BUMMING AROUND BURLINGTON

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I liked the historic feel of Burlington, which was quite different from where I grew up in Southern California.  Several of the downtown Burlington buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places, and it was great to see the care taken to preserve these old buildings.

Take the Capitol Theater, for example.  Dating back to 1937, the 700-seat theater had been closed since 1977; however, a foundation of passionate citizens was formed to raise the money needed to restore the theater back to its 1937 splendor– with some modern additions.  Such painstaking care was taken in the restoration that the new seats and carpet were reproduced to look like the originals, and a boatload of money was spent to restore the marquee to exactly as it looked in its heyday.

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We took a guided tour, one of the included attractions for the day.  I especially liked the art deco-style lighting throughout the theater, and the old projector was a classic!

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The hop on-hop off bus also made stops at the top of Heritage Hill, a beautiful neighborhood of lovely old homes and Snake Alley.

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Constructed in 1894, Snake Alley was once known as the crookedest alley in the world.  It was built to create a short cut from the top of the hill to the business district below.  Needing to accommodate horses, the mode of transportation at the time, the bricks were tilted higher on the upper edges, making it easier for the horse’s hooves to catch on the raised edge making the ascent easier and the descent a lot safer.

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We didn’t have access to a horse, so we hoofed the 275 feet of Snake Alley carefully on foot to the street below.

While bumming around Burlington, we had a quick look at St. Paul’s Catholic Church:

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In all, it was a pleasant little historic city of 25,000-26,000 people, and we enjoyed having a look around.

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It was another beautiful sail-away highlighted by an entertaining calliope concert!

 

 

 

 

 

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A typical river barge on the Mississippi River

 

Coming up next:  HANGIN’ IN HANNIBAL

GALAVANTING OFF TO GALENA

It’s the busiest time of year for Cooked Glass Creations, so the long delay since my last post was due to Bruce and I galavanting off to craft shows here, there, and everywhere!

A short break from the action (while Bruce builds his stock back up) allows me to squeeze in another post:

The American Queen paddled us down the Missississippi River from La Crosse to Dubuque, Iowa, our next port on the journey.  Having visited the area during a previous trip with my best friend, Laura, her step-brother, and his wife; I had a plan:  Rent a car and visit Galena, where the four of us had thoroughly enjoyed our day.

The shore excursion office offered a premium excursion to Galena; however, after some quick research and calculations, I figured it was a LOT less expensive (and more fun!) to rent a car for a few hours from Enterprise Rent-A-Car and go on our own.

We asked our table mates if they wanted to join us, so after a quick look at Dubuque aboard the hop-on-hop-off bus (included with the cruise), a friendly Enterprise rep. picked the four of us up and took us back to the office to sign the paperwork.  (The rep. who brought us back was also friendly and a fun guy to chat with during the drive back to the boat.  I’ve had nothing but good experiences with Enterprise folks, so I concur with Consumer Reports and recommend them for your car rental needs!)

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This shot was snapped through the bus window in Dubuque.

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Another shot through the bus window of an interesting mural.

Galena, Illinois, located across the Mississippi from Dubuque, was a pleasant 25-minute drive, and well worth the visit.  Bruce, Jacque, and Rick enjoyed strolling through the historic district as much as I thought they would, and it was nice to visit the quaint town (population less than 3,500), once again.

Unfortunately, it was a gloomy day, so my photos aren’t nearly as nice as the ones I posted in my first blog about Galena.

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Now, somebody up there has an interesting sense of humor!  I wonder how many tourists look up and wonder about THAT!

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We enjoyed a tasty “flight” of root beer here:

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Our boat, back in Dubuque

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Jacque and Rick seemed to enjoy the calliope concert during the sail-away as much as we did!

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Goodbye, Dubuque!

Next stop on the cruise:  QUAD CITIES

 

 

LOVELY LA CROSSE

On August 16, 2017, the American Queen arrived in La Crosse, Wisconsin’s largest city on its western border.  Historically known for its lumber and brewery industries, La Crosse has become a regional technology and medical hub, thanks to the numerous educational institutions and health systems in the city.  Not only is La Crosse home to a University of Wisconsin campus, Viterbo University and Western Technical College are also located in this city of under 53,000 people!  No wonder why La Crosse has received high rankings for education.  Gundersen and Mayo Clinic health systems are also located in La Crosse, so the city also ranks high for health, well-being, and quality of life.  That’s a lot of greatness for such a relatively small city!

We chose to make the Dahl Auto Museum the first hop-off visit of the day on the bus route.  Ranked 4-1/2 of 5 on Trip Advisor, we were not alone in our assessment that this was a worthwhile attraction in La Crosse!

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My, how times have changed since I was born!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a couple of other stops in the city, we enjoyed a walk along the Mississippi River from the riverboat to the lovely Riverside International Friendship Gardens.  La Crosse has sister cities in China, Germany, France, Russia, Norway and Ireland; and, this collection of themed gardens celebrates those relationships.  I like their motto: “Riverside International Friendship Gardens will be a place of beauty reflecting our appreciation for the diverse cultures that share the earth.”

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Onward ho to Dubuque, Iowa!  Bon Voyage!

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One of my favorite times of the was during the short calliope concert during each sail away.

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This was one of the many locks we encountered along the Mississippi.

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Another tasty seafood dinner…

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… and delicious dessert!

Coming up next:  GALAVANTING OFF TO GALENA

 

A RELAXING DAY IN RED WING

One of the enjoyable aspects of cruising aboard a riverboat is the easy access and close proximity of each town on the itinerary.  In most of the ports we visited, it was a short walk to town from the boat.  Many of the attractions were close by, and for the highlights not within walking distance, the (complimentary) hop-on-hop-off buses got us to where we needed to go quickly and efficiently.

The evening before each port, we stopped by the kiosk located at the purser’s desk and selected the time we wanted to hop on the bus for the narrated circuit of town.  Forty tickets were available for each time slot (on the hour, quarter hour, and half hour).  Select the desired time and quantity of tickets, and your tickets would immediately print out for the taking.

The following morning, we would board the bus at our designated time, and off we would go.  If we arrived early, and there were still available seats on an earlier bus, we could take that bus instead.  It was an efficient system, because it avoided unwanted line-ups and waiting.

Once in town, tickets weren’t needed.  If there were seats available on the bus when it stopped at one of the several available locations on the circuit, you could hop on for a ride.  There was never a problem catching a ride; the buses were never full.

Most of the time, we would ride the circuit once to listen to the narration and learn about the town.  Once we had gone round-trip, we would plan out our day from there.

Red Wing was one of those towns located adjacent to the river, so it was a very short walk into town.  We did hop on the bus, though, because the Pottery Museum of Red Wing was one of the attractions located outside of the historic town center.

According to their website, The Pottery Museum of Red Wing is dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich and colorful story of Red Wing’s clay industry. More than 6,000 vintage pieces of artisan-crafted stoneware, art pottery, dinnerware and folk art bring the story of historic Red Wing to life in dozens of dynamic exhibits covering 13,000 square feet.”

 The museum had a group of excellent docents, and we were fascinated by the history of the pottery they had on display.

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Red Wing, Minnesota, a small town of less than 17,000, is also known for their handcrafted work boots of the same name, a company that has been in existence since 1905.  These giant painted boot sculptures around town were a humorous reminder of the company that made the town’s name recognizable to us two native Californians:

The historic downtown was an attractive little area to walk around, especially this quaint little park located across from the St. James Hotel:

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We also made sure to stop by Red Wing Confectionery to pick up a couple of treats and compliment them on the cute steamboat chocolates that were waiting on our bed for us when we returned to our cabin the previous evening:

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As we sailed away from Red Wing during the late afternoon, we were fortunate to catch a glimpse of some bald eagles.  This one was photographed from quite a distance using telephoto, and then cropping the photo.  Due to the fact we were moving when the picture was taken, it isn’t sharp.  Still, l thought it was worth including:

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The sail away was the beginning of our 2,300-mile, 21-day journey down the Mississippi, and we were excited to be in on the adventure!

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Meanwhile, on board, I had a humorous encounter with another passenger as I stepped into the hallway from my cabin.  A man stopped one of the cabin attendants in the hallway, and in a jovial, teasing manner, asked her why all the passengers on this deck had cabins with pretty names on the doors, while he was stuck on a floor with cabins named after presidents.  He lamented, “I’m in the ‘Polk’ cabin, and ‘Filmore’ is next door—two of the worst presidents in history!”

I was listening in on him teasing this poor gal, so I took a flyer and snapped back, “At least you aren’t in a cabin named after Trump!”  Now, that could have gone either way.  At that very moment, I either made an enemy, or made a friend.

Fortunately (for me, because he was a big guy with a gruff-looking expression), that brought a smile to his face!  After a bit of commiseration about the current state of national affairs, we introduced ourselves and exchanged typical passenger-to-passenger questions, such as, “Where are you from?”  The thing is, every time I asked Rick a question, and he replied, I felt as if our pasts had mirrored each other—and, his wife’s, too!

As it turns out, Rick and Jacque currently live about four miles from where Bruce and I had lived during our last fifteen years in San Diego County.  Then, I learned they were both from my native home town of Long Beach (and neighboring, Lakewood), California!  Rick graduated from a rival high school, while Jacque was a Lakewood Lancer, like me!  Go Lancers!!  Jacque and I also attended Long Beach City College; however, the two of them graduated from Long Beach State University, while Bruce and I were San Diego State University graduates.  Jacque worked at San Diego State University, though, and they are basketball and football season ticket holders.  Go Aztecs!!

Since we had a twenty-year age difference, we didn’t know each other back then; however, it still felt like a small world.

When I met Jacque at the show that evening, she greeted me with a big hug and, “Go Lancers!”  She couldn’t wait to text her group of friends who were also Lancers and have stayed friends over all these years.

As it turned out, the four of us were able to arrange a table together in the dining room, and we were table mates for the length of the cruise.  Lucky for us, we really hit it off, and they were the best table mates we have ever had!

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Coming up next:  LOVELY LA CROSSE

http://www.potterymuseumredwing.org/

 

ROLLIN’ ON THE RIVER ON THE AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT

Following our ten-day road trip around Wisconsin, we met up with the other American Queen Steamboat passengers for a night at the Radisson Blu hotel at Mall of America, near Minneapolis.  After getting registered and settled in, I took advantage of the hotel’s pool for a swim workout (such as it is in a small hotel pool), as Bruce relaxed poolside.  Not being shoppers, we opted to spend the evening at the mall getting a good walk in and a casual dinner at an Asian noodle restaurant, before returning to our room.

The next morning, we got to know some of our fellow passengers during the buffet breakfast.  They were from California, as were approximately ten percent of the sold-out ship’s 400 passengers.  Another ten percent were from either Australia or New Zealand where the seasons are reversed, and they were escaping their cold winter.  Since this was the only longer vacation (23 days) offered by the cruise line during the year, it attracted travelers from afar who wouldn’t be inclined to fly such a long distance for a 7-day cruise.  This made for an interesting mix of passengers, several of whom we had fun getting to know during our weeks aboard the paddle wheel boat.

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Boat?  It’s not a ship?  No.  Ships sail the oceans, and boats, like the American Queen Steamboat, sail the rivers—just one of the things we learned from Bobby, the “Riverlorian” who presented lecturers throughout the journey.

Our home away from home for the following 21 nights, was a paddle wheel steamboat built in 1995, recently renovated, and beautifully maintained.  Step aboard, and you feel like you have been transported in time back to the 1890’s.  Other than the Front Porch Café and the outside decks, the ship has been decorated to bring you back to that era when steamboats were a common site on the rivers.

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We were transported from our hotel to the American Queen by a bus wrapped to look like the American Queen on wheels.  The company has a fleet of these matching buses that mostly serve as hop-on/hop-off buses at each port.  In the early evening, the buses caravan to the next port where the drivers stay the night at a hotel.  One evening, while enjoying the view from the top deck, we saw all five buses in a line crossing the bridge over the river—cool!

In the morning, the buses are lined up dockside, ready to transport the boat’s passengers around town, arriving at each stop every 15 minutes or so.  Local docents hop aboard each bus during the busy morning hours to provide running commentary, and then disembark at Noon.  As the afternoon winds down, the buses make their rounds at each stop every 30 minutes while each driver takes their break for lunch at the Front Porch Café or their local favorite haunt.

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The Front Porch Cafe offered buffets at each meal for a casual alternative to the dining room, as well as 24 hr. access to non-alcoholic drinks, soft serve ice cream (with toppings), fresh-baked cookies, and popcorn.

The drivers were terrific, especially Al, my favorite back in 2013 when my mom and I rode his bus frequently.  It was great to see he was still with the company!

Our cruise began in Red Wing, Minnesota where we were dropped off to embark the American Queen.  We stayed there overnight, so we had plenty of time to settle in our cabin, tour the boat, and still enjoy the town the following day.  (More about that in my next post.)

I was so pleased to see that Bruce was just as impressed with the boat as I had been when I boarded the American Queen the first time.  Although I had emphasized the small cabin size ahead of time, he even commented on how much space we had for storage!  (We had space left over after unpacking our suitcase filled with clothes for our 5-week trip AND our business supplies for our Etsy business at www.CookedGlassCreations.Etsy.com !).

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We had the cabin next door to this one; however, we had already started unpacking before I remembered to get a picture!  (The storage and door were located along the wall behind me.)

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Our stateroom attendant, Cassie, was such a sweetheart!

The food, entertainment, and friendliness of the staff was just as impressive to Bruce, and I was happy it was just as good as I had remembered it to be from my first cruise on the American Queen.

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The menus changed daily.

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Here are the crab cakes I ordered from the menu above.  YUM!

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These scallops were AMAZING!

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So was this lobster!

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During lunch in the dining room, we had a choice of ordering off the menu or enjoying the lunch buffet.

Stories about our experience on board (and more photos!) will be included in future posts, so for now, I will leave you with some photos taken aboard the American Queen.

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The Engine Room Bar was situated directly above the engine room (pictured below).  See those round windows?  We would watch the paddle wheel turning while listening to the music.  On each end of the night club, there were doors leading out to outdoor seating with a view of the paddle wheel.  More stories to follow about the band– and Bruce!

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Next up:  A RELAXING DAY IN RED WING

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNEHAHA, MINNESOTA—THAT’S A LOT OF WATER!

“Minn” in the Dakota language means “water”, and there’s plenty of it in Minnesota—more than 10,000 lakes!

How did we end up in Minnesota, anyway?  It all started from two separate paths that met up perfectly in Minneapolis.  U.S. Masters Swimming Summer Nationals was scheduled for early August, 2017, and it’s a state we had never been to during our travels.  I had also missed the National Senior Games when it was held previously at the very same pool, so I thought it would be a great opportunity.

Meanwhile, I had been telling Bruce over the past four years how great the American Steamboat Company’s “American Queen” was when I took my mom on a paddle wheel cruise down the Mississippi, from Memphis to New Orleans.  It was an experience I thought he would like very much.

One day last year, Bruce greeted me at the door holding the new American Queen Steamboat Company brochure, exclaiming, “I found a cruise for us!”  I figured he had finally decided he wanted to try one of their one-week cruises from Memphis.  Instead, he picked out their 23-day re-positioning river cruise that paddles down the Mississippi from Red Wing, Minnesota to New Orleans!

It just so happened that cruise was scheduled for one week after Nationals, and he had a plan.  (I sometimes wonder what’s rolling around in his head when he takes breaks from his glass work, kicks back on the bed, and stares at the ceiling…)  “How about if you swim at Nationals, and then we’ll rent a car and do a road trip around northern Wisconsin?  We can return the car back in Minneapolis, and then we’ll take the cruise?” he asked.

Adding up the days, this plan amounted to five weeks of travel—piece of cake for me, but not so much for Bruce.  “Are you sure you want to be away for THAT long?” I asked.  “We did a seven-week road trip two years ago, didn’t we?”  Yeah, good point.  “What about your Etsy business?”  I asked.  “We’ll take it with us!” he replied.

Fifteen minutes later, I was on the phone and the cruise was booked.  (By booking immediately before the early-booking deadline, we saved $3,000 and were able to get one of the lowest-priced cabins that book up quickly.)

Fast forward to May of this year, the swimming part of the plan started to unravel (as you may have read in my July 8 post).  Due to injuries, I didn’t know whether I would be able to compete at Nationals after all.  The entry deadline was prior to my open water swim, and I wouldn’t have time to prepare for my usual competitive events.  (There’s a big difference between swimming the 200 Meter Butterfly or Breaststroke in a Nationals competition and a 1K freestyle fun race in a lake.  Others may argue with me on this point, but I’ll take the 1K as the easier-on-the-body-and-mind event.)

The deadline came, and I knew I wouldn’t be ready to compete at Nationals, so I let it pass.  We decided to go anyway, see (and cheer on) our friends, and stick with our travel plans.

We arrived in Minnesota on August 1 and took their excellent Metro Transit train downtown to our hotel.  The afternoon was spent taking a long walk down to the river and across the bridge for lunch, and then back downtown.

Here are some scenes from our first day in Minneapolis:

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Downtown Minneapolis

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Across the bridge from downtown Minneapolis

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Minneapolis has a thriving foodie food truck scene!

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Next up:  The M’s have it!  Minnehaha (Ha-ha!) Falls, Minneapolis, and Mall of America

 

 

 

 

 

The American Queen Experience: “A” for Excellent!

How would I rate our overall experience aboard the American Queen? In one word: Excellent!

One of my favorite things about this cruise was the friendly and efficient hop-on/hop-off bus service at each port. American Queen Steamboat Company owns four tour buses that look like our ship on wheels; very cute! And, they are driven by four of the friendliest and helpful bus drivers I have ever met. The buses followed us the entire way, driving on to the next port while we cruised during the night. The drivers would stay at hotels and meet us the next morning.

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Abe and Mark, pictured below, were my favorite staff members of all the AQ staff I encountered.
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The bus system was very efficient. The night before our port, we could pick up color-coded boarding passes that were in 15 minute increments. And, the wheels on our designated bus would roll at exactly that time. This arrangement meant not having to wait in any lines- nice!

We were also given maps with the stops labeled, including attractions that we could visit that were pre-paid by the ship. Other points of interest were also labeled, as well as banks, pharmacies, and our bus stops. It was so easy and efficient, making it very relaxing and stress-free at each port. The buses would even do final sweeps around the circuit if people were missing at the designated all-aboard time. Nobody was ever left behind.

At sail away from each port, the captain would blow the steam whistle, followed by the pianist playing a calliope concert on the aft deck.

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During one of the concerts, I noticed one of the steam pipes wasn’t working too well, so an otherwise perfectly sounding song medley was punctuated with weak/sour notes every once in a while. It was good for a lot of laughs from everybody on deck! And, there was something quite charming about that experience that I will always remember.

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Another advantage of being on a riverboat rather than a huge cruise ship is the opportunity to learn about how the boat works. The engine room was open for viewing and there was always somebody available to answer questions. They even had an information sheet explaining how it all worked.

The Riverlorian also conducted tours of the pilot house each day, so we learned about the navigational system, as well.

The entertainment on board was also terrific. The staff orchestra and singers produced cruise ship quality shows and the guest entertainers were wonderful. We heard a jug band from Louisville, Kentucky, as well as a Blues Brothers tribute band and a New Orleans jazz band. It was a great variety of good ol’ Southern music. And, we especially enjoyed one of those shows by bringing our complimentary bottle of Champagne with us.

So, what about that good ol’ Southern cooking? Fabulous! Our waiter was quite good about explaining the dishes in detail and making recommendations; all which were spot-on. But, I really couldn’t imagine anything being bad, because it all looked and tasted so good! Even the assortment of rolls at dinner was too good to pass up; especially the pretzel rolls. And, don’t even get me started on dessert…

I will include a picture of one of our dinner menus, but you will need to click on it to see it enlarged. It’s worth a read; it will make your mouth water…

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The service was friendly and efficient; especially the complimentary wine service. Those gals came around with wine constantly, so our glasses were never allowed to run dry. In my opinion, the dining room experience was a cut above most of the cruise ships I had previously sailed on.

Overall, the staff on board the American Queen was very friendly and accommodating. It was a nice surprise, given the fact it is an all-American staff that works 14-15 hour days; something most Americans are not used to doing.

Would I recommend the American Queen to my family and friends? Most definitely!

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On our final day of the cruise, the American Queen tied up in front of Houmas House; a beautiful mansion that is open for tours.

At one time, the land was a huge sugar plantation that dates back to the Houmas Native Americans. The current mansion got its start when Revolutionary War Hero General Wade Hampton bought the property in 1810. The mansion was finished in 1828 and eventually became the hub for a sugar empire of more than 300,000 acres.

In 1857, the property was purchased for $1 million by Irishman John Burnside who grew the plantation to become the country’s biggest sugar producer. Fortunately for him and his property, Burnside was British and claimed immunity as a British citizen, so the mansion was spared from being burnt down during the Civil War.

A century later, in 1963, the Bette Davis film “Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte” was filmed on site after the building was fully restored.

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Currently, Houmas House is the home of Kevin Kelly and open to the public for tours. During the tour, we were even taken through his personal bedroom, as well as the neighboring bedroom/office. It was quite a non sequitur to walk into another room with beautiful period furniture, but also see a laptop computer on the antique desk next to piles of paperwork!

Here are a few photos of the house, beginning with the front hall wall mural:

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The gardens were beautifully maintained:

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Strolling the Decks of the American Queen

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Every time I walk the decks of this beautiful ship, I am in awe. The American Queen is the largest steamboat in the world, as well as the most maneuverable one, according to Jerry, our Riverlorian who conducted a tour of the pilot house for me and a small group of passengers.

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“Riverlorian”? Yes! On board, Jerry is our river historian lecturer who is an expert at everything Mississippi River. Our “lecture” yesterday was not a lecture at all, though. Instead, Jerry told stories about the river and his experiences aboard steamboats over the years. What a hoot!

I had never traveled aboard a steamboat before, but it was love at first sight when we set sail on the Mississippi. I thoroughly enjoy strolling back and forth on the decks, exploring every detail; especially when I have my camera in hand. It is so picturesque and fun to explore photographically!

So, take a stroll along with me and explore the American Queen.

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Aboard the American Queen

Step aboard the American Queen and it feels like stepping back in time to the days of “Gone with the Wind”. Although it was built in 1995, no detail was left out and no shortcuts taken to make this feel like an 1800’s era steamboat. She’s a beauty.

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We were greeted by a friendly all-American staff, as we embarked and made our way to our cozy inside cabin; a much more affordable option than the outside cabins with a view. Since we don’t spend a lot of time in our cabin, the interior option is just fine with us.

Our cabin is small, but we found it quite well designed to accommodate us comfortably with all of our belongings. I still have spare space in my drawers and on the shelves, so it doesn’t feel cramped at all. Since the beds are on risers, the suitcases stow easily under our beds, which, by the way, are very comfy! Between the pillow-top mattress and deluxe linens, sleeping is a dream.


Check out our bathroom; much roomier than a cruise ship bathroom for sure! The shower is quite large and there is plenty of space for our toiletries. The toiletries American Queen provides are full-sized and quite nice, though, so we really didn’t even need to bring our own. And, the towels are plush!

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American Queen Steamboat Company really adds a lot of nice touches. Between the complimentary bottle of French champagne greeting us when we embarked and delicious Memphis chocolates left on our pillow each night, we feel spoiled. And, the complimentary wine served with dinner has been quite good.

At the “Front Porch”; the casual dining option located down the hall from our cabin, there are fresh baked cookies available 24/7, as well as a self-serve ice cream sundae bar, popcorn, and an espresso machine that has just about any hot drink you would like, including real hot chocolate; the type made with steamed milk, rather than hot water. They even have flavors available in pump bottles to add to your coffee drinks.  If cold drinks are your preference, ice tea, lemonade and juices are always available. And, if you’re hungry, the breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets offer a delicious variety of food.

Enjoy your treats inside with terrific views of the river or wander out on deck to a table, swing or rocking chair. It’s a relaxing, casual option to the formal dining in the beautiful dining room.

Throughout the ship are beautiful orchid arrangements that looked so perfect, I had to touch them to be sure they were real. And, the furnishings are beautiful and comfortable. My favorites, though, are the stained glass lamps in the library, as well as the oval-shaped stained glass windows at surrounding the dining room, just below the ceiling.

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The ambiance aboard ship is so different than home; just what I had hoped for during our 640 mile trip down the Mississippi. And, with the 50 mph winds we experienced during our first night aboard ship, it truly felt like we were Gone with the Wind.