Travel Weekly's Michelle Baran was on the renovated American Queen's christening cruise. Her second dispatch follows. Click to read Michelle's first dispatch.
As we pulled away from the Beale Street Landing in Memphis, we not only said goodbye to the hopping homeport town, but to the last time we would step on land for two days as we headed toward Henderson, Ky.
The ensuing two sailing days gave me and the other passengers onboard the 436-passenger American Queen plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with the paddlewheeler's ins and outs -- where to go for the best wireless connection (word on the street was the Mark Twain Gallery), preferred hangouts (the River Grill at sunset!), and whether the brisket at the River Grill was better than the brisket in the J.M. White Dining Room (the answer is yes).
The experience onboard the American Queen seemed like a hybrid between much larger ocean vessels and much smaller river vessels. There are two dining venues onboard -- the main J.M. White Dining Room and the River Grill, an outdoor venue on the fifth deck that serves a casual lunch and dinner, a new concept for this incarnation of the vessel.
Its menu is a work in progress, according to the chef de cuisine Regina Charboneau. The enclosed patio and outdoor area at the bow of the ship, called the Fr
ont Porch of America, has self-service coffee, juices and snacks throughout the day, and there is an afternoon tea service with sweet and savory treats in the Ladies Lounge (worth doing at least once, or maybe every day).
A Sunday jazz brunch served up some of the most impressive food of the trip and will be a regular offering onboard.
The big hits -- the crab cake Benedict and shrimp and grits at brunch, the brisket at the River Grill and the fried green tomatoes and beignets in the dining room -- were memorable. The misses, such as the River Grill burgers, were easily forgotten.
Being well-fed wasn't going to be an issue. So, what about what to do while onboard?
Well, each day there is an extensive program of lectures and performances in the Grand Saloon theatre. During the day, that included everything from talks about river culture and history provided by "riverlorians" (experts on the Mississippi River System) to bingo and other audience-participation games.
By early evening, live music acts struck up in the two bars. In the Grand Saloon, musicians churned out big band and country music, and there were performances by a Mark Twain impersonator. The entertainers were well selected for the venue, and the audience seemed to enjoy the shows.
After hours, the Engine Room Bar was the place to be, with its portholes that display the American Queen's impressive, large red paddlewheel. Here, live piano, banjo and singing kept the crowd going until as late as 2 a.m.
For the health conscious, there is a modest fitness center onboard with two treadmills, an elliptical machine and a weight and strength-training machine.
There is an equally modest pool on the sun deck, with a smattering of lounge chairs nearby for those who want to sunbathe. Note: This pool is for dipping, not doing laps.
There are also spa and salon services available.
While some cabins have private balconies, there are more than enough public balconies on which passengers can lounge, read or relax while watching the passing scenery.
After two days rolling along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, I concluded that there is a lot or very little to do onboard the American Queen, depending on passengers' interests. Either way, passengers would be remiss to not bring a good book or two for those inevitable downtimes during sailing days.
Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.