2015 American Queen Cruise

Mississippi River
Round Trip New Orleans
American Queen

Quick Summary

For several reasons, I'll start off with this. WEATHER doesn't like me. I've had troubles on the last few trips: 2014 - Chatty-rainy-nooga got pretty well rained out/in; 2014 - Dallas to New Orleans was much colder than usual. Then 2015 - Rainy Rica almost constant rain washed out most of that trip. Now I get "busted" again: New Orleans was gloomy; Oak Alley was too extremely foggy (and rainy and breezy and almost cold) to enjoy; St. Francisville (which was to be the highlight) was cold, rainy, windy, and foggy so it was an almost complete loss; Natchez was ok; Vicksburg was the one good stop; Hibernationville (Bottum Roggue) was frigid and icy; and Nottoway was even colder with quite a bit of ice on the decks. I can't blame the tour companies - it was the weather that has ruined the last four trips.

I can blame the "Awful Queen" for a noisy, dark, lacking furnishings (work space) cell, and they also ruined my suitcase. For these two reasons, I won't travel with them again even though the cattle barge was nice, good food, nice staff, good lectures, and good cattle car excursions - but I won't take that cell again.

Later (one week) note: In the last week, the weather in the area has been a bit warmer (not as cold) but has been VERY rainy. I may have been on the better of the two trips.

THE SPIRIT OF THE ANTEBELLUM SOUTH - SOUTHERN CULTURE This journey shows the diversity and drama of the Lower Mississippi. From the legendary jazz of Bourbon Street to the battlefields of Vicksburg, this is an immersion in Southern Culture. Discover the romance and antebellum charms of famous plantations like Oak Alley. St. Francisville's storied past saw it change hands between seven different nations, and it contains more than 140 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Baton Rouge is the capital, and you'll be amazed & amused by the city's colorful history and larger-than-life political figures. FOR A TRIP THAT SHOWED SUCH PROMISE, THIS ONE JUST DIDN"T LIVE UP TO IT.

Day 1, Friday, Feb 27: Arrival New Orleans - Hotel Stay
After 39 days at home, I'll take the StuporShuttle at 10:15 (and it is only 41F as I stand outside waiting for the shuttle) and then get junk-food at the airport before my flight. United Airlines Rip-Off: When I booked the trip, the confirmation listed "no charge" for the first bag, but United Awfulines changed the deal and rips me off for $25 on each flight for luggage. They are now adding the baggage fee to all my flights previously listed as one free checked bag.

United UA 1194Houston - New Orleans1:04P - 2:09P1:05

This was supposed to be a (fairly) warm weather trip! The weather forecast is: Thursday night: 37; Friday: 52; Friday night: 41; Saturday 56 w/ possible showers. The Weather Channel “just” forecasted medium to heavy rain Sunday through Wednesday all across the South – which is as far in the future as they currently go. Long term forecast for NEXT Saturday: 64 with 60% chance of rain for my 1:30 flight home. At least for today, the weather cooperated: 51F and quite breezy = ~40 but no rain - so otherwise a very nice day.

Transfers from the airport are NOT included. The Airport Shuttle is only about half the price of a taxi and nice quick transfer to the hotel. The StuporShuttle in New Orleans is a "Sedan Service" only and is VERY expensive. After we check into the hotel, go to the Hospitality Desk on the second floor just outside the Kabacoff Room to check in, pick up our ticket for tomorrow's New Orleans excursion, and get any new information. No dinner is included tonight. There us a shopping mall with a large "food court" just around the circle so that is where I get my dinner. More bad information: supposedly the wi-fi at the hotel is free. WRONG. It is very expensive. So I "can't" send emails from here or update my web page. Hotel: Hilton New Orleans Riverside.

Day 2, Saturday, Feb 28: New Orleans, LA (5PM departure)
We have to have our "checked" bag packed and ready just INSIDE our room before 8AM. Breakfast is included between 6:30 and 8:30 in the "Le Croissant" Restaurant (voucher needed). Do our "final" voyage check-in in the Hospitality Room between 8:30 and 9.

As an alternate to the $$ City Tour, I was hoping to get back to the National WWII Museum, but it is an almost 3 miles round trip walk, and the weather is supposed to be rainy, so I'll do the city tour instead. It is the only optional excursion that I'm planning to take. If I had realized that the hotel was next to the dock for the ship, I would NOT have signed up for the New Orleans city tour, but I thought that transportation from the hotel to the dock was necessary.

Our checked luggage goes direct to the cattle barge (ship); but we have to haul our carry-on with us on today's excursion as we supposedly enjoy the sights and sounds of New Orleans. The Pre-Cruise tour leaves the hotel at 10AM, and drops us off this afternoon at 3:30PM to be herded aboard the American Queen. After boarding, at 4:30 we have the mandatory "Abandon Ship (Muster) Drill." Departure time is 5:30 PM.

When I got to my cell, I then found out that I should have taken my "checked" luggage (but that wasn't allowed) since theAQ crew wrecked it - they broke all the bottom supports and grip bar, and also tore a rip in the fabric. Now I have to buy yet another new suitcase. Other than the careless "idiots" who wrecked my luggage, the crew all seem to be very nice, friendly, and helpful.

My CELL CABIN/STATEROOM) is #218 on the Cabin Deck: Outside with Bay Window: (category E), 140 square feet, 3rd from the stern on the port side (218 / 220 / 222). All category D class were already sold. The cell has nice furnishings and layout (but the apparent size is mis-leading) however it is very noisy. Engine noise and ventilation system noise are the worst culprits, and then there is the only slightly muffled racket from the Grand "Saloon" that can go on until 2AM. It is TOO NEAR the engine room and just above the public entertainment (saloon) area one deck below. The cell has limited (walkable) floor space - about like my walk-in closet. There is no actual work/desk space in the room. If I weren't in a cell with a "bay window" and thus a large "window sill," I wouldn't have any place at all to work or use my computer … and the window sill is very awkward, uncomfortable, miserable, (some descriptions censored) etc. Also there is little, if any, soundproofing between cabins. The location is HORRIBLE! I foresee SEVEN SLEEPLESS NIGHTS! I have some "earplugs" packed to maybe help.

. All the cells are named. On my deck, it is for Presidunts. Mine is named for Presidunt Useless S Grant. On deck three, they are all name for many of the (small to medium sized) towns that line the Mississippi River. More "lies" - the free wi-fi is NOT available throughout the ship so I'm totally offline for the entire trip. There are 4 computers in one of the lounges but they don't always work and I can't transfer my files from my computer to them. I hereby rename this cattle barge the "Awful Queen" - to call it the American Queen is Un-American.

Pre-Cruise $: New Orleans Highlights & Katrina Rebuilding Tour (PRE-BOOKED) (10AM - 3:30PM) In 5 hours of drive-by-slightseeing, experience New Orleans' rich historic past, its eclectic beauty, and its return to glory after a devastating hurricane. Unfortunately due to having only brief glimpses, rough streets, and reflections in the tinted windows, no pictures were possible. After our convenient boat check in for the American Queen, on the morning of our cruise at our Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel, our "cattle cars" (coaches) will transport us and we take our carry-on luggage on a guided tour exploring this great city dubbed "The Big Easy".

Once we finally find out where to meet our guide and board the cattle cars (they provided very poor / almost no useful- information / instruction on this point), explore the history of New Orleans including the first settlers, religion, culture, and Mardi Gras. Lots of beads were still hanging in trees and on lamp posts. It is a drive-by-slightseeing (glimpses) tour of the French Quarter, Jackson Square, and the Garden District; where elegant mansions stand as a testament to Greek revival, Italianate and Queen Anne Victorian styles. While in Jackson Square we have some free time to explore the local restaurants and enjoy lunch on our own at one of New Orleans historic flea-market / street vendor "food court" places (not McDonald's which would have been an improvement). There is nothing else to do around here for the 1 ˝ hours we are stuck here.

Then we travel down St. Charles Avenue, along the famous street car line, where we find New Orleans' most prestigious colleges; Tulane University and Loyola University. We then visit Audubon Park, a 400-acre park located in uptown New Orleans between St. Charles Avenue and the Mississippi River, built on the site of the 1884 World's Fair. At 1,300 acres, City Park is one of the largest urban parks in the US and one of the oldest. We also make a short stop at St. Louis Cemetery # 3, known better as the "The City of the Dead" to briefly see the ornate tombs and discover the unique way New Orleans cares for its past residents.

On August 28, 2005, a disaster in the form of Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Learn about the challenges facing neighborhoods and homeowners in their struggles to return home. We learn how these natural forces threatened the levee protection system and the causes as to why this system failed. We had a second tour leader join us to describe the rebuilding efforts, the bureaucratic nightmares the resident faced - and still face - and added some personal history about working to the goal of rebuilding homes in New Orleans. At least we had a couple of excellent tour leaders. Our tour ended at the American Queen's dock. This offers us the opportunity to check in for the cruise at the hotel before departure, check out of the hotel, spend time exploring their embarkation city, and the convenience of arriving at the gangway for boarding at 3:30 p.m. $59.00 Duration 5 hours

Featured Onboard Entertainment:

Dick Hardwick - is living proof that comedy can be wholesome and funny. Dick's comedy will take you back to a simpler time and awake our inner Gomer Pyle.

Tim Hobbs - is a lecturer and educator with a life-long interest in history. He recently retired from university teaching and is an independent consultant in the field of Education.

Clinton Bagley - grew up listening to the tales and legends of the Mississippi River which instilled a deep love and respect for the history of the entire area surrounding this mighty river. Clinton started a long and productive career as an archivist, historian and lecturer. He is widely sought after throughout the region as popular speaker, known for his knowledge and humor.

Day 3, Sunday, Mar 1: Oak Alley, LA (8AM - 1PM)
The earplugs didn't help. So forget for getting much of any sleep on this cattle barge this week. Then this morning, although the printed weather report on last night's daily handout for today said that it would be a nice, pretty day, that was more dis-information. We have very, very thick fog and some rain; just a "cold" wet, foggy, dreary miserable morning so I decide to just skip this morning's very early excursion - the weather just isn't good enough for lots of walking in rainy fog.. It is not a good start to the trip. We do have a very nice breakfast and get introduced to Louisiana's infamous un-holey square donuts. It does clear up a bit about 11AM but the last tour started at 10:45 so it is too late to take it - and the weather is still "very" cool and breezy.

In the Saint James Parish, Oak Alley is a plantation that combines architectural splendor and the natural wonder of its 300-year-old oak trees. Spend time strolling beneath the canopy of these trees, and learn about the rich history and culture of this southern estate. We are here for only 5 hours which isn't much considering the time taken to load the cattle cars and later to be herded back onboard. This is the case again at our next stop. But at least it guarantees that I will be onboard in time for a "late" lunch on the "Front Porch."

One persistent difficulty is getting on and off the boat. More than a few people struggle with the bobbing, slanted gangway that provides access to ports. In addition, there are often hills to climb once you get off the boat because towns on the rivers are elevated to protect from flooding. Fortunately, staff run around in golf carts (stored onboard when the ship is cruising) to aid passengers in port.

For the cruise, I'm NOT TAKING ANY $$ PREMIUM excursions; I'll limit myself to just the included tours. After we depart Oak Alley, there is an excursions disorientation presentation. During it, I find out that the Awful-Queen offers a Disembarkation - WWII Museum - airport transfer. If I had known about it when I booked the air, I would have chosen a later flight home but the flight I booked leaves the airport less than an hour after the tour would get me there so no chance of taking that tour. We have another nice lunch and dinner on the "Front Porch" but as the sun disappears into the overcast, the overcast is getting heavier and darker, and there are a few drops of rain. By about 6PM the fog (heavy at river level) has reformed and we have some light rain. There are even some lightning bolts occasionally visible.

Included Walking Tour Disembark and walk up and across the levee to enjoy the beauty of Oak Alley's rich past. Located on the Mississippi River between the historic Louisiana cities of New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Oak Alley Plantation has been called the "Grande Dame of the Great River Road". Nowhere else in the south will you find such a spectacular setting! The quarter-mile canopy of giant live oak trees, believed to be nearly 300 years old, forms an impressive avenue leading to the classic Greek-revival style antebellum home. Oak Alley’s setting will remind you of the movie “Gone with the Wind.” During this included tour, enjoy a guided tour of the Big House and explore the magnificent grounds all the while (not) sipping a Mint Julep, a quintessential southern staple. This extended included tour is in place of an optional premium tour.

Day 4, Monday, Mar 2: St. Francisville, LA (8AM - 1PM)
The rain that started last night never let up; in fact it got heavier. I needed full rain gear just to get to the cattle car this morning. The departure time I signed up for was supposed to have 26 people but only 9 of us showed up. This was the port call I was most looking forward to seeing - a nice small, unspoiled town with some great old houses and nice scenery but it is basically rained out - our should I say "rained in." I did the cattle car ride but it just wasn't the time to get out and walk around. More rain is forecast but today I've missed out on the trip highlight.

ST. FRANCISVILLE: The oldest town in the Florida Parishes of Louisiana, St. Francisville has been called the town two miles long and two yards wide. It lies on a ridge created by dust storms in the Glacial Period. This soil from the western plains formed cliffs, which rested on the sand and clay bottom of an ancient Sea. These formations occur only in a narrrow strip of land extending from Baton Rouge into Tennessee; the ridges are actually the foothills of the Appalachians. St. Francisville is 115 ft above sea level.

The bluff attracted early Spanish settlers in need of an elevaed burial ground. By 1785, the number of land grants taken up by settlers prompted the Spanish government (who at the time were the owners of the Louisiana Territory) to create the district of Nueva. "La Villa de San Francisco" was chartered and the town plat created when it was developed in 1809 by John H. Johnson. It is noted by historians that he marked off streets for this townwith optimistic disregard of the topography.

Below the bluffs of St. Francisville, a different sort of town grew. The town of Bayou Sara took its name from the nearby creek which provided flatboats a safe anchorage. With the advent of the steamboat, Bayou Sara became one of the largest cotton ports on the river. It was a rowdy river port and fell due to several situations: the War of Northern Aggression, fire, flood, and infestation by the tiny insect, the boll weevil. Hardly a trace of the settlement remains today.

St. Francisville today is a survivor of a bygone age and a testament to the lifestyle of a time gone by with its plethora of beautiful and charmming antebellum period homes and architecture. The population today is 1765. In St. Francisville you will sense an awareness of history with two centuries of architecture and majestic Mississippi River history laid out before you.

This quaint town located on the bluffs of the Mississippi River is your window to the past. With over 140 buildings on the National Register which I was wanting to see, beautiful plantation homes nestled in the rolling countryside (totally invisible in the rain), and bustling Main Street shops, there would have been a lot to see in St. Francisville.

Most shore excursions (called Steamcoach Tours) are included on American Queen. "Cattle Cars" (buses adorned to look like the American Queen, courtesy of a "skin" overlay), transport passengers around ports of call, and we're free to hop on or off at any number of predetermined spots. A guide narrates the route and explains what's attractive about each stop. Most routes take 20 to 40 minutes to complete the full circuit, and good walkers can also do most of the loops on foot at their own pace. Although I'll call them "cattle cars" we are sometimes herded around like a bunch of cattle, they are more comfortable than many I've been on and with a decent leg room.

Included Hop-On Hop-Off Tour: Hop on our cattle car with an excellent local guide, and begin our tour at Royal Street where we can hop off at our first stop: The Republic of West Florida Site. Stop and enjoy the park. Next, visit the Old Market Hall and explore the art, jewelry, and handmade items of the region. When we reach Commerce Street, check more of the shops and items made by local artisans. Then hop back on the cattle car to the Spring Creek Shopping Center. Finally, visit the West Feliciana Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand Street which would have been interesting, and see the Grace Episcopal Church (closed for ceiling repairs).

Redemption & Rehabilitation at Angola Prison Experience a first-hand look inside the secure gates of Angola Prison-Formerly America's most dangerous penitentiary. At our first stop in front of Angola's first and most famous cellblock, step off the bus for an exclusive guided tour of the Red Hat Cellblock. The penitentiary's first cellblock was home to the escape artist Charlie Frazer and was the site of 11 executions by electric chair. Sit comfortably in a prison chapel pew as inmates share their testimonies and provide personal insight into how moral rehabilitation changes what was once known as the "bloodiest prison in the country." $59, Duration 4 hours

Day 5, Tuesday, Mar 3: Natchez, MS (8AM - 5PM)
Yes, although the rain seems to be over (heavy about 3AM), it is still a bit foggy. I took the coach tour (the weather is clearing) but about all there really seemed to be there to see were several old mansions/plantations and I've seen lots of those on the east coast. The rest of the town definitely seems to be commercially orientated so I didn't do any walking around. Step into the plantation lifestyle of the antebellum south in Natchez, site of numerous restored mansions. Visit historic Jefferson College, or just amble down the Natchez Trace. At least the Riverlorians talks continue to be interesting.

Included Hop-On Hop-Off Tour: Natchez is the center of the Antebellum South. From Spring Pilgrimage to Christmas, there's no shortage of excitement in this small town as we tour the antebellum mansions of this quiet river town. First we stop at the Natchez Visitors Center for the mandatory visit to their gift shop, bookstore and also see their exhibits including a film about this historic port. Or relax and simply enjoy the spectacular views of the Mississippi River. A narrated tour of the city includes admission to the antebellum mansions: Magnolia Hall, Stanton Hall, Rosalie Mansion and the William Johnson House. As we head back to the boat, we have the opportunity to explore Downtown Natchez as well as a stop for even more shopping opportunities at the Eola Hotel and included admission to the Natchez Association for the Preservation of Afro-American Culture Museum.

The Story of Cotton in the Antebellum South Frogmore Plantation offers a look back to the 1800’s and the life of plantation workers in the fields. Begin with a music performance in an original plantation chapel as the Mistress of Frogmore narrates tales of plantation life and simulated plantation workers sing the trials and triumphs of life on the plantation. Return to Natchez while our guide explains the continuation of southern music through ragtime, blues, and jazz. Rounding off our tour we stop at Longwood, a historic antebellum octagonal mansion and the largest of its shape in America. Also known as “Nutt’s Folly”, this unique mansion remains unfinished and stands symbolically in representation of the last burst of southern opulence. $79, Duration 4 hours.

Day 6, Wednesday, Mar 4: Vicksburg, MS (8AM - 5PM)
The weather is definitely cooler but still nice enough. I did the full cattle car route then walked back to a three museums of interest: the Coca-Cola Museum, the Old Depot Museum and the Lower Mississippi River Museum. They are great but it is a real problem to see all that I want to see what with lunch and also we have a "mandatory" Dis-Embarkation Dis-Orientation session this afternoon which cuts into my on-my-own exploration timing. The three museums make this my number 2 (after what I had hoped for in St. Francisville) favorite stop. At least here the weather cooperated!

5PM - as we pull away from the landing area, it is starting to mist and then light rain. Also the temperature is beginning to drop very noticeably. 6PM - NOAA forecast for here to New Orleans: Tonight 70% chance of rain, low 38; tomorrow 60% chance of rain and high of 42. With that forecast I'm getting the idea that I may not even leave to barge tomorrow.

VICKSBURG: Discover a unique blend of old and new in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Take in the diversity from National Historic Landmarks to the Waterways Experiment Station. Billed as the "Red Carpet City of the South," Southern hospitality is alive and well and awaiting our arrival.

Included Hop-On Hop-Off Tour: Vicksburg, Mississippi is a place bursting at the seams with local culture, character, art, entertainment and outdoor adventure. With sweeping views of the Mississippi River, Vicksburg perfectly blends Southern culture and heritage with exciting modern-day attractions. Board our cattle car as it heads towards its first stop at the Vicksburg's shopping district. Next stop at The Church of Holy Trinity; a place of spiritual refreshment to Vicksburg for over 125 years. We stop at Anchuca Mansion, named from the Choctaw word meaning "happy home," Anchuca is one of the most significant homes in Vicksburg, Anchuca is an impressive Greek Revival antebellum home. As we come back into the downtown area, continue to the Old Court House Museum, which showcases thousands of artifacts from pre-Columbian times to Civil War implements. Then stop at Washington Street for an included admission to Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum and the Yesterday's Child Doll and Toy Museum. We stop at the Lower Mississippi River Museum, where we can find out how different communities, farming families, and the US Army Corps of Engineers have all utilized the river. Finally visit The Old Depot Museum, a preservation museum run by the Vicksburg Battlefield Museum and highlights the Siege of Vicksburg.

On the Front Lines of the Civil War Visit the site of the Civil War battle that would become one of the most pivotal moments in America's history. Enjoy a tour of this historical town and learn of its connection to the war and the importance of victory before continuing on to the Vicksburg National Military Park. Stops include the USS Cairo and Museum; the Iron Clad River Boat as well as the National Cemetery, and the Vicksburg Battlefield Visitor's Center. $69, duration 4.5 hours

Day 7, Thursday, Mar 5: Hibernationville (all day)
6:15AM: Brrrr! Shiverrrrr! It is 34 and very windy with occasionally rain. The wind/rain chill is almost certainly down in the low 20s. I heard someone saying that there are icy patches on the decks and I wouldn't be surprised. Today's visit is to Hibernationville. I'm not going out in this. I'm going to hibernate.

Supposedly this town is named something like Bottum Roggue or something like that but I'm not going for a walk out in this weather to find out and the windows are so fogged up that it is impossible to see out. I'm not even going out on deck; I'm hibernating. Never mind what the Awful-Queen people promised us - it's not worth going out to see it so I won't even list what was promised in their propaganda. No, I don't blame them for the weather! So much for our visit to "Hibernationville."

It is cold; even our cells are on the cool/cold side. The bears have such a good idea - sleep it away. Noon: Still very, very cold and windy. The river is quite choppy - not tossing us around but there are "whitecaps." The rain is holding off, but BRRR!!!. The sky is very dark and overcast. At least lunch is good and is the only good thing about today. However today at lunch the "Front Porch" was jammed since nobody wanted to eat on the larger open front. Everybody was jammed into the smaller enclosed area with many seats taken up by a bunch of "old biddies" who weren't eating, just sitting there taking up space while they ran their yappers. Later, almost to dinner time, the Front Porch is still occupied by enemy yappers. Fortunately, by getting there about 20 minutes early I was able to find a place to sit.

We don't escape from here until 9PM tonight. Hopefully it will be better tomorrow. I ordered my new, replacement luggage from Amazon this evening which runs up the cost of this trip a bunch more. Therefore it will have to serve as my souvenir of this trip.

Day 8, Friday, Mar 6: Plantation Road, Louisiana - Nottoway (8AM - 5PM)
After a rough night, we have a freeze (28) this morning. There are signs on all the external doors warning of ice on the deck. The wind was so strong at times that the outer door to the Frong Porch was damaged - one hinge was torn off. The expected high is only 50 so it will be another "not nice" day. Despite having turned up the thermostat last night, it is still cold in my cell this morning and there is frost on the windows. I'll need a fleece jacket even here inside.

Mid-morning the "River Yappers Gang" again invaded and the Front Porch became "occuppied territory" all over again. At least it was after breakfast time, but still a big disruption of lunches.

This would have been another Hibernation day but the day is just too pretty to do that. If we "dare" go out, (well bundled up - multi layers) we are invited to experience living history through a large, extended "romantic" antebellum mansion of the Deep South. I did a brief walk-through of the house then beat a hasty retreat back to the not-so-frigid cattle barge rather than shiver and shake my way around the grounds. BRRRR!! This evening, if we aren't still too frozen to do so, we have to have our main luggage packed and out in the corridor by 10PM for pickup (and more damage?) by the staff.

Included Walking Tour: Shiver through a tour of Nottoway Plantation, the South's largest remaining antebellum mansion. This stunning historical plantation lies between Baton Rouge and New Orleans and offers a view of a truly grand plantation. Take a guided tour of an American Castle as we explore Nottoway followed by a frigid stroll through the lush grounds and gardens and including the 170-year-old slave cabins where the west-African folktales of Compair Lapin, known in English as the legendary "Br'er Rabbit," were recorded.

Life in the Bayou - Cajun Swamp Tour This optional extra cost tour was cancelled / not offered due to the weather.

Day 9, Saturday, Mar 7: New Orleans, LA (arrive 6AM)
The Un-American Queen policy is to gouge tourists even more by adding a large mandatory gratuities fee to our shipboard account - and this after they ruined my luggage! If we complain enough we can get it reduced somewhat. Complain, Complain, Complain.

The cattle barge is supposed to arrive at 6:00 AM, and tie up in New Orleans near historic Jackson Square. We have to have our breakfast at 6AM so that we can be ready in the Saloon by 7:15. We have to claim our luggage on the dock (but the Awful Queen luggage staff struck again and lost my luggage) and take it to the cattle cars. The driver was kind enough to wait a while and they did eventually find the luggage – and do more damage. We left for the Direct Airport Shuttle (pre-booked) leaving from the dock of the American Queen at 7:45 (make that 7:55) going to the New Orleans International Airport, arriving at the airport at approximately 8:30 AM. Before I knew that they offered an airport transfer, I had booked this later flight – just in case. Therefore I’ve ended up with a 5-hour wait at the airport. At least the flight isn’t very long.

United UA 3788New Orleans - Houston1:20P - 2:30P 1:10

I made it home about 4:15 in time for supper, and all the hassle of losing an hour when resetting my clocks for Daylight Savings Time which starts tonight. Then I have a very long 35 days at home until the next trip. It is too bad that I can't just as easily re-set the calendar forward about 30 days

Day 1, Friday --- in flight -- nice weather on both ends
Day 2, Saturday --- New Orleans -- sorta gloomy; almost non-stop, drive-by-glimpses only tour
Day 3, Sunday --- Oak Alley -- Very foggy, no visibility, damp, misty, definitely cool
Day 4, Monday --- St Francisville -- Colder, light but constant drizzle, not a walk-around day, BIG disappointment!
Day 5, Tuesday --- Natchez -- cool but a nice day. Some walking
Day 6, Wednesday --- Vicksburg -- best weather of the trip, nice places to visit
Day 7, Thursday --- Bottum Roggue -- Hibernation day; missed a visit to the USS Kidd
Day 8, Friday --- Nottoway Plantation -- icy, frigid, freezing temp but pretty day
Day 9, Saturday --- in flight -- Cold but good weather

The BEST parts of the trip:
The Riverlorians presentations.
The included excursions were better than expected.
The museums in Vicksburg
The food on the Front Porch is much better than I had expected.
A nice crew except for those luggage mishandlers.

The WORST parts of the trip:
My awful (location), extremely noisy "Cell."
The weather.
Missing out walking and seeing (lots) more of St. Francisville.
My luggage getting ruined.
No Internet Wi-Fi
No work space in my cell except for the window sill
Missing out on the National WWII Museum excursion.


The largest steamboat ever built, the grand American Queen is a triumph of American ingenuity. It is the only authentic steam-powered overnight paddlewheel riverboat in America. Although filled with modern amenities, her rooms display all the opulence of the American Victorian era. You can select a volume from the vast collection in the Mark Twain Gallery, the boat's library. Combining the best of the old and the new, this beautiful lady of the river epitomizes the grace and grandeur that has made River Cruising an American tradition for more than two centuries.

Ship Statistics: Length: 418' Beam" 89' Crew: 160 Decks: 6 Passengers: 436

AMERICAN QUEEN PUBLIC ROOMS: Despite its 418-foot length, the boat is easy to traverse. Walkers have plenty of deck space to discover, as three outdoor decks traverse the entire boat. Most days start in the center of the boat on Deck 2, home to the Purser's Lobby, with an intricately carved staircase leading down to the Dining Room and the Grand Saloon. Just beyond the Purser's Lobby are American Queen's most over-the-top spaces. The sprawling Mark Twain Gallery is a plush, jam-packed, very dimly lighted cave (living room) of sorts. It's also one of the best spots to (not) tap into the boat's free Wi-Fi. While there's no dedicated Internet cafe onboard, there is one computer for the passengers in the Mark Twain Gallery that is particularly useful for printing out airline boarding passes near the end of the cruise. The free Wi-Fi is definitely NOT generally accessible ship-wide. True mariners will check out the Chart Room on Deck 4, just above the Front Porch. There are shelves full of books and charts. It's a good place to sit back and relax. If you want some fresh air, head just out the door and grab a rocker.

AMERICAN QUEEN ENTERTAINMENT: There's a surprising amount of entertainment to be found on American Queen -- and some of it breaks out at unexpected times such as the singular delight (or horror, depending on your tolerance for high decibels) of the boat's calliope, found on the top deck next to the bar that bears its name. Stand close enough, and you can feel the mist from the steam producing the music.

The main entertainment venue is the Grand Saloon. Its design is based on Washington's Ford's Theater, and it has a replica of the box in which Lincoln sat on that fateful evening; on the ship, the "Lincoln box" is named after Ralph Waldo Emerson. A variety of performances take place there. Expect magicians, Mark Twain impersonators and big bands like the Glenn Miller Orchestra. There also seems to be a policy of "Silence is not allowed!" All day (and until after midnight) the P/A and speaker systems are constantly playing "music" (awful noise) or "vocals" (dogs howling at the moon or at each other).

There are daily lectures in the Grand Saloon by the boat's "riverlorians" who provide historical and often lyrical context on the boat, famous American figures connected to the rivers, and the passing landscape. They are always happy to answer any questions.

DINING: Dining and cuisine are an important part of cruising, and the cuisine on the American Queen fits well with her itineraries since many of the dishes fall into the "contemporary southern" cuisine category. More mis-information: the American Queen now has only two dining venues -- the J.M. White Dining Room, and the casual Front Porch of America. Each has its own personality and attraction.

J.M. White Feeding Trough: The J.M. White Dining Room (deck 1) carries the name of a famous riverboat captain and the name of another large steamboat, the 350-guest J.M. White, which was one of the grandest steamboats on the Mississippi after the War of Northern Aggression. This dining venue has marvelous views of the river. There are two seatings for dinner (5:15 pm and 7:45 pm) with assigned seats. Being set 2.5 hours apart, dinner is a leisurely (miserably long) meal, so I will use the Front Porch for all three meals.

*** Front Porch of America (on deck 3 one deck above my cell) is a busy place where snacks are served 24 hours a day. This small enclosed porch has three nice short self-serve buffets each day: breakfast from 6AM to 10AM, followed by lunch from 11AM to 3PM and dinner (the best of the day) from 5 to 8. Guests can either eat inside or take their food outdoors on the open porch and into the cold, wet breezy weather to eat. The food here turns out to be very good.

Highlights include:
Complimentary shore excursions in every port.
Complimentary hotel before your voyage - w/ breakfast, and transfers to the American Queen.
Complimentary bottled water and soft drinks throughout your voyage.
The only steamboat with multiple specialty dining options, no formal wear required.
Daily lectures by the Riverlorians, our onboard historians.
Professional showboat-style VERY noisy "entertainment" nightly.