Michelle Baran
Michelle Baran

For decades, the Mississippi River has offered up a charmingly old-fashioned form of river cruising, and that old-time feel of paddlewheel-powered travel has always been a critical component of its allure. But as U.S. river cruising continues to benefit from a healthy growth in popularity, a new generation of Mississippi riverboats stands to modernize the Mississippi River experience in new and unique ways.

One of the most interesting innovations on the Mississippi is also coming from one of the most classic U.S. river lines, the American Queen Steamboat Company, which earlier this week unveiled additional specifics about a series of loft suites that will be featured on the company's forthcoming Mississippi River vessel, the all-suite American Duchess.

The American Queen Steamboat Company made a name for itself buying up older paddlewheelers the American Queen and American Empress, sprucing them up and making them shine again, but hewing very close to the ships' earlier incarnations. With this latest project, the company is bringing contemporary concepts to the Duchess, a former gaming vessel, most notably the four, 550-square-foot, bi-level accommodations.

Initial renderings of the loft suites are reminiscent of something one might see on a high-end ocean line, not on a Mississippi River vessel.

The news comes on the heels of the news earlier this year that a new U.S. river cruise company, French America Line, purchased the former Columbia Queen and is transforming it into a luxury 150-passenger ship for the Mississippi, the Louisiane.

A rendering of the French-style bistro on the Louisiane.
A rendering of the French-style bistro on the Louisiane.

The Louisiane, too, is bringing a fresh take to the Mississippi. The French-themed vessel features fancy European touches: a French-style bistro and Laduree macarons and Vosges chocolates to be served to guests. There is also a full-service spa offering massages, body treatments and nail and hair services.

Add to the mix Viking River Cruises, which is still planning to expand to the U.S. (the line now says 2018) with a version of those sleek Viking Longships it has launched in Europe, and what we have is a U.S. river cruise market fueled by growing competition and resulting in more ambitious vessels.

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