A TOUR OF THE AMAZING AMERICAN DUCHESS

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My previous post included a sneak-peek of the American Duchess; however, I wanted to provide a more detailed look at American Queen Steamboat Company’s newest riverboat and her fabulous crew.

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Created from a 1995 hull, this 340 foot-long paddlewheeler features four decks and employs 80 American crew to run the boat and manage its 80 suites—the first all-suite paddlewheeler to cruise U.S. rivers.  The maximum passengers she will sail with is only 166, so the crew-to-passenger ratio is quite high.

Our cruise was sold out; however, the boat never felt crowded at any time, even in the show lounge where there were always plenty of seats.  (There were 165 seats available, including the chairs that line each wall.)

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One of the reasons there was always so much space to roam was the fact that the suites range in size from 180 square feet (for an interior cabin like ours) to 550 square feet for a two-story loft suite featuring 19-foot ceilings.  Those suites (and the Owner’s Suite) had their own “River Butler” to spoil them rotten, so I’m guessing those passengers spent a lot of time in their cabins!

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Our 180 sq. ft. interior cabin.

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There was a refrigerator on the right side of the desk and a coffee maker.  Once the luggage was unpacked, it fit nicely under the bed. leaving plenty of space in the walk-in(!) closet.

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The toilet was located just to the left, and the walk-in shower with a rain shower head was behind me when I shot this photo.

For those passengers who had the “Commodore Services” included with their suite and had a butler, he was available for them throughout the ship.  We saw him everywhere, and he made sure his passengers knew it.  Have you heard of helicopter parents?  Well, he was a helicopter butler.

Although the décor of the boat wasn’t to my taste, the abundance of blown and fused glass artwork was.  Bruce and I absolutely loved it, especially since Bruce is a glass artist (www.CookedGlassCreations.Etsy.com), and glass is our favorite art medium.

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The American Duchess had a modern boutique hotel feel to it, rather than a traditional riverboat ambiance.  In all honesty, we preferred the 1800’s motif of the American Queen, built and decorated to replicate the paddlewheelers of their heyday.

Most notably, the Duchess lacks a promenade deck, a must for open air enjoyment of the views, especially for a sunset stroll.  Of course, Winter Storm Inga didn’t allow for much of that; however, I would have sorely missed a promenade deck had the weather been better.  (The Duchess does have a large sun deck; however, it just doesn’t have the appeal of the top deck space on the American Queen.)

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Sadly, the Duchess also lacked a calliope, a charming feature I enjoyed so much on the American Queen.

The most impressive area of the Duchess was the bar, dining room, and stairs leading up to the Lincoln Library.

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The windows on each side looked down into the dining room.

The dining room layout was similar to the American Queen in that it had tall ceilings on each side with a lower ceiling in the center.  Without a doubt, the dining room on the Duchess was nicer, though, because even though the boat was sold out (like it was when we were on the Queen), there was much more room in between the tables.  In addition, there was only one seating; however, you could be seated any time within the open hours (5:30 – 8:00 PM for dinner) and dine either alone or with others.  There was no assigned seating, and they accepted reservations for parties of six or more.

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Since the American Queen Steamboat Company has an executive chef who creates the menus for all three of their boats, the menus were similar to what we enjoyed on the Queen, and the food was similar—fabulous on both boats.  The service on the Duchess was better, though, and much more relaxed.  (By the way, we had the same Maitre D’ on both cruises!  Oscar boarded the Duchess the same day we did.)

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Chef Jeff had a sense of humor, too!  Check out the comment about the cookies.

The desserts (at least the chocolate ones!) were better on the Duchess, though.  Rachel did a great job!  I especially liked the creative little birthday dessert that was left in my cabin along with a card.  I also received an incredible piece of chocolate ganache cake in the dining room for dessert!

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Rachel, in the galley.

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The galley is larger and better equipped than on the American Queen, a 414 passenger boat!

In addition to the dining room, the River Club and Terrace was a more casual option for meals.  Breakfast and lunch were buffets, whereas dinners were table service.  We enjoyed a lobster tail there on our first night aboard, when we joined the other Steamboat Society of America members (repeat cruisers with the company) for an invitation-only dinner.

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The final option for food was in Perks, a little café with a self-serve cappuccino machine, juice dispenser, popcorn maker, and windows to sit and watch the river.  Those were all well and good; however, it was the fresh-baked chocolate chunk cookies I was after.  Yeah, there were other varieties, too, but it was always extra special when I could nab my favorite!  (In the morning, they had pastries, and fresh fruit was always available.)

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Entertainment included “Riverlorian” talks during the day, as well as the usual bingo, Name That Tune, trivia, etc.  What we enjoyed the most, however, were the lounge shows each evening.  Max (also the cruise director), his wife, Darcy, and Matt were three talented and personable singers who performed each night backed by a top-notch band.  We had a few chats with Scott, the bass player, and it turned out we new several of the same San Diego-based jazz musicians!

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Matt and Max

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Max, Darcy, and Mike (Riverlorian, Lights, Sound)

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Me and Darcy on my birthday

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Me, Max, Darcy, and Bruce

By far, the best feature of the American Duchess was its crew, from the captain on down.  They bent over backwards to make every passengers’ experience a memorable one—especially when we were hit with snow and temperatures that averaged twenty degrees below normal.  The day after the blizzard, Captain Joe McKey was out on the River Club Terrace scraping snow off the deck and cleaning things up.  (Yes, you read that right; the captain!)  In the dining room, Executive Chef Jeff Warner constantly came out to the “front of the house” (in restaurant speak) to help serve or pick up plates.  He was very personable and made sure all his passengers were happy.  Read the book Waiter Rant, and you will soon learn that is not typical.  I know, because I worked in the restaurant/ hospitality business for several years, most notably at the University Club in San Diego for my last seven years. Unless it was to take a bow at an event or receive kudos from a requesting club member, the chef never left his comfortable domain of the kitchen.

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One thing that brought a smile to my face one late evening in the Lincoln Library was seeing one of the bartenders playing Monopoly with a young passenger who had nobody her age to pal around with on board.  At another table, the Riverlorian was playing a card game with some other passengers.  Whether that was permitted by the hotel manager or not, I don’t know; but, I sure hope they didn’t get reprimanded.  As a matter of fact, I hope they will be encouraged in the future to do more of the same!  It is an example of the congenial atmosphere that is evident between the crew and passengers, and it was, in a word, special.  I hope they always keep the magic they have created.

American Queen Steamboat Company has a winning formula down to every detail.  The success they have had and the awards they have won are well-deserved.  It is my hope they can sustain it and never cut back or cut anything out like what has happened with several of the large cruise ship lines.  Ask any of the long-time cruisers with Princess Cruises or Royal Caribbean Cruise Line what I mean, and they will tell you.  As a former guest lecturer with both companies, I speak from experience.  When you start cutting back, people notice, and you will lose your most loyal customers.  More importantly, word gets around.  American Queen Steamboat Company, you have a great thing going.  May it always stay that way!

For additional pictures, check out my album here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

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

BY THE NUMBERS: 3,700 MILES, 10 STATES, 5 WEEKS, 4 RIVERS, and 1 HECK OF A GOOD TIME!

Two years ago, I blogged along the way throughout our seven-week road trip and enjoyed every bit of it.  Rather than being a chore, I took delight in spending many evenings in our hotel rooms editing pictures and writing about our adventures.  While I kept busy on my little netbook computer, Bruce intently studied maps and read up on each place we visited.  It was a wonderful way to reflect on the day and look forward to days ahead.

This time, after giving it a lot of thought, I decided to wait until the end of our trip to start writing.  Sure, I took many notes along the way during quiet moments, but I resisted the urge to post to my blog, knowing I wouldn’t be able to keep up as our travels progressed.

Besides, as time goes by, and I hear crazy stories, I am less inclined to announce to the World Wide Web that we are going away for five weeks.  My last name appears in a couple of newspaper and magazine articles on this blog, so it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to find my house.  Blogging in real time would be like posting a note on the front door that reads, “Welcome!  We’re not home; step right in and help yourself!”, even if we do live in a gated active 55+ community with vigilant neighbors!

Having returned on September 4, the mail has been read, bills have been paid, laundry has been washed, our Etsy shop (www.CookedGlassCreations.Etsy.com) has been restocked, and more!  We even prepared for (and experienced) tropical storm winds and rain as ugly Irma ripped through town on 9/11.

Posts will be spotty as Bruce and I get our fall/holiday craft show circuit underway and life gets busier again, but I’m ready to roll.  Write on!

Rather than saving my “By the Numbers…” post for the end of the series as a wrap-up, I’ll give a hint as to what’s to come as these blog posts progress:

3,700 Miles:  1,400+ by rental car, and 2,300+ by steamboat paddle wheeler

10 States:  Many of them repeats; however, four of them (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Missouri) were new.  My grand total so far = 39 states traveled.

5 Weeks:  August 1st – September 4th, 2017

4 Rivers:  Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee

1 Heck of a Good Time:  Read future posts to hear about the best of it!

 

Coming up next:  Minneapolis, Minnehaha, Minnesota– That’s a Lot of Water!

 

OUR RETURN TO CHOCAL

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The early evening light cast a beautiful golden glow on the shores of Puerto Plata, and our arrival to Amber Cove was magical.  After enjoying the sail into port from the aft deck, we took in the views of the cove from our balcony, as we got ready to head to the dining room for another delicious dinner.  That night, I was getting so excited to see our amigos and amigas at Chocal the following morning that it was difficult to get good sleep.

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Sunrise behind Amber Cove

After breakfast, we grabbed the box of ear plugs and stack of photo notecards I made for everybody and eagerly hiked out to the buses.  Leurys from IDDI (Dominican Institute for Integral Development) spotted us immediately and greeted both of us with a big hug and “thank you”.  Back in January, she had admired the fused glass earrings I had been wearing, and since Bruce had made them, it was easy enough to give her an identical pair.  Bruce offered to send her some as a gift; however, we were unsure of the mail service; so, I sent them along with a friend of mine who sailed on Fathom’s Adonia, in February.

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When we arrived to Altamira (“high view”), our bus load of volunteers started out working at the cacao plantation.  “Hola, Gumarcindo!  Que lo que?!  (What’s up?)”  As soon as he heard my voice, Gumarcindo turned around and greeted me and Bruce with a huge smile, hug, and a fist bump for Bruce.  (It’s a guy thing, I guess…)  The surprised look on his face was priceless when we gave him the photo card I had made from the picture I had shot last January.  He was so appreciative!

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It was time to get to work, though, and our group hustled filling 266 bags of dirt, and then passed them down the assembly line to receive cacao seeds.  In two months, they will look like the ones we planted in January.  It was great to see how our “babies” were doing!

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Bruce leads off the “bucket brigade”

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Our “babies” from january!

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Cacao pod and seeds.  The membrane surrounding the seeds is delicious!  Suck the membrane off the seed, but don’t bite, because the seed itself is very bitter!

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Cacao seeds drying in the sun

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Not only did Gumarcindo remember us, but Wilmers, Steven, and the bus driver, Milagras did, too.  Instead of going off with the group to tour the fermenting area (which we had seen during our last visit), I stayed back to talk with the guys.

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Diosiris, Wilmers, Steven, and Gumarcindo

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Gumarcindo and Raymond

When our time was up at the nursery, we headed over to the factory to sort beans and nibs, mold chocolate, and wrap chocolate bars.  Again, our enthusiastic greetings of “Hola!  Que lo que?” were met with big, wide-eyed smiles, and hugs.  It was nice to be remembered!  We also were so happy to see how much everybody appreciated the photo cards.  One of the ladies even went to get paper towels and carefully wrapped hers up, and then held onto it tight.  (She at least let us get another photo with her and the card first!)

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Bruce and I join Mamita

They had so much fun looking at each other’s cards and laughing at the pictures!  We may not have been able to communicate too much using words with each other; but, a smile is a smile in any language, and those ladies were all smiles!

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Augustina

After passing out the cards, my next order of business before getting down to work was to give the co-op’s president, Susan, the yellow 3M ear plugs.  As one of the other IDDI facilitators translated, I explained the importance of using ear plugs to save their hearing. I then demonstrated how to properly insert them and use the “pillow pouch” for storage afterward.  By keeping the ear plugs clean and storing them in the pouch, they would last a lot longer.

I promised Susan and Naomi (the V.P.), that if the factory workers used the ear plugs regularly, I would send more.  There is no mail service to Altamira, so I would send them to the IDDI office, and the facilitators would deliver them to Chocal.

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Bruce, Christopher, Naomi (VP), Susan “Luz” (President), and Rafael

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After distributing the cards and ear plugs, Bruce and I finally did manage to get some work done.  The best part, though, was getting to taste the spicy hot chocolate and warm molding chocolate again.  Ahhh, it was so good to be back!

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Milagros (factory manager) & Bruce

This time, when we said, “Adios!” to everybody at the end of our last day, we wondered if it would be forever.  Would we ever be back?  Never say never…

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My amigo, Steven

Next up:  HABLA INGLES?  TEACHING ENGLISH IN THE DR

COLORS OF GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

The path to Gatlinburg Craftsmen’s Fair in Tennessee  from our home in Georgia is through gorgeous Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  One of the reasons we enjoy participating as vendors at the fair is so we can enjoy the park during our free time before and after the show.

You never know what you’re going to see.  In July, 2015, we came across “Lawrence Elk,” but we didn’t have such luck this past July.

Now that we are doing the fall show as well, we expected to see black bears, wild turkeys, and fall colors.  Bruce was in luck seeing a bear, we both saw several turkeys; and, best of all, we had the pleasure of enjoying the array of autumn colors of the leaves during the drive home.

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See some of Bruce’s art glass at http://www.CookedGlassCreations.Etsy.com 

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