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“It’s a new boat,” the American Queen executives told me as I boarded the ship a year after my last cruise on the 436-passenger vessel. And they were right. Furthermore, the American Queen an ideal example of preserving the best while still changing things up.
The company invested more than a million dollars during the winter, completely rebuilding the paddlewheel and giving the already beautiful J.M. White Dining Room a new marble entryway and elegant new wallpaper, carpeting and chairs. A mahogany wine wall is on display, and the buffet is now double-sided, allowing the staff to offer nearly twice as many selections at breakfast and lunch.
And the food has become consistently excellent. New kitchen equipment has also enabled the staff to offer 24-hour room service, a miracle on a riverboat. The Front Porch, one of the most popular areas, is now a full alternative dining venue, limited only by the number of people who can squeeze into its indoor and outdoor seating areas. The Sunday Jazz Brunch is filled with the likes of crab benedict, custom-made omelets and waffles, cereals, fruits, cold cuts and the flaky signature biscuits of celebrity chef Regina Charbonneau.
Among the other changes is a new collection of river scenes by Michael Blaser exhibited throughout American Queen. Mahogany plantation shutters have also been added to staterooms’ French doors, providing a view of the passing scenery while ensuring privacy. In addition, the in-room entertainment system has more television options and a 24-hour movie channel. In addition, the ship’s complimentary Wi-Fi access is now faster.
The brand’s distinctive style is introduced early, as guests are brought to the ship’s door after a night in Memphis on a spiraling helix ramp that floats up and down with the river level. The incredibly civilized boat drill is another clue that this is an unusual vessel — guests relaxed in chairs outside their staterooms and were checked individually by the friendly staff. The vibe will continue with the upcoming loyalty program, which will include lunch on board for past passengers and up to two guests when the boat sails near their homes, as well as the ability to invite friends or family onboard for lunch in port (both require reservations).