.

For those who would like to make it, The Brown Hotel was kind enough to share the recipe for The Hot Brown.

Hot Brown Recipe

Ingredients – Makes two Hot Browns

2 ounces whole butter

2 ounces all-purpose flour

1 quart heavy cream

½ cup Pecorino Romano Cheese, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

14 ounces sliced roasted turkey breast

2 slices Texas Toast, crust trimmed

4 slices crispy bacon

2 Roma tomatoes sliced in half



In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste (roux). Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently.

Whisk whipping cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until cream begins to simmer, about 2-3 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino Romano Cheese until the mornay sauce is smooth. Add salt and paper to taste.

For each Hot Brown, place one slice of toast in an oven safe dish and cover with 7 ounces of turkey.

Take the two halves of Roma tomato and set them alongside the base of turkey and toast.

Next, pour one half of the mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional Pecorino Romano Cheese.

Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from boiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley and serve immediately.

Photos by Jackie Sheckler Finch

Bottom Line: American Queen Voyages could probably have picked a less expensive, less historic and less comfortable hotel for our pre-cruise overnight in Louisville. Instead, the cruise line chose one of the best where U.S. presidents, celebrities and major movers and shakers of the world have stayed. What a treat to overnight at The Brown Hotel. Louisville itself offers so much to see and do and The Brown Hotel is the icing on the cake. Easily walkable to many attractions, the Brown Hotel has an excellent staff, lovely accommodations and that delicious Hot Brown. A wonderful welcome to the official start of our American Countess cruise.

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