Old Man River
My wife and I, experienced ocean and European river cruisers, sailed from Memphis to New Orleans during June and overall had an enjoyable cruise aboard the American Queen Riverboat. The cruise is a laid back lazy way to travel a relatively short distance at a speed of no more that 10mph and see some typical lazy southern towns. Unfortunately the service aboard was also somewhat lazy and not up to expectations particularly at the prices paid. Weather in June was very hot at around 36C most days. Unlike river cruises in Europe the Mississippi is not very scenic although it is quite interesting due to its scale and as there is much more ‘traffic’ and industry. The boat can also negotiate bridges etc. a bit easier albeit it has on many occasions a need to lower its chimney stacks – interesting to watch and a photo opportunity. On-board was a Riverlorian who held lectures everyday on aspects of the Mississippi and also arranged visits to the wheelhouse/bridge. We didn’t make all his lectures but found those we did, to be informative and fun, as was the visit to the wheelhouse. The boat itself is much more spacious than I expected and our cabin, 401, was roomier than some I have had on ocean cruise-liners, as was the bathroom. We didn’t have a private balcony but chairs and a table were supplied at all cabins for sitting on the open walkway. Our cabin benefitted from a corner and hence larger sitting area and shaded. There is no mini-fridge in the cabins although ice is available from your steward and water is supplied and there is a door to the external sitting area/walkway as well as an internal one to a passageway. Storage was fine although our cases would not fit under the bed. My only complaint around the cabin was the Steward who wanted to organise cleaning etc around his schedule rather than what suited us. However after a few words we managed to sort the problem albeit he still didn’t perform that diligently. Food on board was good, as was the house wine, and not the usual huge American portions although service in the main dining room was friendly but left a lot to be desired and on some occasions was quite chaotic. On more than one occasion the wrong meals were served at our table and often the waiters ‘went missing’ but could be seen standing at their stations nattering. Neither did they deal well with special request such as wishing olive oil, for example, bringing it long after we had finished our salads. Also if you arrived towards the end of the opening times at breakfast or lunch many of the buffet items had been cleared away, limiting your choice. They were also slow to replenish items on the buffet as they were used-up. I made a point of reporting the problems to the Maitre D’ who was generally obvious by his absence but he didn’t seem too concerned. The Front Porch Café offering more casual dining was, I felt, far too small and badly arranged leading to queues and congestion although it did offer outdoor shaded seating and snacks including ice cream throughout the day. There is also a River Grill which I never saw open and a Captain’s Bar with limited opening. The main bar is the Engine Room Bar with an excellent host, Rafael, evening entertainment and a porch for smokers. There were various daytime activities available and the evening entertainment was generally very good. My only complaint is that the show for 2nd seating guests were at 18.15 and the later showing (19.45) was over by the time we had eaten. Most 2nd seating diners choose that in order to enjoy late afternoon sunshine or early evening aperitifs or socialising and don’t want to be getting dressed up at 18.15 when dinner is not until 20.00. Many of the stops we visited were sleepy little towns with the exception of Vicksburg and Baton Rouge. At all the stops hop-on-off buses were available at around 15 to 30 minute intervals and included was access to many of the museums on the route. You could also book specific tours but we found the buses to be adequate and a great provision. However in Vicksburg the bus did not have a stop at the Military Park and that was disappointing. Many of the towns however were quite compact and could be walked easily including Vicksburg and Baton Rouge, if you could stand the heat. Gratuities are added on a daily basis at quite a high rate of $13.50 per person although these can be removed or adjusted by visiting the Purser’s Office. In light of the poor restaurant service and less than diligent cabin steward I adjusted our overall gratuities down. In addition I tipped direct to anyone I though was provided excellent service. So I would reiterate that we had a most enjoyable experience and would recommend it as a very different type of cruising experience on a really nice boat with friendly staff and well organised ports of call, just don’t expect a top class level of service.
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