The theme of our cruise was “The Great Riverboat Race,” but the race theme was carried out in a few of the other stops as well.  In Louisville, we toured Churchill Downs (horse racing), and that evening, a group went to the NASCAR races (car racing).  In Maysville (detailed in a future blog post), the American Duchess staff had arranged a 3K run/walk race for the passengers.

Cincinnati was the location for the Great Riverboat Race originally scheduled to be between the American Duchess and Belle of Cincinnati.  As it turned out, however, a third boat entered the race:  American Queen Steamboat Company’s American Queen, the boat Bruce and I cruised on in 2017 for the three-week “Mighty Mississippi” trip.  That wasn’t in the original plan, because the American Queen wasn’t supposed to be in Cincinnati.  Due to the very high water levels on the Mississippi River, however, the ‘Queen had to drastically alter their cruise route.  Not only would they be changing stops, but they also had to divert to an entirely new end destination.  What a mess!  I can only imagine the chaos of having over 400 passengers disappointed and/or angry.  But, what could the ‘Queen do?  Even with the smoke stacks down and the pilot house lowered, the boat couldn’t clear some of the bridges.  Besides, the passenger contract clearly states that the cruise line isn’t responsible for diversions due to situations like this.  Still, the company wanted to keep their passengers happy, so it did all they could to cheer them up.

For one thing, they tied the ‘Queen up alongside the American Duchess for the earlier part of their Cincinnati stay, and then they entered the race, among other perks.



The company’s owner, John Waggoner, and his wife, Claudette, were on the ‘Duchess for the afternoon, so we got some of the scoop while watching the race together on the top deck.  When one of the passengers asked why the ‘Queen’s passengers all had matching t-shirts, Mr. Waggoner explained to her that he thought it would be a nice thing to do since their cruise itinerary was completely rerouted.  (Keep this in mind as I tell you about the race…)


John Waggoner, CEO of American Queen Steamboat Company is interviewed by a local TV station about the upcoming race.


We were supposed to have a pre-race champagne party up on that top deck; however, just as the corks popped and the band was about to play, a rain squall chased us back downstairs.  Fortunately, the canopies were quickly broken down and the band equipment was hauled back downstairs to spare any damage.

It was also fortunate that the skies cleared just in time for the race.  Along with the ‘Queen and Belle of Cincinnati, the crews untied the lines, and we all lined up at the bridge.  To the sound of (very loud!) horns, RACE ON!


Now, keep in mind that after cruising on the ‘Duchess once before and having been traveling on her for several days already on this cruise, Bruce and I were familiar with just how fast the boat could travel—and, how fast the paddlewheel could turn.

These facts, together with the plight of the ‘Queen’s staff (dealing with disappointed and/or angry passengers), all come into play when I speculate on the reasons behind the outcome of the race.

Oh yeah, and did I mention that the Great Riverboat Race has a history of shenanigans?  Just read that linked article, and you will see what I mean!

According to the ‘Duchess crew, she is the fastest of the three boats and theoretically should win any race between those other two boats.  Having said that, you would think that to be especially true if the ‘Duchess cheated.  Which she did.  First, she got off to an uncharacteristically pokey start (on purpose; see previous photo), and then, before the designated turning point, she turned early, slowed, and then blocked the Belle’ from passing her.  At least, that’s how it looked to all of us on deck!


We had already turned (early!) and were headed back to the bridge.



This allowed the ‘Queen to pass both of us.  Then, when we lagged behind, Bruce and I headed aft to take a look at the paddlewheel.  It’s rate of revolutions had mysteriously slowed.  Considerably.  At least, that’s how it appeared to us…

The Belle’ is a smaller boat, and she didn’t stand a chance against the larger and more powerful ‘Queen.  Besides, she was loaded down with a bunch of tourists who had paid to experience the race from ground-zero.


The Belle’ passes us.


The Belle’ had been blocked by the ‘Duchess, so she was unable to catch up to the ‘Queen.


American Queen wins!  (Gee, what a surprise…)

So, dear readers, these are my questions that will never get answered (unless the Waggoners decide to fess-up):

  1. Did all three captains get together and hatch this plan, pre-race?
  2. Did the ‘Duchess and ‘Queen captains devise the plan to cheat the Belle’?
  3. Did John Waggoner order the plan between the ‘Duchess and ‘Queen, because it strategically made more sense to please 400+ passengers over the 132 on the ‘Duchess? (After all, they needed some cheering up!)
  4. Was our captain just up to no good and cheated without telling anybody ahead of time?  (Check out this link.)
  5. Does any of this really matter anyway?

By the reaction of some of the passengers (including one who rudely insulted Mr. Waggoner behind his back by complaining to the Shore Excursions Manager while I was talking with her), you would think this was the Kentucky Derby with money at stake!  Come on, folks, this was all in GOOD FUN!

And, fun it was!  Bruce and I had a blast watching the spectacle, especially at the race start when we were alongside the ‘Queen, and their cruise director was talking smack about us over his very loud microphone.  It was a hoot!

We also enjoyed meeting the Waggoners, the nicest couple you could ever meet!  I had previously written to John, letting him know how much we enjoyed our experience on the ‘Queen.  He wrote a wonderful personal message back, rather than a form letter.  Now, THAT’S how you do business!


Claudette was very personable, and I enjoyed our conversations throughout the day.  I gave her my card, so she could read my blog posts, and she sent me the sweetest e-mail!  If you are reading this, Claudette, thanks!

The entire day was a blast, and definitely the highlight of the trip!

The following are scenes from earlier in the day in Cincinnati.  As you can see, the weather was all over the board!



We couldn’t wait to go over to the American Queen and look for our favorite crew, Tyrone James (“TJ”).  We got to know him during our Mighty Mississippi cruise, and we became buddies!


We walked into town and enjoyed what we discovered! What a clever way to disguise a parking garage!  The same with the one below.





After walking around downtown, we hopped on American Duchess’s hop-on, hop-off bus for a tour around the city.  We hopped back off at Newport on the Levee, across the river from downtown.  It was a nice walk across this bridge back to the boat.






Ha!  I loved the sense of humor of this artist!  This was playground eqt. that kids could climb on and make the pig fly!  This was located at the beautiful park along the river, in front of Cincinnati Reds’s stadium.


This is the world’s largest foot organ, and Bruce played it.  It was built by Cincinnati’s Verdin Company, the maker of bronze bells, street clocks, tower clocks, and carillons.


We got a kick out of this dog biting at the water, while his buddy looked on.  Meanwhile, The Reds’s mascot hangs out on the park bench.




Welcome aboard American Queen Steamboat Company’s second paddlewheel riverboat, the 223-passenger (and 83 crew) American Empress.  She’s a beauty with her traditional black smoke stacks, red paddlewheel, ornate trim, and beautiful décor.



Having been on the grand dame of the fleet, American Queen, and the newest addition, the upscale boutique hotel inspired American Duchess, we were curious to spend a week aboard the four-year-old American Empress and get a feel for their Washington-based riverboat.

What makes this boat different from the others is that all of the staterooms are outside with balconies/ verandas.  Although our stateroom was located on the walking deck, and the veranda wasn’t as private as the balconies on the other decks, I loved having easy accessibility to get quickly around the boat when I wanted to check out the view from all angles for photography.  It was also convenient for my deck walks (8-1/2 laps equaled a mile), since there wasn’t a gym available.


As always when we cruise, we selected the least-expensive cabin, since we don’t need the extra space or spend much time inside our room.  At 150 square feet, it was the same size as most inside cruise ship cabins, and it was appointed with a mini refrigerator, coffemaker, flat-screen TV, desk, safe, and plenty of closet space.  A nice touch was the addition of a nice pair of binoculars.



Just a short walk down the hall from us was the River Grill, the casual dining option for breakfast and lunch buffets, or reservation-only dinners.  Although we didn’t dine there for dinner, we enjoyed all of our breakfasts and lunches either on the deck outside of the River Grill, or just inside with great views looking out.  When the weather was nice, they would open the doors, so you could enjoy the comfortable temperatures inside, but still feel like you were dining alfresco.




What made the convenient location dangerous for our waistlines was the 24-hour soft serve ice cream machine (with several toppings) and cookies.  (Thankfully, I did so much walking during the week that I didn’t gain any weight!)

The other dining option, the Astoria Dining Room was fabulous for dinner.  Although we had second seating (7:45 PM), it wasn’t assigned seating, so you could choose to dine alone or share a table with other passengers.  The dining room was never full for the later seating, because first seating was more in demand.  The River Grill was also a popular option, so it took the pressure off the dining room.  As a result, dining was relaxed, the service was excellent, the food was delicious, and we weren’t rushed out of the dining room at the end of the evening.  Baja, the Maitre D’ also made sure the wine was always flowing.



The highlight of our dining experience was being invited to have dinner with Captain Andrea Mickelson.  As it turned out, my previous three cruises (two with Bruce and one I took my mother on) totaled more cruising days with the company than any other passenger, so that is why we were invited!

We were quite impressed with the captain’s eight-year rise in the ranks from housekeeper to earning her USCG Captains license in 2002.  She has been on the rivers ever since, and her passion is evident.  Thanks to Baja seating me next to Captain Andrea, I was able to ask her a lot of questions and get to know her a bit.


Baja, along with Adam (bartender/ cocktail waiter), Evan (waiter), and Gail (Excursions Manager), were all working aboard the American Duchess when we were on in January, so it was fun seeing them again and getting to know them better.  Adam remembered the dates we would be on, because it was his birthday during our cruise, and Baja scheduled us in his phone; so, we had a very warm welcome from them both on the first day!


Adam, Evan, and Baja with Bruce

In between the show and dinner, and then again after dinner each evening, we made our way to the Paddlewheel Lounge to hear Frank play piano and sing.  What a hoot!  His quirky sense of humor added even more enjoyment to his wonderful singing and phenomenal piano playing.  He had us thoroughly entertained!  And, when he wasn’t playing, we enjoyed the great views of the scenery out the side windows and the turning red paddlewheel out the back.  Off to the side, there was a small library with comfortable couches, and four computers to access the free WiFi.



In the show lounge, Lawrence gave informative lectures during the day (We particularly enjoyed his two-part talk on Lewis & Clark).  At night, there were excellent shows featuring various combinations of the four talented staff singers accompanied by a fabulous four-piece band.  Sammi and Daniel were so much fun and friendly, and they seemed to truly enjoy performing together.  Greg (Cruise Director), and his wife, Lindy (Hotel Manager) reminded us so much of husband and wife team, Max and Darcy, the cruise director and assistant cruise director/ entertainers aboard the American Duchess.  Not only did they all remember our names after the first time we met, but they were very personable, friendly, and amazingly talented.  “Lindy on a High Note” was Lindy’s fantastic cabaret, which highlighted her operatic training while singing selections from Broadway musicals.  Greg followed up with his own one-man show of Broadway musicals, complete with on-stage costume/character changes for each one.  From Fiddler on the Roof to Don Quixote to Phantom of the Opera, we were totally captivated by his versatility and talent!


Lawrence, the Riverlorian



Daniel and Sammi


Sammi and Daniel got Bruce up to join them as a “Pip” for a Glady’s Knight & The Pips tune!


Lindy and Me with my prize for being the most-traveled Steamboat Society member on this cruise

The dining and entertainment on all three boats is truly top-notch quality, and the best we have experienced on the water, including the many ocean cruises we worked on as Arts & Crafts instructors with two major mid-level cruise lines.

What makes American Queen Steamboat Company’s cruises unique, though, is the included hop on-hop off buses that follow the boat throughout the itinerary.  They make frequent stops at several of each town’s highlight attractions, and admission to those attractions are included as well.  (Check out this blog post for more about the buses.)


Premium excursions are also available, and we scheduled our first one for this cruise.  (More on that in a later post.)

The most enjoyable aspect of each cruise we have taken with American Queen Steamboat Company, however, has been the staff, from the captain all the way down to our stateroom attendant.  As personable and friendly as they are, it appears as if they wisely hire for personality and train the skills needed to perform the job.  The company also does a great job promoting from within.  Lindy was originally hired as an entertainer when the American Empress first started; however, she was asked by the owner of the company, John Waggoner, to become Hotel Manager.  After initial protest by Lindy (I’m not a hotel manager; I’m an entertainer!), she agreed under the condition that she would still be able to perform her cabaret.  Mr. Waggoner agreed, and she now pulls double duty and seems very happy.


Bruce & Olivia, our stateroom attendant


Sean had to sit out all day checking people in and off the boat, so he kept himself (and the passengers) entertained solving his collection of Rubik’s Cubes.  He was fast!




The best part of the dance party was the crew getting to join us!


Romano “Roro” was a hoot!  That’s him in the previous picture (white shirt) kickin’ up his heels at the dance party.  He wowed us with his splits and other fancy dance moves!

The staff also goes out of their way to make sure their guests are happy and having a good time.  I witnessed one man at the River Grill looking at the selection of ice cream toppings and asking where the nuts were.  Edward, the River Grill chef promised he would get some for him the next day.  Sure enough, the following morning, we watched Edward pour out a bag of mixed bar nuts on his workstation, so he could pick out the peanuts for this passenger’s ice cream.  Then, he spent his work break going into town to buy a can of peanuts to keep this passenger happy the remainder of the cruise!  That’s going above and beyond, don’t you think?

Knowing I liked the chocolate chip cookies, Evan surprised me one night at dinner with a wrapped plate of the treats to take back to our cabin.  I hadn’t asked for them, but he thought to do it anyway.


In addition to seating me next to the captain, Baja brought us out lobster tails on the last night of the cruise, because he knew how much we had enjoyed them the night before.

It is all of these reasons that we will continue cruising with American Queen Steamboat Company.  We already have one booked for next summer!