mississippi river boat cruise

Endless Travel Blog

Explore a unique steamboat cruise

--by Joyce Masaga

I was recently on the American Queen traveling with my sister on a relaxing cruise of the upper Mississippi River. I have been fascinated with this cruise since American Queen Steamboat Company, a Mississippi river-based cruise line, resuscitated multi-day Mississippi river cruising in April of 2012.

American Queen is the largest steamboat in the world, with the capacity to carry 436 passengers. Before re-launching in April, 2012, American Queen received a $6 million spruce-up to the Victorian décor—chandeliers, upholstery and polished wood throughout. Think antiques and fresh flowers providing the ambience of an antebellum mansion. Outside, lacy filigree evokes memories of the many stately riverboats that preceded her and so inspired her designers.

In April, 2014, American Empress (which formerly sailed Pacific Northwest and Alaska cruises as Empress of the North) joined the fleet after undergoing a major refurbishment. The 223-passenger ship sails the Pacific Northwest (on the Columbia and Snake rivers).

Combining the best of the old and the new, this beautiful lady of the river epitomizes the grace and grandeur that has made river cruising a cherished American tradition...

Both ships are filled with modern amenities, too, such as WiFi in public spaces, but the aim is to evoke memories of the stately river steamers of the 19th century.

Unique on-board experiences

• Both ships have resident expert ‘riverlorians,’ who tell the stories of the towns and hamlets visited, both via in daily lectures and one-on-one—they’re very visible on the ship and will answer questions virtually any time.

• There are libraries that offer fiction as well as nonfiction written about the histories of the areas visited.

• On the dining front, the menus reflect regional cuisine: New Orleans and modern Southern comfort food on American Queen, fresh seafood and bright berries on American Empress. Decadent delights on American Queen include items such as sugary beignets, corn and shrimp fritters and molasses-glazed pork loin stuffed with Andouille sausage to satisfy passengers’ appetites. On American Empress, passengers will eat pan-seared scallops, Indian rice soup, and steamed cold-water lobster tail. No formalwear is ever required, even for dinners, where complimentary wine and local beer are poured.

• The ships feature a professionally trained, all-American staff.

• Entertainment on board includes a sing-along in the Main Deck Lounge and a lavish show in the two-deck-tall Grand Saloon.

Excursions and themed cruises

• To add a little zest to the stately vibe, both ships carry bikes, providing passengers a chance to peddle through the river towns they visit.

• Shore tours, included in the fares, are in every port of call and provide immersion into the history, culture and cuisine of the heartland. Both ships have their own dedicated fleet of luxury motor coaches.

• These uniquely themed river cruise voyages feature special entertainment creating a river cruise experience unlike any other. From Civil War and Big Band Swing, to Old-Fashioned Holidays and New Year’s Eve themed.

My personal experiences

My cruise was from St. Louis to St. Paul, and as soon as we checked into our St. Louis hotel we felt the hospitality of the American Cruise Line (the pre-night stay is included in the fare). We took advantage of a City Tour of St. Louis, which included the Anheuser Busch Brewery, before boarding our boat. As we approached our embarkation pier in Alton, IL, we saw our majestic steamship in the Mississippi river. We knew then this was going to be a special seven days.

The cabins are adequate in size and the bathrooms are larger than expected. Most of the cabins have river views, with French doors that open directly to an open deck with your own table and chairs.

The entertainment is another ‘exceeded our expectation’ moment. There is a seven-piece band and four singers/entertainers that have nightly shows in the ornate Grand Saloon. There is also nightly entertainment in the Engine room bar which is nice before retiring to your cabin or if you like to dance.

Every port has opportunity to walk ashore and visit the town, or included in the fare is a chance to do a unique hop-on, hop-off tour. You always have the same drivers, as they drive to each town the ship sails to. It is very interesting to visit the American towns that thrive along the Mississippi. Each stop has a rich history that makes it unique.

We also enjoyed the food and American servers on the American Queen. There are always soft drinks, coffee, teas, cappuccino, cookies, popcorn and the popular ice cream. The breakfast and lunch options include a buffet, or you may order off of the menu. The dinner experience is casual, and you are offered a four-course menu with local favorites always on the menu.

My favorite part of the entire week was actually sailing the Mississippi. We saw small towns, lots of greenery, several locks and many eagles along our route. This cruise is meant to be relaxing and reflective.

Combining the best of the old and the new, this beautiful lady of the river epitomizes the grace and grandeur that has made river cruising a cherished American tradition for more than two centuries. One voyage and you’ll see why. Please give us a call at Endless Travel for itineraries and pricing.

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