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.

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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.

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Our tablemates, Rick and Jacque

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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.

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~ 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.

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~ 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…

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American Queen’s fabulous staff:

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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!

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

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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!

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

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

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

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

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

 

Coming up next:  Musical Memphis

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

MEMORABLE MAIN

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Ahhh, another day of river cruising; a day relax while enjoying the sights of the Bavarian countryside as we meander the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal, the most environmentally friendly canal in the world.  Seven miles per hour is the maximum speed permitted for boats to prevent erosion.

Water quality on the canal is so good that fishing clubs have stocked the canal with fish!  I sure would have enjoyed swimming in it…

The canal connects the Danube to the Main, and it crosses the European watershed.  It is up hill from the Danube to the Main, so the stair-stepped locks are necessary for boat passage.  At the summit, the canal elevation is 406 meters (1,332 feet)!

The locks are 45 feet wide, and riverboats vary between 35-40 feet wide, so that explains why the crew keeps busy re-painting the sides of the riverboats while passengers are off touring at the next city!

Although the canal was built to transport cargo, transporting passengers via riverboat has become all the rage—something that was never predicted!  These days, forty-two percent of the boats on the canal are touring riverboats.

Transiting the canal is quite a bargain.  Compared to the fee cruise ships must pay to transit the Panama Canal (typically $500,000!), the cost for the River Voyager to pass through the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal was only 184 euros.  Not bad!  The fee is per passenger, and transit is on a first come, first served basis.

In our case, we were traveling from the Danube to the Main.  The Main River (pronounced “mine”) is the longest river lying entirely in Germany, and the scenery along the hills rising up from the riverbanks is breathtaking.

Having a day to reflect on our travels and anticipate Wurzburg (as well as Rothenberg for our optional tour) was wonderful!  Although the weather during most of the day was cloudy and rainy at times, we thoroughly enjoyed kicking back in the lounge or out on deck when the weather cooperated.

Sea days—um, make that “river days”—are also a great time to enjoy the ship (or boat) and other passengers.  (I haven’t yet mentioned much about life aboard the River Voyager, because it will be the subject of my final trip blog post; but, suffice it to say for now that it was fabulous.)

On this day, the pastry chef and her assistant worked extra hard preparing an afternoon “tea” for us all to enjoy.  I didn’t see much tea being drunk, but there sure was an enthusiastic crowd around the dessert table!  As if we didn’t get enough to eat aboard ship…  Sheesh.

Count me in as one of the guilty ones having an extra dessert (or two) that day.  Who could resist all that delicious chocolate?

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The lounge, before the desserts and passengers appeared.

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Frosting Flowers

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The main attraction (for me):  CHOCOLATE!

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A popular waterskiing spot this turned out to be!

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Aha!  This is the launch site for the skiers!

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Did you read my post, “Lots of Locks!”?  This was another of the numerous locks along the Rhine-Main-Danube Canal.  See those windows in front of us?  They appear in the photo below.

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Cheers!

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On to the next lock we go!

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At another lock, we had a VERY close call.  Due to the high water levels from the rains, the upper deck was closed for several days while cruising through the locks.  All of the eqt. was lowered to reduce the height of the boat; however, we were all holding our breath at this point.  Once it was sure we were clear, the look of relief by this crew member was priceless.  He flashed a HUGE smile!

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Whewww!!!

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The river was so narrow at times that we hardly needed to use telephoto lengths for shooting photography.

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Sun at last!

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After dinner, we enjoyed the sunset from in back of the Cotton Club Cafe while cruising through yet another lock.  Meanwhile, some of the passengers were watching the European Soccer Championships on the large screen TV inside.

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This riverboat (above) pulled in so close behind us (to fit into the lock) that these two crew members had a great view of our boat’s TV!  When I asked if they were watching the soccer game, we got a cheery thumbs-up!

Check back for my next post on  our optional tour to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (from Wurzburg).

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!

All Aboard…

… as the American Queen sets sail along the southernmost area of the Mississippi River.  My mom and I will be aboard the 432 passenger paddlewheel, on March 24, after spending one night in Memphis, Tennessee.

Longer than a football field and six decks high, The American Queen is the largest riverboat in the world.  She is a beauty, complete with gingerbread trim, fluted stacks, and a giant red paddlewheel giving her an old-fashioned appeal, even though she was built in 1995 and refurbished last year.

As a (former) California girl who feels right at home in the northwest or northeast areas of our country, living aboard the American Queen for one week will be as foreign to me as I felt observing a Balinese cremation ceremony and walking the old city streets of Casablanca.  I live in a house with rattan furniture, handicrafts from my world travels, and fused art glass.  The American Queen, in contrast, will be like stepping back in time to “Gone with the Wind”.

This is precisely the motivation for booking passage aboard the American Queen steamboat:  Experiencing something completely different and not expecting it to be like home.  There is nothing more frustrating to me when I travel than hearing other Americans whine and complain about how, “At home, in the U.S.A., the food is (fill in the blank), and the hotels are (fill in the blank), and the service is (fill in the blank).”  BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!  What I wish to tell those people, at that point is, “Well, then, you should have stayed home!”

Traveling, to me, is all about stepping outside of my comfort zone and trying new things.  Not that an American Queen cruise is exactly roughing it.  But, to me, the Deep South is like being in a foreign country; not unlike the experience of living in Texas, when we lived there for four years.  Culturally, the people of Texas and Griffin, Georgia, where we have lived for the past four years, are more culturally different from Californians than many of the foreign countries I spent a lot of time in, including Australia and New Zealand.

It’s all good!  I absolutely love the experience of living and traveling in new and different places.  Ever since I spent one year traveling the South Pacific, solo, with my backpack, I have craved new adventures.  Whether it be trying exotic foods, traveling to experience different cultures or moving from the 7th largest city to a town of 23,000; I have been up for it all.

So, on Saturday, I leave my casually and comfortably furnished home (and healthy food… and swim training…) for an ornately decorated steamboat and good ol’ southern cooking.

All aboard!

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