The American Queen: Video Cruise Review

Featuring an American icon this week and next in video, the American Queen. © 2012 Ralph Grizzle

Even if you’re an avid cruiser like me, you’ll find there’s little to compare to the American Queen. It can’t be compared to a river cruise vessel in Europe. The largest paddlewheeler ever built, the six-deck American Queen is nearly 2.5 times wider than those river cruisers. Spanning 90 feet across, she offers multiple restaurants, including a gorgeous two-story main restaurant, lots of public rooms, a variety of staterooms and suites, a small pool, gym and, of course, a giant paddlewheel to propel the riverboat.

Click play to check out the Avid Cruiser’s video review featuring The American Queen.

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The American Queen paddles through the heartland of America on a variety of itineraries. If the thought of international travel fails to excite you, then you’ll feel good about coming home to the American Queen. The crew is all American. In fact, interactions with staff leave the impression of genuine Southern hospitality. The crew members, a lot of them from Memphis, Tennessee, are just downright friendly.

Perhaps the most impressive component of the American Queen is the array of senses that it stirs. I’ve taken to calling her the Americana Queen. See Paddlin’ Up The Mississippi On The “Americana” Queen.

I enjoy the nostalgia of this vessel, including its handsome lounges and parlors and the rocking chairs and swings. For many travelers, a journey along the great inland waterways of America is a rite of passage, and the American Queen offers a way to do that trip comfortably, stylishly and affordably.

Staterooms range from cozy interiors to spacious suites, making it easy to find not only a space where you will enjoy living but a price point that meets your budget.

American Queen’s cuisine has been better than anything I’ve experienced on a river, thanks to the efforts of Regina Charboneau whose creations include Bananas Foster on Texas Toast. Beer and wine (some that I consider premium wines) are included with dinner, and there are many other inclusives in this product: internet, soft drinks, speciality coffees (using Starbucks beans), popcorn and ice cream.

You’ll also enjoy some fun entertainment. There’s something on every evening, plus there’s a movie theater and a good selection of bars and lounges, including the popular Engine Room Bar.

As an added bonus, I really enjoyed the Hop-On, Hop-Off steamcoaches. For no additional charge, they allowed me to get a guided overview of the port towns and the freedom to hop off and explore on my own.

The American Queen defies comparison. It overlays the best aspects of an ocean liner on a river cruise vessel cruising through the heartland of America. Well, that’s enough for now. It’s time to get back out and enjoy the slow paddle along a mighty river. I’m Ralph Grizzle on the American Queen. I’ll see you on another Avid Cruiser voyage.

Check out yesterday’s video, Introducing The American Queen.

Afterward, you may want to check out, 9 Parting Thoughts: Our Voyage On The American Queen Concludes, A Recap Of Our Adventure

Check out all of our articles featuring the American Queen.

  • David Weymouth

    You hit the nail on the head, Ralph, when you said “Things happen. It’s the way that companies respond that often defines them.” It reminded me of our trip to Antarctica earlier this year, shortly after you were there. We traveled on Travel Dynamics’ Corinthian, a 98 passenger small ship which had been privately chartered by Grand Circle Cruise Lines for their Antarctica adventures. As is often the case with an expedition ship, the Corinthian was not grand-lux, but was very comfortable and had superb service and food.

    We had a Penthouse cabin and during the voyage something failed in its heating system. Repair crew were dispatched but were unable to fix the problem. The Chief Engineer investigated further and determined that the problem could not be fully repaired until the ship returned to the mainland. He took responsibility for the problem and apologized for it. The Captain later did the same. They brought us a space-heater and extra blankets and we considered the matter closed. We were slightly annoyed but everything else about the ship and the experience was so good that we didn’t even mention it to our Grand Circle Program Director.

    The day after we returned home I got a call from a Grand Circle manager. I don’t know how she learned about this minor issue, but she also apologized and then told me that she was sending a cash refund for approximately $1,500. It arrived a few days later.

    I make this long digression to note that Grand Circle far exceeded my expectations for their quality, concern and responsiveness. We will go out of our way to travel with them again. The American Queen failed to even come close to meeting reasonable expectations. While my main complaint was about the quality of food and service, the company’s response to reoccurring mechanical problems added to my displeasure. The Captain should have gone beyond his brief apology and been the face of the company, interacting with passengers, explaining the issues and making sure that we knew that he and the company cared. Instead, he disappeared and left that up to waiters and cabin attendants. I consider this matter also closed now and hope that all this was a single, never to be repeated occurrence. But for now, we have no intention of using the company’s offer of a 7% discount on a future cruise of theirs in our cabin class. Instead, I am following your blogs to try to select the best river cruise line for an Eastern Europe trip.

    Thanks for allowing this conversation to happen.

    PS: By the way, despite the company’s response, they did not pay for the bar bills incurred before the breakdown, only afterwards. We paid for the rest ourselves.

  • http://avidcruiser.com/ Ralph Grizzle

    David,

    I reached out to Neal Sibal, the company’s Senior VP & General Manager. He says the American Queen suffered generator problems in the port of Natchez and that the required parts/engineering support was not immediately available, resulting in an overnight stay in Natchez preventing the Queen from sailing north to Memphis until 09:00 approx. Wednesday morning.

    Due to the River being in flood stage and the strong current the Queen would not be able to make Memphis by Saturday morning if the scheduled stops in Vicksburg and Helena had taken place. This resulted in two missed ports and three days of cruising.

    All passengers received complimentary bar for the rest of the cruise and had all prior bar bills paid by the company. The company issued future cruise credits of $500 per person combinable with any other promotion, to be used before the end of 2015.

    As for the dining room and food service issues we will address with the respective on board departments, I can only apologize for this guests poor experience. The fact that crew disembarked in Memphis is standard, we turn around crew in both New Orleans and Memphis on a regular basis as part of their normal rotations.

  • http://avidcruiser.com/ Ralph Grizzle

    Thanks for sharing this David. I’m sorry to hear it for you and for the American Queen. As you can probably tell from the videos, when we cruised in the fall of 2012, she was operating in a fine manner, and we very much enjoyed the product.

    But yours is not the first note I’ve received this week on this topic. I’m reaching out to management to see if they can shed some light on the situation so that I can inform our readers. In the meantime, your comment is representative of emails I have received from other readers.

    Thanks again for providing valuable insights for me and my readers. I’m sorry for the way your trip turned out.

  • David Weymouth

    Ralph,

    Having just returned from a 9 day cruise on the American Queen, my wife and I certainly agree that the boat (it’s hard not to call it a ship, with its 400+ passenger capacity) is a lovely, nostalgia-inducing vessel with Victorian era furnishings and charming public rooms. We liked what we saw in your video and booked one of the two flagship cabins to fully enjoy the boat (The Mark Twain Suite, #501), which was lovely and had a huge private balcony.

    But after boarding the boat in New Orleans and settling into our cabin, things started to go awry.
    We joined our fellow passengers for the 8:00 PM second seating for dinner at the waiting room outside the restaurant … and waited … and waited. Some of us were now hearing grumbling from the first seating passengers that menu items were unavailable, or delivered cold. After we were finally seated we were served a poor and disorganized meal by frustrated staff who were clearly doing their best to please us. One of them apologized for the confusion and told us that many of the crew had walked off the boat without notice the night before and they were very short-staffed.

    This staffing issue impacted the entire trip. The food quality never remotely approached the enthusiastic reviews I had read before booking the trip and many cabins were not serviced until dinnertime. Two of the bartenders mixed every drink by looking them up in a book (for a gin & tonic?!) But I have to give credit to the Engine Room Bar bartender, who was as experienced and professional as I have found anywhere. The on-board entertainment ensemble was also excellent.

    After a fine day off the boat exploring Natchez, our third stop, many of the passengers were in a bit better mood. But when it was time to leave, the Captain announced that there would be a delay because the generator was inoperable and that a part had been ordered. The delay
    continued until bedtime and we woke to find ourselves still in Natchez. Later that day the Captain announced that we would be fixed soon, but that all future stops and excursions were being
    canceled so that we could be in Memphis by our disembarkation time. Since those future stops included Vicksburg, Mississippi, the highlight of the trip for many, all good feelings vanished,
    (as did the Captain) even after we were offered free drinks. When we learned that the same problem had occurred earlier this year and hadn’t been corrected, it was even more annoying.

    By the time we all got off the boat a few days later, we found no one who was happy with the trip. By that time we had also heard the American Queen Steamboat Company’s solution to the issues – a $500 credit for each of us toward another of their cruises, which added insult to injury.
    For a fare of over $15,000 for those few days, we expected much better.

    Perhaps these problems were unique events, and won’t be repeated again. But from the mood of the remaining crew (more left when we docked in Memphis) the American Queen is currently not a happy boat, as lovely as it may be. I would advise any potential future clients to reassure themselves that both the personnel and mechanical issues that are present now are resolved before booking a trip.

    David Weymouth
    Albuquerque, New Mexico

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