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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.