NEW ORLEANS --
From the Calliope Bar aboard the American Queen blared the New
Orleans-born spiritual, When The Saints Go Marching In.
It was signaling
those of us on the deck that the paddle wheeler was pulling away
from the Robin Street Wharf, carrying its passengers on a
three-night cruise up the Mississippi.
Oh Lord I
want to be in that number ...
We passengers had
been picking up steam since the first of us began boarding at noon.
Along with other revelers, I stood on the top deck and cheered as
the captain maneuvered the boat into the middle of the
As the American
Queen turned and headed north, the calliope pumped out a medley of
Dixieland tunes, accompanied by the steady churning of the boats
bright red paddle wheel.
The Delta Queen
Steamboat Co. calls this, the American Queens route, the uncruise
because its fairly far removed from the rest of New Orleans
Many of the
majors (Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean International) base
their ships right here on the Mississippi, on the Crescent Citys
But those ships
are heading down river, into the Gulf and international waters. The
American Queen is heading north, straight into the
When the air
is pure and clean ... oh Lord I want to be in that number, when the
air is pure and clean.
experiences offer as hearty a slice of Americana as a steamboat
have the rare opportunity to see what river travel was like more
than a century ago.
Between 1850 and
1880, more than 10,000 paddle-wheel steamers plied the Mississippi
and other major U.S. waterways.
Mississippi remains vital to the nations economic well-being. Its
still a major artery for the transport of cargo on barges, tankers
and a variety of vessels of every size and
One of the simple
pleasures aboard a steamboat is to relax in a deck chair and
observe the nonstop parade of traffic up and down the
Noted in the
Guinness Book of World Records as the largest steamboat ever built,
the American Queen boasts twin smokestacks 100 feet high and
resembles a lavishly decorated wedding cake with two enormous
This year marks
the 10th anniversary of its debut as the third member of the
steamboat companys fleet, and like its sisters, the American Queen
was constructed in a U.S. shipyard and is manned by a U.S. staff
When the sun
begins to shine ... oh Lord I want to be in that number, when the
sun begins to shine.
most passengers on the three Delta Queen steamboats have been older
couples, and seniors still make up the majority of passengers on
seven-day cruises on the Delta Queen and the Mississippi
But the American
Queens shorter itinerary and reasonably priced cruises combined
with the lure of a pre- or post-cruise New Orleans stay is
attracting a younger clientele, according to a company
numbers of passengers are booking American Queens weeklong
Riverboat Adventure package, which includes a stay in New Orleans
(see accompanying story below).
passenger mix on this cruise ranged from seniors and 50-somethings
to couples in their 30s and 40s, some traveling with children, some
without, plus a few honeymooners and multigeneration
Dining at my
table was a recently married couple from Dallas in their mid-30s; a
middle-age couple from Spokane, Wash.; a senior, single woman from
New York; and a father-and-son pair from Pascagoula,
Queen has broadened its selection of onboard activities to appeal
to a younger clientele.
popular on this cruise was the Saturday afternoon Fun in the Sun
deck party, where passengers feasted on barbecued ribs and
bratwurst washed down with ice cold beer (soft drinks for the kids)
to the accompaniment of contemporary and Dixieland jazz.
There are the
traditional indoor cruise activities, like bingo and trivia
contests, but you also can make and fly your own kite from the sun
Music plays a big
role in the American Queens entertainment lineup. There are
sing-alongs in the Engine Room Bar led by songstress Jackie
Bankston, and pianist Phil Westbrook entertains in the Captains Bar
and the Calliope Bar. (Its Westbrook who gives the rousing calliope
salute at every departure from port.)
Stage shows are
performed twice nightly in the Grand Saloon theater by a troupe of
singers, dancers and musicians.
includes a musical tribute to the Mississippi entitled Take Me to
the River, a spirited New Orleans-style Mardi Gras with audience
participation and Yesterday, a retrospective of Beatles
Queen doesnt have a casino or a spa, and onboard recreation is
limited to a tiny, poorly equipped gym, a mini-size swimming pool
and a couple of Ping-Pong tables and shuffleboard
Those who crave
exercise can walk around the promenade or borrow one of the boats
bicycles (at no charge) during port calls.
When we all
have food to eat ... oh Lord I want to be in that number, when we
all have food to eat.
Although far from
gourmet, meals feature tasty steamboat cuisine, with a plentiful
selection of Southern and other American specialties. Dinner menus
list four appetizers, two salads and five entrees along with four
preferred starters are fried green tomatoes and shrimp, and sweet
potato bisque. Entrees include seafood gumbo, blackened redfish,
filet mignon and breast of roast duck. Meals conclude with New
Orleans bread pudding topped with hot bourbon sauce and Mississippi
Dinner is served
at assigned seatings (5:15 p.m. and 8 p.m.) in the J.B. White
dining room, which also hosts open seating for breakfast and lunch. A continental breakfast is
available every morning at the Front Porch (inside and outside),
and a light lunch buffet is offered daily in the Grand Saloon.
Come and join
me in my journey cause its time that we begin ...
Queens three-night cruise calls at two ports on the Lower
Mississippi -- Vacherie and Baton Rouge.
in both ports evoke the feel and flavor of Cajun
At Vacherie, I
joined the Cajun Swamp Tour, which provided a glimpse of daily life
on the Louisiana bayous and backwaters.
In Baton Rouge,
the Art on the Front Porch motorcoach tour visits rural towns where
passengers meet and observe local artists at work.
include visits to 19th century plantations and a stop at the
Louisiana State Prison in Angola, where the Angola Prison Rodeo is
put on for the public by inmates and staff every Sunday in
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to t[email protected].