A TOUR OF THE AMAZING AMERICAN DUCHESS

P1170379

My previous post included a sneak-peek of the American Duchess; however, I wanted to provide a more detailed look at American Queen Steamboat Company’s newest riverboat and her fabulous crew.

P1170460

Created from a 1995 hull, this 340 foot-long paddlewheeler features four decks and employs 80 American crew to run the boat and manage its 80 suites—the first all-suite paddlewheeler to cruise U.S. rivers.  The maximum passengers she will sail with is only 166, so the crew-to-passenger ratio is quite high.

Our cruise was sold out; however, the boat never felt crowded at any time, even in the show lounge where there were always plenty of seats.  (There were 165 seats available, including the chairs that line each wall.)

P1170471.JPG

One of the reasons there was always so much space to roam was the fact that the suites range in size from 180 square feet (for an interior cabin like ours) to 550 square feet for a two-story loft suite featuring 19-foot ceilings.  Those suites (and the Owner’s Suite) had their own “River Butler” to spoil them rotten, so I’m guessing those passengers spent a lot of time in their cabins!

P1170253

Our 180 sq. ft. interior cabin.

P1170257

P1170256

There was a refrigerator on the right side of the desk and a coffee maker.  Once the luggage was unpacked, it fit nicely under the bed. leaving plenty of space in the walk-in(!) closet.

P1170255

The toilet was located just to the left, and the walk-in shower with a rain shower head was behind me when I shot this photo.

For those passengers who had the “Commodore Services” included with their suite and had a butler, he was available for them throughout the ship.  We saw him everywhere, and he made sure his passengers knew it.  Have you heard of helicopter parents?  Well, he was a helicopter butler.

Although the décor of the boat wasn’t to my taste, the abundance of blown and fused glass artwork was.  Bruce and I absolutely loved it, especially since Bruce is a glass artist (www.CookedGlassCreations.Etsy.com), and glass is our favorite art medium.

P1170276.JPG

P1170273

The American Duchess had a modern boutique hotel feel to it, rather than a traditional riverboat ambiance.  In all honesty, we preferred the 1800’s motif of the American Queen, built and decorated to replicate the paddlewheelers of their heyday.

Most notably, the Duchess lacks a promenade deck, a must for open air enjoyment of the views, especially for a sunset stroll.  Of course, Winter Storm Inga didn’t allow for much of that; however, I would have sorely missed a promenade deck had the weather been better.  (The Duchess does have a large sun deck; however, it just doesn’t have the appeal of the top deck space on the American Queen.)

P1170345.JPG

Sadly, the Duchess also lacked a calliope, a charming feature I enjoyed so much on the American Queen.

The most impressive area of the Duchess was the bar, dining room, and stairs leading up to the Lincoln Library.

P1170293.JPG

P1170317.JPG

P1170292.JPG

P1170382.JPG

P1170265.JPG

The windows on each side looked down into the dining room.

The dining room layout was similar to the American Queen in that it had tall ceilings on each side with a lower ceiling in the center.  Without a doubt, the dining room on the Duchess was nicer, though, because even though the boat was sold out (like it was when we were on the Queen), there was much more room in between the tables.  In addition, there was only one seating; however, you could be seated any time within the open hours (5:30 – 8:00 PM for dinner) and dine either alone or with others.  There was no assigned seating, and they accepted reservations for parties of six or more.

P1170385.JPG

Since the American Queen Steamboat Company has an executive chef who creates the menus for all three of their boats, the menus were similar to what we enjoyed on the Queen, and the food was similar—fabulous on both boats.  The service on the Duchess was better, though, and much more relaxed.  (By the way, we had the same Maitre D’ on both cruises!  Oscar boarded the Duchess the same day we did.)

P1170415.JPG

Chef Jeff had a sense of humor, too!  Check out the comment about the cookies.

The desserts (at least the chocolate ones!) were better on the Duchess, though.  Rachel did a great job!  I especially liked the creative little birthday dessert that was left in my cabin along with a card.  I also received an incredible piece of chocolate ganache cake in the dining room for dessert!

P1170314.JPG

Rachel.JPG

Rachel, in the galley.

P1170411.JPG

The galley is larger and better equipped than on the American Queen, a 414 passenger boat!

In addition to the dining room, the River Club and Terrace was a more casual option for meals.  Breakfast and lunch were buffets, whereas dinners were table service.  We enjoyed a lobster tail there on our first night aboard, when we joined the other Steamboat Society of America members (repeat cruisers with the company) for an invitation-only dinner.

P1170283.JPG

The final option for food was in Perks, a little café with a self-serve cappuccino machine, juice dispenser, popcorn maker, and windows to sit and watch the river.  Those were all well and good; however, it was the fresh-baked chocolate chunk cookies I was after.  Yeah, there were other varieties, too, but it was always extra special when I could nab my favorite!  (In the morning, they had pastries, and fresh fruit was always available.)

P1170259-Perks.JPG

Entertainment included “Riverlorian” talks during the day, as well as the usual bingo, Name That Tune, trivia, etc.  What we enjoyed the most, however, were the lounge shows each evening.  Max (also the cruise director), his wife, Darcy, and Matt were three talented and personable singers who performed each night backed by a top-notch band.  We had a few chats with Scott, the bass player, and it turned out we new several of the same San Diego-based jazz musicians!

Darcy-JazzNight.JPG

Adam-Matt-James-David-Scott

Matt-Max

Matt and Max

Max-Darcy-Mike.jpg

Max, Darcy, and Mike (Riverlorian, Lights, Sound)

Darcy-MyBirthday

Me and Darcy on my birthday

Elaine-Max-Darcy-Bruce

Me, Max, Darcy, and Bruce

By far, the best feature of the American Duchess was its crew, from the captain on down.  They bent over backwards to make every passengers’ experience a memorable one—especially when we were hit with snow and temperatures that averaged twenty degrees below normal.  The day after the blizzard, Captain Joe McKey was out on the River Club Terrace scraping snow off the deck and cleaning things up.  (Yes, you read that right; the captain!)  In the dining room, Executive Chef Jeff Warner constantly came out to the “front of the house” (in restaurant speak) to help serve or pick up plates.  He was very personable and made sure all his passengers were happy.  Read the book Waiter Rant, and you will soon learn that is not typical.  I know, because I worked in the restaurant/ hospitality business for several years, most notably at the University Club in San Diego for my last seven years. Unless it was to take a bow at an event or receive kudos from a requesting club member, the chef never left his comfortable domain of the kitchen.

CaptJoeMcKey-ChefJeffWarner.JPG

One thing that brought a smile to my face one late evening in the Lincoln Library was seeing one of the bartenders playing Monopoly with a young passenger who had nobody her age to pal around with on board.  At another table, the Riverlorian was playing a card game with some other passengers.  Whether that was permitted by the hotel manager or not, I don’t know; but, I sure hope they didn’t get reprimanded.  As a matter of fact, I hope they will be encouraged in the future to do more of the same!  It is an example of the congenial atmosphere that is evident between the crew and passengers, and it was, in a word, special.  I hope they always keep the magic they have created.

American Queen Steamboat Company has a winning formula down to every detail.  The success they have had and the awards they have won are well-deserved.  It is my hope they can sustain it and never cut back or cut anything out like what has happened with several of the large cruise ship lines.  Ask any of the long-time cruisers with Princess Cruises or Royal Caribbean Cruise Line what I mean, and they will tell you.  As a former guest lecturer with both companies, I speak from experience.  When you start cutting back, people notice, and you will lose your most loyal customers.  More importantly, word gets around.  American Queen Steamboat Company, you have a great thing going.  May it always stay that way!

For additional pictures, check out my album here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

LAST BUT NOT LEAST, NOTTOWAY

P1150319.JPG

“The White Castle of Louisiana,” as the riverside mansion of Nottoway Plantation has been nicknamed, was the last stop on American Queen’s three-week cruise down the length of the Mississippi River.  The plantation’s location was quite convenient, because all we had to do was walk up and over the levee embankment, and we were there.  No hop on-hop off bus was needed for this tour!

Before touring the mansion, however, we did attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony for American Queen’s newest bus.  Isn’t she a beauty?

The expertly-guided tour of the South’s largest antebellum mansion was interesting.  Completed in 1859, the 53,000 square-foot, three-floor, 64-room mansion is Greek Revival and Italianate in style.  It features 200 windows, 22 massive exterior columns, 15-foot ceilings, 12 hand-carved Italian marble fireplaces, 11-foot tall doors, modern bathrooms with running water, and its own gas plant to provide gas lighting throughout the mansion.  (All that was missing from this place was the partridge in a pear tree…)

P1150323.JPG

P1150345.JPG

Commissioned by John Hampden Randolph, Nottoway Plantation was built as the ultimate showcase of his wealth, which was accumulated off the backs of his 195 slaves that harvested the 1,000 acres of sugar cane on his property.  No expense was spared, and when the mansion was completed, it became home to Randolph, his wife Emily, and their eleven(!) kids.

P1150329.JPG

P1150335.JPG

The centerpiece of this lavish mansion is the oval ball room, which is stark white from top to bottom—one of the reasons Nottoway got its “White Castle” nickname.  The custom trim in the ballroom and throughout the mansion was made from Spanish moss, clay, plaster, and mud.  (Spanish moss was also used as stuffing for the furniture cushions.)

P1150332.JPG

P1150336

P1150338

This seat cushion exposes the Spanish Moss stuffing.

P1150337.JPG

P1150331.JPG

P1150347.JPG

Our last evening aboard the American Queen was magical.  It was as if the sky was putting on an encore performance to punctuate the beautiful sunsets we had enjoyed throughout the cruise—and the memorable experiences we shared with the other passengers, staff, and each other during our three weeks on the Mississippi River.

P1150366.JPG

P1150369.JPG

P1150367.JPG

P1150371.JPG

…And, the big wheel just keeps on turning…

Certificat-Bruce

Certificate-Elaine

Stay tuned for a review of the American Duchess, American Queen Steamboat’s newest paddle wheeler…

BUSY IN BATON ROUGE

P1150313.JPG

The American Queen stayed a full day in Baton Rouge; however, I still found myself racing against the clock to get everything in that I wanted to see.  Bruce joined me for the first half of the day; however, he came down with what turned out to be a nasty case of bronchitis, so he was down for the count before the day was done.

We set out in the morning for the Saturday farmer’s and craft market in town, conveniently located near the hop on-hop off bus stop.  Thanks to the American Queen staff, they were thoughtful enough to make that arrangement for us!

As veteran craft show vendors ourselves (www.CookedGlassCreations.Etsy.com), we always appreciate and enjoy seeing what others create.  This particular market had some interesting and fun creations available.

P1150192

P1150193

P1150194

P1150190.JPG

Enjoying tasty Farmer’s Market treats!

Our next stop:  Louisiana’s State Capitol.  I had visited Baton Rouge before with the American Queen in 2013; however, Bruce had never seen the city.  Knowing how much he would enjoy seeing the capitol, we made sure to get a visit in while he still had the energy.

P1150229.JPG

P1150225

P1150223

P1150210.JPG

P1150205.JPG

P1150227

P1150196

It was a prettier day when I was there in 2013, so you may want to check out my photos from that post.  Other than the state capitol, we didn’t see much that day, however, because it was Good Friday, and much of the city was closed down for the weekend.  This time, it turned out that there was so much to see, a day wasn’t enough time to get it all in.

P1150231.JPG

Following our visit to the capitol, we ended up spending far more time at the Capitol Park Museum than intended, because the exhibits were excellent.  Upon arrival, we headed straight up to the second floor to learn all about the various cultures in Louisiana, a state very different from our native state of California.

P1150232.JPG

Louisiana was first inhabited by numerous tribes of American Indians, but then it was colonized by the French, Spanish, and English.  It was built largely by African slaves, and then acquired by the United States.

In 2005, Bruce and I had visited New Orleans for several days on a dedicated trip to the city; however, the second-floor exhibit at the museum encompassed the entire state.  The presentation of the exhibits was done in such a fun and colorful way, and today’s pop culture was included along with the history of each region.  In the colorful exhibit on Mardi Gras, for example, they even covered New Orleans’ gay krewes, including the Krewe of Yuga, the first organized krewe founded by and for gay men.

P1150257.JPG

P1150260.JPG

P1150262.JPG

It was interesting to learn the difference between a Cajun and a Creole.  Cajuns were historically a French-speaking group that now mostly speak English.  Prior to 1955, French was their first language.  They are quite culturally mixed in heritage, because the Acadians who settled in Louisiana in the late 1700’s intermarried with other ethnic groups, including Spanish, Germans, and Anglo-Americans.  Today, they remain a culturally distinct group, linked by their shared cuisine, music, and geography.

During the early 1800’s, native-born Lousianians began defining themselves as “Creoles” to distinguish themselves from foreign-born and Anglo-American immigrants, and, in the case of free people of color, from enslaved African Americans.  After the Civil War, a white Creole was someone who traced his or her heritage to white French or Spanish colonials, and a Creole of color was of mixed ancestry (African, Native American, French, or Spanish) or else descended from French-speaking slaves.

Today, there is still no consensus in Louisiana on the term “Creole,” and it was interesting to listen to videotaped interviews of experts on the subject who all seemed to disagree.

One thing I know for sure about Creoles, though; they sure have an interestingly mixed cuisine, and New Orleans is known around the world for their fabulous food.  Influenced by American Indians, Africans, Anglo-Americans, French, Spanish, Germans, Italians, and those from the Caribbean; the resulting mix of spices, flavors, and styles of cooking is tasty!  Just remembering how good the food was in New Orleans made my mouth water as I perused the exhibits at the museum.  Thankfully, the food aboard the American Queen was wonderful, including the Cajun and Creole dishes we enjoyed throughout the Louisiana portion of the cruise.

P1150243.JPG

P1150242.JPG

P1150255

P1150250.JPG

P1150238.JPG

After spending so much time enjoying the second-floor exhibit, we only took a glance through the first floor, because Bruce was out of steam and ready to return to the ship.

I went back out to see the old state capitol building located just across the street from our dock.  What a surprise it was!  As I entered the lobby and looked up, I literally exclaimed, “Wow!”  I was alone, but I couldn’t help myself.  The stained-glass ceiling window was that beautiful.

P1150306.JPG

P1150271.JPG

P1150277.JPG

P1150280.JPG

P1150283.JPG

P1150285.JPG

Built in 1850 (and restored in 1880 after the war), the capitol building was cast aside in 1932, when the new capitol was built, which is the tallest state capitol in the United States at 349 feet.  (Megalomaniac, narcissistic Governor Huey Long made sure of that.  Does that remind you of our current president, perhaps?)

The most interesting exhibit in the building, I thought, was on Huey Long, and it was done in a very clever way.  As you walked into the room a black faux crack went across the floor, up the wall, and across the ceiling, dividing the room in two.  In the yellow-painted right half of the room, the exhibit detailed all of the good things about Governor Long’s character and his accomplishments.  The left, blue-painted half of the room pointed out the ugly and evil side of the governor, and all of the ways he tarnished Louisiana.  It was this half of the room where I saw the uncanny parallels between Long and President Trump.

P1150286.JPG

When we return to Baton Rouge aboard the American Duchess, I look forward to showing Bruce the Old State Capitol.  We also plan to return to see the first floor of Capitol Park Museum, and perhaps take a stroll through the Louisiana Arts & Science Museum, located directly across from the Old State Capitol and adjacent to the riverboat.

P1150311.JPG

P1150268

P1150308.JPG

For my final post about our three weeks aboard the American Queen, coming up next:  LAST BUT NOT LEAST: NOTTOWAY

 

 

 

 

 

SCAMPERING AROUND ST. FRANCISVILLE

382.JPG

The oldest town in the Florida Parishes of Louisiana, St. Francisville, has a population of less than 1,800.  It doesn’t take long to see the charming and quaint town; however, we thoroughly enjoyed two highlights:  The Myrtles Plantation, which was a stop on our hop on-hop off bus tour, and the picturesque cemetery of Grace Episcopal Church.

383-MyrtlesPlantation.JPG

386.JPG

The Myrtles Plantation dates back to 1796 and is surrounded by beautiful Spanish moss-covered live oak trees.  We were given a guided tour of the mansion that currently serves as a bed-and breakfast and features beautiful furnishings, as well as a 125-foot verandah with ornate ironwork.  Photography wasn’t permitted indoors, however, photos of the rooms can be found on their website.  Following the tour, we wandered around the property that includes bed-and-breakfast cottages situated around a lovely pond.

390.JPG

391.JPG

387.JPG

388.JPG

389.JPG

Back in town, we strolled through the historic grave sites at the church cemetery:

392.JPG

393

394

395

396

There were some attractive boutiques in town, including Grandmother’s Buttons. Located in a former 1905-era bank building, the boutique features a button museum in the former bank vault.

397.JPG

Located just 35 miles from St. Francisville, we cruised down river in the early evening arriving in Baton Rouge in time to enjoy the beautiful sunset and see the lights of the downtown skyline.

399.JPG

400.JPG

401.JPG

402.JPG

403.JPG

404.JPG

405.JPG

406.JPG

407.JPG

Coming up next:  BUSY IN BATON ROUGE

 

NOTORIOUS NATCHEZ

Natchez-Under-the-Hill, the neighborhood at the bottom of the bluff where the American Queen landed, was notorious during steamboat days.  Violence and vice attracted the rough adventurers from the boats on the river, but the location kept the behavior isolated from the town’s more prominent citizens.

Those “prominent” citizens were wealthy, thanks to cotton—and their slaves who harvested it.  In 1860, it was the richest city in the U.S., and there were many antebellum mansions that were spared during the Civil War when the town surrendered to Farragut’s fleet.

We toured the restored Rosalie Mansion, after getting a hop on-hop-off bus tour of the town.  Hurricane Harvey was passing through, so it was nice to get out of the high winds and pouring rain, bag up our dripping plastic ponchos, and have a look at how the one-precent’rs lived back in the 1860’s.

372-RosalieMansion

373

374

Like all of the other mansions, Rosalie was owned by a wealthy white cotton plantation owner and owner of slaves who was part of a small group that dominated the antebellum South.  (Acquiring land and slaves provided the surest route for a person to achieve elite status in the South.)

Ronald L. Davis, author of The Black Experience in Natchez, describes what life was like for those blacks in Natchez who were not owned as slaves: “Freedom for Natchez blacks was not the opposite of slavery.  Each ‘free person of color’ was expected to function as an essentially marginal person.  The extent of one’s freedom depended upon one’s deportment as well as one’s conformity to a role in life accommodating the white community… the free blacks of Natchez lived, in other words, somewhere between slavery and freedom.”

Another mansion we toured was Magnolia Hall, where we learned that during the Civil War, a cannon ball had been fired by the Union that blasted through the kitchen wall and landed in a soup terrine.  How’s that for a soup garnish?

Hurricane Harvey had blown through town by the evening, so we went for a stroll to enjoy the beautiful sky that Harvey left behind:

376

377

378

379

The “Mayor” of Natchez-Under-the-Hill

380

381

Coming up next:  SCAMPERING AROUND ST. FRANCISVILLE

FROM TIFFANY WINDOWS TO COCA~COLA NOSTALGIA: VARIETY IN VICKSBURG

P1150036.JPG

Although President Lincoln described the Siege and Battle at Vicksburg as “the key to victory” of the Civil War, and Vicksburg is full of Civil War history, we opted to pass on seeing the battlefield, monuments, cemetery, U.S.S. Cairo, museum, etc.  Civil War buffs we are not.

It was a bit of a dreary, rainy day in Vicksburg; however, we didn’t mind walking the town with our umbrellas in hand, after we took the hop on-hop off bus tour for an overview.

Being the glass buffs that we are, we chose to spend time viewing and learning about the six priceless Tiffany stained-glass windows at the Church of the Holy Trinity, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  In all of Mississippi, there are only eleven Tiffany stained-glass windows, so the windows at this church are quite significant.  A husband-wife docent team gave an informative talk about the gorgeous windows.

When the church was built, the original church windows were clear.  The stained-glass windows were paid for by contributions from Civil War veterans around the country, dedicated to the soldiers who died in battle during the Siege of Vicksburg.  The front wall windows were the first ones installed at the church as a memorial of reconciliation in the South following the Civil War.  (It’s interesting to note that Vicksburg was 70% Union.)

P1150002.JPG

Six of the windows were created by Tiffany Studios in New York under the supervision of Louis Comfort Tiffany.  Opalescent glass was used for the windows, giving them a watercolor-like appearance.  Tiffany felt that not only should the color be part of the design, but the texture as well; so, texture was added to the glass to give a life-like appearance.  In one of the windows, the woman is wearing a robe that has wrinkles, created quite effectively with added layers of glass.  Surprisingly, we were encouraged to go ahead and touch the textured glass in these priceless windows.  (Since no insurance company will insure the church, a value for the windows cannot be determined.)

Tiffany was also a genius in how he worked with color to capture light.  In this window, “The Good Shepard,” we were told that no matter what time of day or ambient light, the lantern always looks lit.

P1140996.JPG

Having the opportunity to see and photograph those incredible windows was well worth visiting Vicksburg.

P1140999-ArchangelRaphael.JPG

For a fun bit of nostalgia, we popped (no pun intended) into the nicely restored Biedenharn Candy Co. building to have a look around the Beidenharn Coca-Cola museum.  Owned and operated by The Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation, they did a nice job restoring the building and creating enjoyable exhibits about the Biedenharn family who were the original bottlers of Coca-Cola. Alongside reproductions of the first bottling equipment used to bottle the iconic soda-pop, they explained the bottling process.  In addition, Coca-Cola memorabilia and advertising from past to present were on display.

P1150021.JPG

P1150025.JPG

P1150023.JPG

When the stopper was pulled out of the bottle, the rubber made a popping noise– “soda pop”.

Bruce and I also checked out the Old Courthouse Museum (built in 1859) and Lower Mississippi River Museum.  Most memorable was exploring the river museum’s M/V Mississippi IV, a former river workboat that plied the river for the Corps for over thirty years and hosted public Mississippi River Commission (MRC) meetings, until she was decommissioned in 1993.

MVMississippi.JPG

Headquartered in Vicksburg, the MRC was established by an act of Congress in 1879 with the purpose of controlling the Mississippi River.  In addition, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers has its research headquarters in Vicksburg, and the town boasts more Phd’s per capita than any city in the U.S.A.  Who knew?

In addition to Cape Girardeau and Paducah, Vicksburg also did a wonderful job turning an ugly river flood wall into a beautiful work of art.  Here are some of the murals that graced the wall where American Queen was tied up:

P1080893.JPG

P1080892.JPG

P1080899.JPG

P1080898.JPG

P1080907.JPG

Next up:  NOTORIOUS NATCHEZ

 

“BLUES BOY” & DELTA BLUES

Content with spending our days seeing each river port via hop on-hop off bus and hoofing it on foot, Bruce and I didn’t sign up for any premium excursions during our three-week American Queen Steamboat adventure down the Mississippi River— except for one: “Small Towns, Big Legends:  The Story of B.B. King—A Musical Journey Through the Mississippi Delta.”  This tour was scheduled for our stop in Greenville, Mississippi, and we had looked forward to it with the anticipation that it would be one of the highlights of the cruise.  We were not disappointed.

The brochure description summed it up nicely, “Join us on a journey to Indianola, Mississippi, the hometown of legendary blues artist, B.B. King.  Built to tell the story of B.B. King and how the Delta Region shaped his legacy, the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center captures the story of the Delta Blues.  Enjoy a live Gospel performance as you enter, followed by a self-guided tour of the museum.  Finish the day off with a visit to Club Ebony, an iconic night club built at the end of WWII and featured entertainers such as Ray Charles, Bobby Bland, Albert King, and of course—B.B. King.

Cool.

329.JPG

Designed by B.B. King and housed in a former cotton gin where B.B. King worked in the 1940’s, the B.B. King Museum opened in 2008.  In addition to an extensive collection of artifacts owned by B.B. King, there are excellent exhibits about his life and other blues musicians from the region that was the birthplace of Delta Blues.

330.JPG

It is also the burial site of Riley B. “Blues Boy” King, who was buried in the planned memorial garden shortly after his death in 2015, at the age of 89.

331.JPG

Upon our arrival, we watched an excellent film about B.B. King and his childhood home of Indianola.  I was tickled, because one of the musicians who played with B.B. King and was interviewed about him in the documentary was Nathan East.  A phenomenal world-renowned bassist, Nathan was the childhood best friend of one of my adult best friends (of 26 years), Carl Evans Jr, who died in 2008.  During high school, both Nathan and Carl performed in “Power,” a state award-winning band.  Nathan went on to become one of the most recorded bassists ever and was one of the founding members of contemporary jazz quartet “Fourplay”.  Carl, meanwhile, formed contemporary jazz group “Fattburger” along with four other top San Diego musicians, including Hollis Gentry, one of the other “Power” members.  (Hollis has since died.)

Back to the film about “Blues Boy” King, we learned that he had moved away from Indianola to further his music career; however, he never forgot his Delta Blues roots.  Determined to piece together his early childhood, but not remembering where in Indianola the house was where he was born, King used a recording of his father describing the location of his birthplace home to find his way back.  It was all documented in the film, and his reaction to finding that spot was touching.  The house is no longer there, and the land is now a cotton field.

Following the documentary, there was a fabulous musical performance by a few of the local musicians, which we thoroughly enjoyed before continuing on to our self-guided tour of the exhibits.

One of the things I wanted to learn from the exhibit was why B.B. King named his guitar (actually, 49 of them throughout his career) “Lucille”.   Well, that’s an interesting story!  Lucille originated in 1949 following a bar fight in Twist, Arkansas where King was playing.  Two guys, whose rambunctious fight caused a fire, were fighting over a waitress… named Lucille.  During the fight, they had knocked over a container of kerosene, which started the fire, and burned the bar down.

When it was time to leave the museum, we weren’t ready.  There was so much to see and so much great music to listen to; we could have spent the entire day there!

341.JPG

Our bus took us on to Club Ebony, an iconic blues night club that King bought in 2008 and gave to the museum in 2012.  Until his death, King returned once each year and performed with his band as part of a blues festival.  He would perform at night, but stayed through the morning to sign autographs and pose for pictures for every single fan.  He would then stay and talk with the bar staff.

332

333.JPG

Although we were told that during our visit to Club Ebony, we would be enjoying a “Southern snack” while being entertained by a local blues band, we arrived to find a full buffet meal being served by a local caterer whose servers were eager to ensure that nobody left hungry!  The food was tasty, and the music was top-shelf, including an excellent guitarist who turned out to be the grandson of Muddy Waters.

340.JPG

337.JPG

338.JPG

339-MuddyWatersGrandson.JPG

Muddy Waters’ Grandson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

334.JPG

335.JPG

336.JPG

The club was old and funky; you could just imagine B.B. picking at “Lucille” and Ray Charles singing, “Georgia On My Mind.”  Thanks to King turning over the club to the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, it will continue to draw great blues musicians to its front door for years to come.

328.JPG

342.JPG

343.JPG

344.JPG

345.JPG

Coming up next:

 FROM TIFFANY WINDOWS TO COCA~COLA NOSTALGIA:  VARIETY IN VICKSBURG

 

 

 

 

 

MUSICAL MEMPHIS

P1140910

Prior to the American Queen’s visit to Memphis, Tennessee, we stopped in New Madrid, Missouri, and Ashport Landing, Tennessee.  Neither stop was anything to blog about; however, I will throw in a few photos from Fort Pillow, where we learned way more about Confederates and canons than I ever cared to know.  This photo of the museum exhibit on the subject explains my distaste for all things Confederate and Civil War:

P1140753.JPG

Moving on to Memphis, this was a day Bruce was especially looking forward to, being the blues harmonica player that he is.  I had been to Memphis in 2013, when I took my mom on a cruise aboard American Queen, from Memphis to New Orleans; however, I looked forward to returning and sharing the experience with Bruce.

Included in our cruise was a tour of Graceland, and what instantly came to our minds as we headed to Elvis Presley’s mansion and museum was Paul Simon’s song lyrics:

…I’m going to Graceland

Graceland

In Memphis, Tennessee

I’m going to Graceland…

I can just hear Simon’s voice now… but, I digress.

P1140761.JPG

Graceland opened their doors an hour early for American Queen passengers, so it was great to get a nice head start through the mansion and exhibits, knowing we would have a full day ahead of us.  Neither of us are huge Elvis Presley fans, but we enjoyed the experience.

Here are some photos from Presley’s mansion and the museum:

P1140777.JPG

P1140774.JPG

P1140763.JPG

The stained glass peacocks were beautiful.

P1140765

There were actually three TV’s in this room.  Elvis would watch all three at the same time.

P1140767.JPG

The entire ceiling and wall was covered in folds of fabric.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1140769

This room was just…bizarre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1140822.JPG

P1140794.JPG

The remainder of our day in Memphis was spent enjoying the sights of downtown.  We were able to walk into the city easily from the boat, so we headed to the historic Peabody Hotel, home of ducks (Really, I mean it!  Check out my 2013 post about it here.  While you’re at it, check out the neon pictures taken at night along Beale Street.)

P1140798

P1140800

The backstory on these famous Peabody ducks is that in 1933, the hotel’s owner had live ducks as decoys for duck hunting.  As a joke to the staff and guests, he decided to put them in the lobby fountain.  Well, it was a huge hit, so they have been at the hotel ever since.  (Of course, not those very same ducks; they don’t live that long!)  The ducks live up on the hotel’s roof and are escorted down to the lobby by elevator, led by their master, dressed in top hat and tails.  He makes a big to-do about it that draws crowds of people each day to watch the ceremony of ducks waddling down the red carpet, across the little bridge, and into the fountain!

P1140856

P1140837

P1140820.JPG

P1140817.JPG

P1140812.JPG

W.C. Handy

P1140853

P1140839

Our next stop was the Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum, an included attraction with our cruise that was especially fabulous.  The introductory film we saw before continuing into the museum was well worth the visit alone.  The exhibits, though, were very well done, and we could have spent all day just listening to all of the great music they had available throughout the museum!

P1140851.JPG

P1140849.JPG

Blues City Café was where my mom and I had gone for lunch back in 2013, and I had a hankering for another plate of their tasty tamales.  I thought Bruce would enjoy them, too, so we stopped in for a quick lunch.  Yum!

P1140841.JPG

Next, we visited the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, located just across the street from the café.  Although smaller in size and not as fabulous as the Rock ‘N’ Soul Museum, we still enjoyed the exhibits.

P1140840.JPG

CarlPerkinsGuitar.JPG

Carl Perkin’s guitar

When it started to pour down rain later in the afternoon, we decided to board American Queen’s hop on-hop off bus, and enjoy Memphis in dry comfort. One of the bus stops was at Sun Studio; however, we didn’t have enough time to take the tour.  No worries; we’ll see it in January, when we return to Memphis for our American Duchess cruise.

The final stop for the bus was Bass Pro Shops, and we figured we had enough time to take a quick run around the huge store before the next—and last—bus arrived to take us back to the ship before departure.

P1140886.JPG

P1140894.JPG

This boat was for sale, as were all the others floating in their ponds.

This Bass Pro Shops location wasn’t your ordinary Bass Pro Shop store (although, none of their shops are ordinary!); it was housed in a 320-foot high glass pyramid, the 10th largest pyramid in the world, and quite the spectacle!

From beginning to end, we made a (very) full day of seeing—and thoroughly enjoying—Memphis!

Next up:  “Blues Boy” & Delta Blues

 

 

 

 

A DAY “AT RIVER”

Ocean cruisers are familiar with that term “at sea,” when there is a transit day on an itinerary without a port visit.  Many experienced cruisers love those days at sea, so they can relax, enjoy being out on deck, and out on the open sea.

If cruise ships have days “at sea,” then what do riverboats have when there is no port to visit?  A day “at river,” of course!  Well, that’s what I call it, anyway.

P1140117.JPG

American Queen’s day “at river” wasn’t in the original itinerary, but as they say in life, s*&$ happens!  The night before arriving in Paducah, we were still in Cape Girardeau SEVERAL hours after our scheduled departure.  Although the passengers received some announcements along the way, we didn’t hear the full story until the captain explained what all had happened.  It was one thing after another, and the captain had us in stitches, as he comically detailed the events to us passengers in the show lounge:  First, a couple of essential crew members (who were coming on board to replace crew going on leave) were late arriving due to a delayed flight.  Next, there was a generator problem with one of the three generators.  Evidently, U.S. Coast Guard approval was necessary for the boat to continue operating on only two generators, and they weren’t exactly expedient in granting this approval.  Meanwhile, three tugboats were held up at the upcoming lock (usually it’s first come, first served), so we could get preferential treatment, and keep to our port schedule.  Since the Coast Guard was taking their sweet time returning the captain’s call, however, the tugboats were given the go-ahead to pass through the locks.  It wasn’t until 10:00 pm before we could finally depart Cape Girardeau.

But wait, there’s more!  The lock gate in the chamber broke down!  After the gate was finally repaired, and we were able to pass through the locks, you would think we were good to go.  Right?  Wrong!  The river was very narrow at that point, and we had to wait our turn to go through the narrow passage.  More delays…

To add insult to injury (at least for the captain), the water levels were reportedly too high for our boat to pass under the bridge in Canton, which meant we would not be able to stop in Dover, the day following Paducah.  As a result, the captain hesitantly announced that the American Queen would stay late in Paducah, welcome her new sister, American Duchess, and have a day “at river” the following day.  The captain braced for groans; instead, he got cheers and applause!

By now, several of the passengers (including us) were ready for a chill-day to relax, and enjoy just being on the river.  Besides, the only thing in Dover was Fort Donelson, an American Civil War battlefield.  At this point, gauging by the applause, it was evident that most of the other passengers were as burned out on the Civil War as we were.

Our day on the river was blissful:  a nice, long workout in the gym, a leisurely brunch sipping mimosas with our table mates, Jacque and Rick (Thanks, you two, for sharing your bottle!); and, an afternoon of watching the riverbanks pass by.  Steve, the cruise director entertained us that night with a fabulous piano concert of ragtime tunes choreographed to famous old-time silent movies.  The night’s finale?  Bruce jamming with Norman and Jim in the Engine Room Bar.

P1150360.JPG

Our tablemates, Rick and Jacque

P1140989.JPG

Norman, Jim, and Bruce jamming in the Engine Room Bar.  Those are Bruce’s harmonicas on top of the piano.

So, dear readers, on that note (no pun intended), as I reflect on our day “at river,” I end this blog post with some American Queen facts and river trivia:

~ American Queen is 418 feet long, 90 feet wide, and 100 feet tall with the smoke stacks raised.  She draws 8-1/2 feet of water; however, the river is only nine feet deep.

AQ-NewMadrid-MO

~ Speaking of boats, a boat navigates rivers and lakes, and a ship sails upon seas and oceans.  That is the difference between a boat and a ship!

~ American Queen is the largest steamboat in the U.S.A. and was built by Delta Queen Company, in 1995.   She is constructed of steel (rather than wood, a fire hazard) to accommodate overnight passengers—a federal law.  When she was built, it was the first steamboat ever constructed at that shipyard.  It took 550 workers to get the job done, and when she was christened, the ceremony was done with a giant Tabasco Sauce bottle (rather than champagne).  Gotta love that Southern sense of humor!

~ Hornblower Cruises purchased the American Queen in 2012 when the Delta Queen company folded.

~ Her refurbished engine was from the original Delta Queen steamboat, now sitting in a shipyard, due to the fact she was made from wood and not allowed to accommodate overnight passengers.

~ American Queen now boasts a large propeller and modern propulsion system, in edition to its beautiful bright red paddlewheel.

14

~ The pilot house lowers on hydraulics for bridge clearance.

~ The steam-powered calliope entertains us on every port departure, much to the delight of locals watching along the riverbanks—and me!

~ On the upper Mississippi alone, there were 22 locks that dropped a total of 390 feet.  We traveled through many more locks down the river…

P1140342

American Queen’s fabulous staff:

TyroneJames-resized

Tyrone “TJ” James was our favorite.  He always had a big smile on his face, treated the passengers like gold, and made everybody around him happy!

Elaine-Kim-Bruce

Kim made visiting the Front Porch Cafe such an enjoyable experience!

Elaine-Kim

Brian.JPG

Brian, the Front Porch bartender was super!  He liked Mountain Dew, so we picked up some in a few ports as our “thanks” for his great service and friendly personality!

Cassie.JPG

This is Cassie, our friendly (and fabulous!) stateroom attendant!

Kirk

We had a lot of fun with our waiter, Kirk!

Starla-Ashton.JPG

Starla and Ashton (the singing waiter) were a lot of fun, too!

Thorsten&Ky-2

Thorsten was the tallest person on board, and staff member, Ky was probably the shortest man.  They both wanted a photo with each other!

Thorsten&Anamaria-resized

Thorsten and Anna Maria (along with Eva Maria), visiting from Germany, were passengers on board the American Queen

 

Coming up next:  Musical Memphis

 

 

 

 

 

 

PATCHWORK PADUCAH: HOME OF THE NATIONAL QUILT MUSEUM

There are many forms of art and craft that have always fascinated me; however, quilting never captured my interest as much as glass-work or woodwork, my two favorite mediums.  That all changed in 2006, when I saw the most amazing quilts as part of a fiber arts exhibit, at the Southwest School of Art, in San Antonio.  Sometime after that, I heard that Paducah, Kentucky was home of the National Quilt Museum.

Paducah?  This California gal had never heard of Paducah, population +/- 25,000; however, I kept hearing the name over and over, after moving to Georgia.  When Bruce and I noticed Paducah was on the itinerary for our American Queen Steamboat cruise, it piqued our interest, because of the National Quilt Museum.  If the quilts at the exhibit we had attended were that amazing, imagine how incredible they would be at a national museum!

P1140651.JPG

We made the museum our first stop, following the hop on-hop off bus tour of the artsy town that is located on the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, halfway between St. Louis and Nashville.

As soon as we walked into the lobby, we knew this wasn’t just your grandmother’s quilt museum!  There are not enough adjectives to the describe the quilts we saw, and if photography (flash or otherwise) had been permitted, the pictures wouldn’t have done those quilts justice.  Go ahead and check out their website, though; you will be amazed!  Glancing at the current exhibit, you will think those are paintings hanging on the wall.  You can’t possibly imagine the thousands of hours that went into making some of those quilts, obviously labors of love.

I did, however, take pictures (with permission) of the gorgeous stained-glass windows in the lobby and conference room:

P1140607

P1140605

P1140604

P1140606

P1140608

Visiting the National Quilt Museum was not only the highlight of our day in Paducah, but it was one of the highlights of the entire cruise.  Those sentiments were echoed by Bruce as well as several of the other men we spoke with on our cruise.  (Even the men who were dragged to the museum by their wives were enthusiastic about what they saw and happy they went along!)

Aside from the museum, the entire town of Paducah had such a cool, artsy vibe.   As a matter of fact, UNESCO designated Paducah as the world’s seventh City of Crafts and Folk Art, in 2013.  (Santa Fe, New Mexico is the only other American city given such a designation.)

P1140627.JPG

P1140628.JPG

P1140657.JPG

P1140609.JPG

P1140611.JPG

In addition to the artistic feel of the town, great care has been taken to preserve the historic buildings of Paducah.  As a result, twenty blocks of the downtown commercial district have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.P1140621.JPG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1140629P1140618

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

P1140613.JPG

Paducah also did a great job of beautifying their formerly drab flood wall with murals designed and painted by Robert Dafford and his crew.  We enjoyed learning about Paducah’s history through these murals, just as we had done in Cape Girardeau.

P1140632.JPG

P1140647.JPG

P1140646.JPG

P1140645.JPG

P1140643.JPG

P1140639.JPG

P1140633.JPG

P1140649.JPG

P1140648.JPG

P1140631

P1140654.JPG

P1140652.JPG

P1140656.JPG

Walking around downtown was such a pleasure, and we enjoyed seeing the historic (and beautifully maintained!) homes nearby.

American Queen Steamboat Company’s marketing department definitely got it right when they chose Paducah as the meeting point for American Queen and the company’s third riverboat, American Duchess.  On its inaugural river cruise, the brand-new Duchess arrived before sunset and tied up just ahead of our boat.  It was a beautiful evening that couldn’t have been planned any better.  As the passengers from both boats waved, shot photos, and shouted greetings, the Queen welcomed her sparkling new sister with several loud steam-horn blasts and a calliope concert.  It was a travel brochure moment for American Queen’s marketing department, and we were sure the drones that were sent up captured some amazing shots!  We sure had a lot of fun, too!

P1140682.JPG

Although several of the crew and passengers went over to tour the Duchess, we opted to enjoy another fabulous dinner in the dining room, and wait until January to see the new girl in town.  (More to follow next month!)

Until then, here are some scenes from that Kodak moment, reminiscent of when the American Queen, Mississippi Queen, and Delta Queen met up in Paducah in 1996, as was depicted in one of the wall murals (above).

P1140676.JPG

P1140675.JPG

P1140692

P1140660.JPG

Coming up next:  A DAY “AT RIVER”