As guests descend the staircase, they pass under a chandelier traced back to the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1903. // © 2015 American Queen Steamboat Company
Feature image (above): Clients onboard American Queen will feel as if they’ve taken a journey back in time. // © 2015 American Queen Steamboat Company
Stepping onboard American Queen is essentially a form of time travel, one of the great attractions of the ship for both U.S. and international travelers. With a calliope pouring out century-old tunes and the ship’s paddlewheel foaming the same waters as early steamships, it’s easy for guests to imagine they’re slipping back into Victorian times.
The period details and design of the ship help continue this dream of a slower life in America, when gentlemen donned derby hats and ladies sashayed in sweeping skirts. Except for today’s conveniences, passengers on American Queen may think they’ve escaped to the late 1800s as they play games of cribbage and whist and leisurely solve huge jigsaw puzzles under the soft light of real Tiffany lamps. More period details onboard the vessel include its carvings and wallpaper, mahogany armoires and Adirondack chairs and gliders — the designs date from 1903.
American Queen Steamboat goes to great pains to create and maintain this ambience. David William Kelly, formerly in charge of hotel operations and renovation for the company, helped return the ship to the days when riverboating was not only a pleasure but a necessity. When exploring the vessel, visitors can clearly see that American Queen has been renovated and refurbished without compromising the original arrangement and feel of the interiors.
The rooms have been left alone as much as possible. Kelly, now a consultant for American Queen Steamboat, says a great deal of the furniture came with the vessel. The rest are mostly reproductions, but Kelly has also connected with skilled craftsmen in New Orleans and Indiana who create period work with hand tools. For soft goods, he confers with some of the plantation mansions of the era along the river, ordering items such as specialty Victorian wallpaper — a process he describes as “neither easy nor cheap.” The ship’s carpets are produced in the U.S. from specialist vendors.
Last year, the company added more refurbishment to areas including the beautiful J.M. White Dining Room, which has a ceiling that is a replica of the one onboard the famous J.M. White steamboat of the 1800s.
The result of all this attention to detail is a magical recreation of the time in the late 1800s and early 1900s when the steamboat was king. The final, timeless touch? When American Queen pulls into port, there is always a crowd of local people welcoming the ship, as they have done for years on the picturesque rivers.