MBQUEEN200X115Travel Weekly’s Michelle Baran was on the renovated American Queen’s christening cruise. Her third and final dispatch follows. Click to read her first and second dispatches.

“Does anybody have any questions?” asked the woman who heads up the American Queen’s shore excursion program. “Yeah,” said a man in the audience, “Why are we stopping in Henderson?” The crowd guffawed.

It was actually a good question. After a briefing about the American Queen’s hop-on, hop-off shore excursion system (an included program that allows passengers to use the company’s fleet of motorcoaches as a shuttle service, with several stops in each port of call), the shore excursion team talked a bit about our first stop, Henderson, Ky.
Wilderness Lake, John James Audubon State Park
Henderson is known for being the hometown of artist and naturalist John James Audubon. Fittingly, the John James Audubon State Park and Museum were stops on the tour of this small, unassuming town.

Other stops included the depot, the library, Simon’s Shoes (reportedly “the largest collection of shoes in the Midwest), Rite Aid and the Dollar Store. No wonder the port of call received a giggle.

Surely, there was a more enticing stop somewhere between Memphis and Louisville, Ky. What about Evansville, 10 miles up the river and the third-largest city in Indiana?

But after visiting Henderson, it dawned on me that this little town is just as much what heartland cruising is about as the blockbuster stops like Memphis or New Orleans.

Henderson was a really pleasant surprise. The John James Audubon State Park, which envelops the museum and naturalist center of the same name, has some beautiful, scenic and relatively easy hiking trails through the surrounding woods. The greenery is impressive and relaxing and a great escape from the hullabaloo of the riverboat.
Henderson, Kentucky
Henderson was a reminder of what this type of travel is all about. You don’t travel along the river just for the things you’re looking for — must-see highlights on the christening cruise like Graceland or the Great Steamboat Race in Louisville between the American Queen and the Belle of Louisville — you travel along the river to find those beautiful, little things you never even knew were there.

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.

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