She's the largest steamboat ever built, a soaring triumph of American ingenuity yet a river lady as gracious and congenial as her older sisters. In 1995 she answered Steamboaters' call for yet another proud paddle wheeler on which to discover riverside America.
Although her designers filled her to the brim with today's technological advances, her many public rooms and accommodations bustle with the opulence of the American Victorian period. Woodwork glistens and antiques fill her spaces, and outside, lacy filigree evokes the memory of the many grand river steamers that both preceded her and inspired her designers. Select a volume from the vast collection in the Mark Twain Gallery, the boat's library. Enjoy a sing-along in the Main Deck Lounge, or tap your toes to a lavish show in the two-deck-tall Grand Saloon, the most elegant show place on the river. You'll find your own favorite nook aboard the grand American Queen.
Food on the American Queen is good, well presented and plentiful. While sugar-free, vegetarian and other menu items are available, the food is geared to those who don't count calories often. Much of it is fried, creamed or sauced. But hey, that doesn't make it bad. Au contraire! It's too good.
Meals are served in the large airy and attractive J.M. White Dining Room, where huge glass windows offer waterline views of the river. There are two dinner seatings: 6 and 8:30 pm. A list of moderately priced, domestic wines is offered. Bar service -- including sodas - is offered in the dining room.
Dinnertime is the highlight of each day. Offerings include such southern favorites as fried green tomatoes, stuffed and fried catfish, jambalaya, a variety of gumbos and bisques, and always a vegetarian or heart-healthy choice. Service is excellent, empty iced tea glasses are never empty long, coffee is refilled promptly and a good-natured staff encourages passengers to "taste" -- if you think you might want to try something and don't want an entire order, your waiter will bring a sample portion. Coconut shrimp or fried oysters are deep fried, but not greasy. A blackened redfish made me yearn for a refrigerator in my room to save the large portion for the next day! And, if spicy Cajun or southern cooking isn't what you are looking for, there is always a fillet mignon, broiled chicken or fish and more. (If your diet requirements don't include spicy presentations, let your server know, or advise the company when you book.) Desserts range from old fashioned chocolate sundaes in those traditional glass v-shaped servers, to peach pies and chocolate cakes like Granny used to make. The recipe for Mississippi Mud Pie is available to guests, an absolutely sinful concoction of chocolate, pecans, whipping cream and liquor. Each night there is a different flavor of bread pudding.
Breakfast comes a la carte or from the buffet, complete with biscuits and gravy, made-to-order omelets, bacon, ham or sausage, a quiche, potatoes, lots of good fresh fruit, cereals, and just in case you forget where you are, the ever-present grits. A continental menu is available from room service, but unless you are in a large room juggling a tray on the bed is awkward. Breakfast is the only room service option available.
Lunch menus feature salads, a fish dish, and, usually three or four other choices. Try a poor boy sandwich of fried oysters, or opt for a buffet set up in the Grand Saloon where do-it-yourself sandwiches are fast and easy.
Coffee, tea and hot chocolate is available 24 hours a day in the Mark Twain Gallery, considered the vessel's main lobby. Each day at "tea time" coffee and cookies are set out on the Front Porch and in the Ladies Parlor (though it's more of an afterthought than a full fledged British tea). Popcorn and hors d'oeuvres, usually veggies, potato chips and a dip, are available in the late afternoon in the Engine Room Bar.
American Queen is launching a brand new program this year that is focused on Blues and Cajun culture and music. It will continue to offer its established Mark Twain program.
The blues and Cajun music performers are fresh, talented and work in the New Orleans music genre as though they were born to it -- and most were. They're Mississippi River performers, many having been born and raised in Louisiana.
Shows are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. for late seating guests and at 8:45 p.m. for early diners. Clara Christensen serves as the Riverlorian, and tells intriguing stories about navigation, the Mighty Mississippi, and the hundreds of years' worth of history of people who lived and worked along its banks with a wonderful flair for combining humor and information.
Shore excursions, priced in the $30 - $40 range, are not included in the price of the cruise.
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