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Cruise Ship Information
The largest steamboat ever built, the grand American Queen is a gracious and elegant triumph of American ingenuity. Although filled with today's modern amenities, her rooms and accommodations display all the opulence of the American Victorian era. Glistening woodwork, fresh flowers and antiques adorn her interior spaces. Outside, lacy filigree evokes memories of the many stately river steamers that preceded her and so inspired her designers. While on board, you can select a volume from the vast collection in the Mark Twain Gallery, the boat's library. Or enjoy a sing-along in the Main Deck Lounge, and then tap your toes to a lavish show in the two-deck-tall Grand Saloon, the most elegant showplace on the river. Combining the best of the old and the new, this beautiful lady of the river epitomizes the grace and grandeur that has made Steamboating a cherished American tradition for more than two centuries. One voyage and you'll see why.
Atmosphere onboard  
No need to worry about getting lost on American Queen; despite its 418-foot length, the boat is easy to traverse, and the many staircases on its outside decks make it a snap to get around. Let's retire the word "ornate" here -- just about every public space on the vessel is steeped in rich Victorian flourishes.
 
Most days start in the center of the boat on Deck 2, home to the Purser's Lobby, which centers on an intricately carved staircase leading down to the J.M. White Dining Room and the Grand Saloon. A massive chandelier hangs above the stairs, its light providing an ethereal glow on the cherubs painted on the ceiling above. You can get information on shore excursions in the lobby or pore over trinkets in the American Queen gift shop. (If you're onboard when chef Regina Charboneau is trawling the decks, buy her cookbook, and ask her to sign it -- she's a peach.)
 
Just beyond the Purser's Lobby are American Queen's most over-the-top spaces. The sprawling Mark Twain Gallery is a plush, jam-packed living room of sorts that serves as the vessel's main meeting area. Comfy leather chairs, couches, tables, steamboat models, birdcages, bookshelves, a piano ... you name it, you'll find it. We saw a lot of card games going on down there. It's also one of the best spots to tap into the boat's free Wi-Fi, and there's a cappuccino machine to keep the pulse racing.
 
Just beyond the Mark Twain Gallery are two of the boat's most intriguing rooms. Even though American Queen was built in 1996, designers adhered to the sexist ways of yore to keep things authentic. Hence, there's the unisex Gentleman's Card Room, a super-comfortable space with high-backed leather chairs, a giant fish mounted on the wall and, of course, a game table. Behind the table on the wall in the photo is "Killer," the remains of a wild boar that was allegedly slain when it strayed into the paddlewheel of the now-scuttled Mississippi Queen riverboat.
 
And if the men get their own space, then the woman should as well, right? The Ladies' Parlor, which likewise is open to anyone who ventures inside, is another Victorian-era ode to excess, though with more potted plants and flowers, a lighter color scheme, and a "swooning couch" and seats by the windowsill. Like its counterpart across the hall, it's an ideal spot for reading, Web-browsing and watching the world float by.
 
Nab one of the best seats in the house on the covered Front Porch of America, a lovely alfresco area on Deck 3. It's furnished with rocking chairs and hanging swings, all the better to enjoy the breeze off the bow. Here's a tip: go at night, and you'll have it almost to yourself. The view of tiny towns twinkling in the distance with the moon beaming overhead is breathtaking.
 
True mariners will want to check out the Chart Room on Deck 4, just above the Front Porch. There are shelves full of books and, naturally, charts. It's also a good place to sit back and chill. If you want some fresh air, head just out the door and grab a rocker.
 
Travelers with mobility issues can use the bank of elevators midship. From our observations, few people seemed to have trouble getting around the boat, and the staff were quick to assist. One persistent difficulty, however, is getting on and off the boat. We saw more than a few people struggle with the bobbing, slanted gangway that provides access to ports. In addition, there are often hills to climb once you get off the boat because towns on the rivers are elevated to protect from flooding. Fortunately, staff run around in golf carts (stored onboard when the ship is cruising) to aid passengers in port.
 
While there's no dedicated Internet cafe onboard, there is one computer for the passengers in the Mark Twain Gallery that is particularly useful for printing out airline boarding passes near the end of the cruise. The free Wi-Fi is generally accessible shipwide. (Beware that both Internet and phone service can be spotty when the boat is sauntering up a river in the middle of nowhere, despite the company's efforts to improve it.) There are also several washers and dryers located around the ship for light loads on long trips; you can use them for free, and soap is provided. There is no dry-cleaning service.
 
There are no medical facilities, but the boat is rarely far from shoreside treatment, and trained first responders are always onboard.
 
Food & Dining 
Company executives have been saying it all along: American Queen's food is what people will be talking about when they get off the boat. To that end, they brought in famed Southern chef Regina Charboneau to serve as the vessel's cuisine director, and her stamp is all over the place.
 
The sumptuous J.M. White Dining Room on Deck 1 serves as ground zero for all meals. It's essentially divided into three parts: two long, sunny atriums with tall windows, chandeliers and 8-foot palms are divided by a less impressive, darker seating area with a low ceiling. (The Twain Gallery is on the deck directly above, and it has windows that provide a glimpse of diners noshing in the two high-ceilinged spaces.) Linens are crisp and spotless, while flatware is heavy and ornate. Seating ranges from two-tops by the windows and square tables seating four to round tables that seat six and eight.
 
Dinner seatings are at 5:30 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.; they include a multicourse menu of Charboneau recipes, including lobster stuffed with crabmeat, mock turtle soup and lamb chops with tomato-mint marmalade. Comfort food is on offer, too, including meatloaf, brisket of beef and fried chicken. Dinner includes free (and free-flowing) wine and beer; soft drinks are free throughout the boat. Seating is open at breakfast and lunch.
 
Desserts are standout attractions and include the Natchez beignet filled with vanilla ice cream and warm praline sauce, fig bread pudding with caramelized sugar sauce and a classic chocolate layer cake with creme anglaise.
 
Lunch, with a la carte and buffet options, is typically served in the dining room from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Expect a carving station, vegetables and Southern staples like etouffee on the buffet. You'll find menu items like a smoked catfish BLT, quail and mushroom salad, a salmon salad with bacon molasses vinaigrette and a fried oyster salad. The chef has created a number of dishes that reflect the boat's destinations. For instance, baked ham with Coca-Cola sauce pays homage to Vicksburg, Mississippi, where Coca-Cola was first bottled. Top it all off with a selection of cheesecake, cakes and pies.
 
Likewise, ask for the short-but-amazing menu at breakfast, which is served from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. While the buffet offerings (including creamy grits, steel-cut oatmeal, a fresh waffle station and myriad fruit options) are top-notch, you'll regret it if you don't try Charboneau's beignets and Andouille (sausage) hash. For our money, her Bananas Foster Stuffed French Toast is one of the best desserts we've ever had for breakfast.
 
The Sunday Jazz Brunch (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), which is also in the dining room, has quickly become an American Queen favorite, with the ship's band playing throughout the meal. The standout fare is the roast pig, a 75-pounder on our cruise, that'll be looking up at you when you approach the room. If that's not to your liking, check out the shrimp and grits, smoked fish or the catfish and jalapeno sauce. Tip: This is the only time you'll get to sample Charboneau's famous butter biscuits, so take advantage of it.
 
For a more relaxed meal, head to the cheery inside portion of Deck 3's Front Porch of America. (See "Public Spaces" below for more information on the outside.) There are serve-yourself eats available at breakfast (beignets, croissants and oatmeal), lunch (brisket po' boys, salads, grilled hot dogs, burgers and chicken) and dinner (smoked meat plates with side dishes, salads and bread). A bar is available for libations at an additional cost. Seating is also arranged at tables outside, under cover, with a great view of the river ahead. Between meals, you can take advantage of the Front Porch's soft ice cream, popcorn, coffee machine and soda fountain. Home-baked cookies are up for grabs, too.
 
Finally, a selection of finger sandwiches, cakes and cookies can be had each day from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. during tea in the Main Deck Lounge, just outside the J.M. White Dining Room.
 
The all-American waitstaff provide friendly, helpful service in all the dining and bar venues. They range in age from 20s to 60s, and many hail from the south.
 
Family with Kids/Teens 
This is not a family-oriented ship in any way, shape or form, so there are no amenities geared toward kids. Some older, prone-to-sleep teens may find it relaxing and enjoy ports like New Orleans, Memphis and Louisville, but for the most part, it's best for adults.
 
Past Passenger Programs
The American Queen Steamboat Company unveils guest loyalty program: “Steamboat Society of America”
Much of the American Queen Steamboat Company’s early success can be attributed to guests sharing stories of their memorable trips with friends, family and booking another voyage shortly after arriving home. Valued return guests share a passion for U.S. river cruising and can now join the Steamboat Society of America, the company’s loyalty program, for special benefits and rewards on the American Queen and soon-to-be sailing American Empress (April 2014). Among the many benefits, guests receive their 10th cruise free.*
 
“As I visit with American Queen guests onboard I am always amazed how many have already sailed on multiple voyages with us and are now setting their sights to explore the Pacific Northwest on the American Empress,” shares the company’s President and COO Ted Sykes. “The Steamboat Society of America rewards our most loyal guests and encourages them to share their stories of why they are hooked on river cruising with the American Queen Steamboat Company.”

Among the benefits to the free Steamboat Society of America loyalty program are the following:
 
A $100 per guest credit on each cruise and $200 per guest credit towards a future cruise fare when booked with  deposit while onboard
Priority check-in and early vessel pre-boarding
Member access for breakfast or lunch when American Queen or American Empress are in port near home town and family or friend tours of the boat when sailing
Credits toward future cruise fares for members referring friends who book***
Dedicated reservations line providing special service for members
Private cocktail party for members-only hosted by the captain and executive officers onboard..

Fitness And Spa
American Queen has a top-deck "bathing" pool and a fitness center. While tiny, the pool is a welcome retreat on those hot Southern days (and nights, actually). The surroundings are less than ideal, with cheap-looking AstroTurf and a few lonely padded loungers. Still, it serves a purpose, and we didn't hear any complaints. Likewise, the fitness center is compact but perfectly amenable; there are a few cardio machines and a weight-lifting device that sat largely unused during our voyage.
 
American Queen actually has a spa, though it's a far cry from the behemoths on the mega-ships. Instead, passengers can pamper themselves in a modest-sized space on Deck 1. Prices, though not cheap, are not as horrific as spas you'll find on coastal cruise ships. Hourlong massages cost $95, while the Restorative Body Scrub will set you back $85. Facials, pedicures and manicures are also generally available. Book your reservation at the purser's desk.
 
Entertainment
For a boat its size, there's a surprising amount of entertainment to be found on American Queen -- and some of it breaks out at unexpected times. We're talking about the singular delight (or horror, depending on your tolerance for high decibels) of the boat's calliope, found on the top deck next to the bar that bears its name. There are red-white-and-blue concerts when leaving river ports and passing through locks that have visitors' viewing platforms. Stand close enough, and you can feel the mist from the steam producing the music.
 
The main entertainment venue is the Grand Saloon, a posh two-story showstopper. The theater is a sea of gold and red, with dark wood and box seats surrounded by thick curtains, plus an ornate lighted proscenium that frames the stage. Its design is based on Washington's Ford's Theater, and it even has a replica of the box in which Lincoln sat on that fateful evening; on the ship, the “Lincoln box” is named after Ralph Waldo Emerson. A wide variety of performances take place there, though most are geared toward an older clientele. Expect magicians, Mark Twain impersonators and big bands like the Glenn Miller Orchestra; in addition, some voyages feature the Rat Pack Show (a Sinatra tribute) and groups of yore like the Platters and the Lovin' Spoonful. It's all good fun, and there's a chance for dancing with the chairs cleared away. Nightly swing and big-band dancing also takes place there.
 
You can catch daily lectures in the Grand Saloon by the boat's "riverlorians," experts who provide historical and often lyrical context on the boat, famous American figures connected to the rivers, and the passing landscape. They're mini-celebrities onboard; many passengers latch onto them as they pass by on deck, and they're always happy to answer any questions. Often one can be found in the Chart Room, where maps of the river are laid out for inspection. Puzzles and various board games, as well as large tables, are available in the Mark Twain lounge. Bridge players can post their availability. There is no casino onboard.
 
American Queen's two main watering holes (the alfresco, horseshoe-shaped Calliope Bar on the top deck and the Deck 2 Engine Room Bar) feature Dixieland jazz and Broadway standards from time to time. We found the Engine Room Bar -- where you watch the paddlewheel spinning away outside the windows and nurse a cocktail at the gleaming mahogany bar -- to be a particular delight. Whatever you do, don't miss a trip to the engine room itself, down a flight of steps to the right of the bar. The crew is happy to chat up passengers about the amazing mechanism that brings the paddlewheel to life.
 
The Captain's Bar is located just outside the dining saloon as part of the Main Deck Lounge; there's piano music every night, often accompanied by a singer. It's the best place for an after-dinner cocktail.
 
Another watering hole is the River Grill, located aft on the top deck. It's got tremendous potential -- lots of small chairs and tables scattered about, some with umbrellas for shade, and a great view of the paddlewheel. On our trip, however, the service was surly, and the on-site flat screen TV (apparently provided for the amusement of the ineffectual bartender, who watched with sound blaring) was absolutely distracting and out of place. Otherwise it's a magical place to relax onboard.
 
Most shore excursions (called Steamcoach Tours) are included on American Queen. Buses adorned to look like American Queen, courtesy of a "skin" overlay, transport passengers around ports of call, and you're free to hop on or off at any number of predetermined spots. A guide narrates the route and explains what's attractive about each stop. Most routes take 20 to 40 minutes to complete the full circuit, and good walkers can also do most of the loops on foot at their own pace, should they wish.
 
Depending on the itinerary, you may end up in a small town you've never heard of. For instance, we visited Henderson, Kentucky, and Madison, Indiana, the latter being a particularly winsome find with its shops, restaurants and interesting architecture and history. In other cases, ports include some of America's most interesting cities. In Louisville, for instance, passengers can pick and choose among the Museum of Arts and Crafts, the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts (for a 35-minute multimedia extravaganza called "Kentucky Show!") and the Louisville Glass Works, among other spots.
 
Conversely, passengers can also book Premium Choice Tours (starting at $49) in a number of towns. Akin to standard shore excursions on bigger vessels, they include private transportation, more personalized service and occasionally a meal. Louisville's Premium Choice option is a $59, four-hour excursion that includes a visit to the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs and lunch at Lynn's Paradise Cafe, a local legend that serves the town's famous Hot Brown sandwich.
 
And don't hesitate to borrow one of the eight cruiser bicycles from the ship's collection; many of the smaller towns we visited had lovely (and flat) towpaths that flanked the river -- perfect for cycling

Tipping
The American Queen Steamboat Company crew works very hard to make sure that every aspect of your voyage meets the highest standards. This includes those crewmembers who serve you directly, such as wait staff, beverage servers, housekeepers and many others who support their efforts whom you may never meet, such as galley and laundry staff. To ensure that the efforts of all crewmembers are recognized and rewarded, gratuities of $16.50 per guest will be automatically added to your onboard account on a daily basis. If service onboard exceeds or fails to meet your expectations, you are free to adjust this amount at the end of the cruise.
A 15% Beverage Service Charge is automatically added to bar charges and dining room wine purchases. These charges are paid entirely to American Queen Steamboat Company crew members.
In ports of call and on shore excursions, it is suggested that you extend gratuities consistent with customary local practices.

Staterooms
Enjoy 19th Century Decor on Classic Mississippi River Steamboat The American Queen steamboat has 222 cabins and suites and accommodates 436 passengers. She's the largest steamboat ever built, and is a real beauty with her wedding cake-tiered decks and fancy latticework.
The American Queen has 5 types of cabins in 13 different categories. The interiors and accommodations also have the Victorian look of the 19th century. Although the ship was built in the mid 1990's, the cabins feel more like an historic old bed and breakfast or hotel than they do a cruise ship. There's wallpaper on the walls, and not a piece of modular furniture to be found in the cabins. Thankfully, the beds are new and very comfortable.
 
Each of the cabins has its own distinct name, adding to the elegant ambiance. Many of the staterooms are named for states, others for famous people, and some for river ports of call. Most of the 202 stateroom and suites onboard American Queen are decorated with a melange of polished wood, colorful Victorian patterns, framed photos that celebrate the steamship era, and Victorian furnishings (antiques and reproductions). These cabins have a lot more personality than those on most other ships on which we've traveled. Beds are superbly comfortable and beautifully dressed in crisp linens. Most cabins have two twin beds that can be converted into a queen.
 
Cabins range from the 22 relatively airy suites with verandahs (with about 500 square feet of space) to the eight minuscule inside singles (80 square feet), but the fact that there are accommodations for solo travelers will come as a relief to those who wish to travel so. In fact, in the 2013 upgrade, a new category of cabin -- singles with verandahs -- was introduced. While the singles are indeed small, they're as beautifully outfitted as other cabins, and they're quite cheerful and cozy.
 
The rest of the cabins are also small by big-ship standards (but fairly in line with river vessels), from 130 square feet for the 24 inside cabins to 190 square feet for the 95 deluxe outside staterooms with verandahs. There are 25 superior outside staterooms with verandahs located on the top deck; though they have a bit more space (230 square feet), the decor is largely identical to that found in the deluxe outsides.
 
There are two types of verandah cabins on American Queen. On Deck 3, a handful of staterooms (Category A) have the kinds of private balconies passengers are used to on oceangoing vessels. The majority, however, open to promenade decks; each is still equipped with two chairs and a cocktail table. While not private, these balconies are actually quite a nice way to people-watch and socialize.
 
For those who want a view but don't care so much for an outdoor area, the 24 deluxe outside cabins (190 square feet) are absolutely delightful, with large bay windows (perfect for curling up in to watch the river pass by) instead of outside space. The suites have more breathing room, of course, and each is furnished with a sofa bed, easy chair and cocktail table. Ornate antique beds are the rooms' centerpieces, and there are wardrobes for extra storage. All have verandahs (some private, others opening out onto the promenade deck).
 
There's plenty of space under the beds for luggage. All cabins have safes, free bottled water, hair dryers and flat-screen TVs that feature a decent number of basic cable options and, oddly enough, New York City network affiliates. The boat's free Wi-Fi isn't always functional, but when it was, we were able to access it in our cabin. (Company executives told us they'd made a big investment in improving Wi-Fi in 2013, but it was still highly unpredictable.) The best location for reception is the Mark Twain Gallery, which has electrical outlets and tables for laptops.
 
All cabins have bathrooms, some of which are shower-only; suites have separate showers and tubs. Bathrooms are black-and-white-tiled affairs that reminded us of Grandma's house, but beware: Though company literature promises all outside cabins have showers and tubs, some have only large walk-in showers. If a tub is important to you, be sure your cabin has one when you book. We loved the big mirror, the stand-alone shelves that could hold way more toiletries than we carried onboard, and the gargantuan tubes of American Queen-branded lotion, soap and shampoo.
 
We were particularly fond of the self-regulated air-conditioning that was so powerful it kept our bottled water chilled -- a good thing for muggy days on the Big Muddy. Soundproofing is decent, but, if you're a light sleeper, you might want to avoid a cabin near the stern: you'll feel the tug and pull of the steel arms controlling the paddlewheel. Accessible cabins are available in all categories except singles.
 
Fellow Passengers
Expect well-traveled passengers, ages 50 and older, who enjoy Victorian charm, antiques and dancing to swing or big band music. American Queen Steamboat Company draws history buffs and culture connoisseurs, as cruises provide an in-depth look at history and cuisine.
The line expects slightly younger crowds during holiday and summer itineraries. Passengers are loyal to the line, so crossover between the two ships is common.
 
Our recommendation
Unlike large cruise ships the American Queen holds only 400 passengers. The intimacy of the boat along with the speed at which the boat moved encourage passengers to slow down and take a more relaxed attitude towards traveling. The staff is friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable.