When Delta Queen’s vessels were leveraged to upgrade sister line American Hawaii and a planned set of small coastal ships, trouble began for the cruise line, and the sternwheelers passed through a series of hands with one problem after the other, none of them reflecting on the product. Of the sternwheelers, eventually the Mississippi Queen was scrapped, the Delta Queen was retired and transformed into a floating hotel and the American Queen was carefully mothballed for sale.
Today, the Memphis-based Great American Steamboat Company, which purchased the American Queen, includes some of the original players in the heyday of Delta Queen, and all of the parties are united in walking a line between preservation of a bygone era and the delicate task of bringing the American Queen up to the tastes of today’s luxury customer.
The company is keeping everything that can be renewed and perfected during the $5.8 million ship refurbishment, including the wool carpets and antiques. Those furnishings that can’t be brought back to the level needed are being replicated.
Public rooms are filled with natural light, crystal hanging lamps and Tiffany-style warmth. The gracious and very large Mark Twain Gallery is extremely inviting, with jewel tone colors and dark woods throughout. Large windows allow guests to look down into the J.M. White Dining Room, and lace curtains screen the windows without interfering with the light. Here the cuisine of Regina Charbonneau, author, restaurateur and television chef, will reflect the regions the where the ship will sail; there’s an alternative dining venue serving regional specialties, including po’ boys, as well.
The athletic club is small but well equipped and the pool, still a work in progress, should help guests work off Charbonneau’s irresistible butter biscuits. For those guests who are on special diets, an extensive vegan menu gives an idea of how flexible the options will be.
Another outstanding room is the Chart Room, with glass-enclosed bookshelves filled with vintage editions and books on river lore. American Queen’s Riverlorian will preside here, giving passengers a history of the traditions and stories surrounding the riverboats, and guests can check out books for more information.
The Gentlemen’s Card Room also takes guests back to a vanished era, and the Engine Room Bar is a classic, with polished dark woods and atmosphere galore; late-night entertainment will be centered here, and the company has found just the right piano player to lead guests.
The Theater has tremendous charm, as well, but the beauty of the room may be eclipsed by the talent. Great American has signed dozens of acts that were at the top of the charts for its target audience, and passengers will be able to hear sounds of the Harry James Orchestra, Paul Revere and the Raiders and more along with very high powered New Orleans and bluegrass groups in this very intimate setting.
Accommodation levels have individual variations, so it’s important to take a close look at the deck plan. For example, stateroom number 381 in Category G, one of the nine accessible staterooms, is exceptionally large. The Delta Queen Suite is exceptionally beautiful and there are unexpected screened in porches on some rooms, as well as semi-private balconies. All staterooms have reproduction Victorian wall coverings. The eight inside single staterooms are small, but comfortable, and there are a few triples. Connecting rooms are generally A or AA, connecting with smaller F or G cabins. The bed configuration is a twin, which can be adapted to a queen size, and most staterooms have both a bath and a shower.
The combination of very modern technology and Victorian ambience looks as though it is gong to work very well, giving guests the chance to enjoy the best of both worlds.
American Queen launches in April, sailing the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee rivers.