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.
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.
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.
~ 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.
~ 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…
American Queen’s fabulous staff:
Coming up next: Musical Memphis