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At first, I thought I was looking at a traditional paddlewheel riverboat with crystal chandeliers and rich paneling. But, within just a few steps, the setting seemed to transform into a sleek, modern ship, showcasing abstract art and contemporary furnishings.
I was onboard American Queen Steamboat Company’s (AQSC) new American Duchess, a reconstructed 166-passenger vessel that combines luxurious European river cruising with classic Mississippi riverboat style.
The third ship in AQSC’s fleet and its second on the Mississippi River, American Duchess also claims the title of the first all-suite river cruise paddlewheeler sailing U.S. waters. Fares for its top accommodations run around $1,000 per day.
With a strong demand for close-to-home cruising and growth in international visitors gravitating toward American river cruises, the line has been constrained by capacity for some time. Because of this, American Duchess takes specific aim at the luxury market, where clients have been snapping up the most expensive accommodations on AQSC’s previous vessels and asking for more.
The reconstructed ship has an unusual number of extra-spacious accommodations catering to upscale passengers. Three Owner’s Suites are listed at 550 square feet, but they are considerably larger when taking into account the expansive private balcony. Four, two-story Loft Suites also measure 550 square feet, and each features an upstairs bedroom, two bathrooms with a tub/shower combination, a dining and lounge area, a queen-size sofa bed, a desk and a private balcony. Even interior suites range from 180 to 200 square feet, which is considered sizable for U.S. river cruising. (By comparison, onboard sister ship American Queen, Owner’s Suites are 348 square feet, plus a 690-square-foot veranda; two-room Family Suites are 345 square feet; and inside single staterooms are 80 square feet.)
Upon boarding the ship, I was immediately taken with the large, tall and light-filled open spaces. Thanks to the ship’s previous life as Isle of Capri, a casino boat, American Duchess has ceilings rising up to more than 18 feet, and AQSC was able to add a third deck. Another inheritance from the casino boat design is a tremendous amount of electrical power. As a result, all accommodations have flat-screen televisions, safes, mini-refrigerators, Keurig coffeemakers and — a rare feature for a cruise vessel — ironing boards and irons.
Dining onboard American Duchess is lavish. The open-seating Grand Dining Room hosts four-course dinners each evening. Regional specialties are offered alongside classics, so choices may include fried green tomatoes with corn and crab; crispy Mississippi catfish; grilled cauliflower steak; and mushroom risotto. Gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan dishes are also available. The informal 80-guest River Club and Terrace provides selections ranging from charbroiled oysters and seafood and okra gumbo to filet mignon and Mississippi mud pie. Another onboard touch unusual in river cruising is 24-hour room service, which includes items such as salads, burgers and vegetable jambalaya.
Guests in the two highest suite categories can request breakfast, dinner and afternoon tea served en suite. They also receive butler service and an escort to reserved theater seats for evening shows.
American Duchess sails Mississippi River itineraries ranging from five to 23 nights, with many possibilities for agents to sell back-to-back trips and themed cruises. Most sailings include a one-night stay in boutique hotels such as The Peabody Memphis and The Roosevelt New Orleans.