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

THE “M’S” HAVE IT! MINNEHAHA (HA-HA!) FALLS, MINNEAPOLIS, AND MALL OF AMERICA

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According to the results of my Google search, Minnehaha is a fictional Native American woman documented in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1855 epic poem, “The Song of Hiawatha”. She is the lover of the titular protagonist Hiawatha and comes to a tragic end. The name, often said to mean “laughing water”, literally translates to “waterfall” or “rapid water” in Dakota.

The name does make you chuckle, don’t ya think?

Minnehaha Regional Park, where the 53-foot falls are the star attraction, is one of the most popular sites in Minneapolis and was highest on our list to visit.  Walking/hiking and travel photography are our “thing”, and there were plenty of opportunities for both.  Besides, the park is also home of Sea Salt Eatery, a popular casual seafood restaurant reputed (on Trip Advisor) to have tasty fish tacos.  The great outdoors and delicious food; what a perfect combo!

The Metro Transit train stop was just across the street from the park, and the falls were located a short walk through lovely gardens, once we entered the park.

We arrived before the restaurant opened, so enjoying the gardens and watching the falls was a great way to pass the time before the restaurant line started forming.  (The lines get long, so we wanted to get ahead of the rush.)

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The fish tacos?  As tasty as the reviews stated, and dining alfresco was a lovely way to enjoy our brunch along with the hypnotic sound of the rushing water over the falls.

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Fueled up, we were ready to rumble, and hike along Minnehaha Creek (which flows over the Minnehaha Falls) to see where it met the Mississippi River.  The scenery along the creek was beautiful, and it was interesting to see the confluence—the perfect fishing spot for this fly fisherman:

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Taking a different path back and going the (unintended) long way back to the station gave us the opportunity to see more of this 167-acre park.

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The remainder of the afternoon was spent walking the city and checking out two sports stadiums—homes of the Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins—both located in downtown Minneapolis.  The glass building of the football stadium made for some fun photography!

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“The times they are a changing.” This is Bob Dylan, then and now.

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The following day was a cold and rainy one, so we planned everything just right for our Minneapolis visit!  The first day was spent all outdoors, and our second one indoors.  We took the train out to the University of Minnesota to see my friends compete at U.S. Masters Swimming Nationals.  The weather at Minnehaha Falls couldn’t have been better, so we didn’t mind having a rainy day where we had planned on spending it indoors, anyway.

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Georgia Masters Teammates: Malena, Marianne, and Ed

It was great seeing a few of my teammates, but I was most excited to see our friends from Oregon, Allen and Carol.  “King Frog” (as I have called him since he broke the 200 Meter Breaststroke World Record in his age group) has been my breaststroke mentor on the U.S. Masters Swimming Discussion Forums, since I joined USMS in 2010.  We (and our spouses) became friends and look forward to seeing each other at national competitions.  (We even met up at the FINA World Masters Swimming Championships in Montreal, in 2014!  King Frog broke a World Record then, too.)

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“King Frog (Allen) & Carol

After lunch with King Frog and Carol, we took the train out to Mall of America.  Shopping wasn’t the draw (we don’t particularly enjoy it); however, the spectacle of it all was what we were curious to see.

The mall completely surrounds an amusement park, and I managed to find plenty of photo ops. at the rides and throughout the mall.  The massive Lego sculptures were especially must-photograph features, as was the irresistible Crayola Crayon store where the colors on display were so cheerful.

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Coming up next:  HITTIN’ THE ROAD TO WISCONSIN