A look inside the American Queen
by Kate Prince
On Wednesday morning, this small town country girl felt like she was touring the Titanic.
The American Queen Steamboat visited Paducah for the day as part of their "Bourbon and Bluegrass" themed trip from Cincinnati to St. Louis and I had the privilege of taking a private tour and meeting the Captains.
My trip began at the top of the vessel in the pilot's house, where I met Master of the Vessel Captain Brent Willits, as well as both Pilot Captains George Carpenter of Ballard County and Joe Jamison. Hotel Manager Michael Brown also paused to tell me about some of the boat's details. Travis Vasconcelos is the Riverlorian that guided my tour of the steamboat.
The American Queen is the world's largest steamboat and the only authentic overnight paddlewheel steamboat in America. The boat has a total of 7 levels and is 99 feet tall but in order to pass under bridges can be taken down to 55 feet. The width of the boat is 90 feet and it is 420 feet long. On the current trip, there are 202 passengers and 141 workers.
There is no lack of entertainment on an American Queen river cruise. The 2 level Grand Saloon, which is a replica of Ford's Theatre, seats 300 and offers 2 shows each night along with dancing. There are 4 entertainers and a band of 7 that play and perform in the shows.
Antiques, as well as historical and unique items are spread throughout the vessel. A steam calliope that is made of 14 carat gold plays music as the boat docks at each river city. A beautiful refurbished chandelier hangs over the grand staircase; it originally hung in the Anheuser Busch home in the late 1890's. Michael Blazer of Iowa, one of the most celebrated river artists, painted all of the steamboat's paintings by memory.
A large silver water cooler sits at the entrance of the boat. Having this available is a tradition that allows passengers to have a cool drink after boarding. A Ladies Parlor and a Gentlemen's Card Room are positioned on each side of the cooler and are adorned with elegant décor including items such as Tiffany Stained Glass lamps. In the Gentlemen's Card Room, the focal point is a large boar's head named "Killer" that was stuffed and mounted after it was killed in the paddles and thrown aboard the Mississippi Queen.
A Mark Twain Gallery library is available for passengers use while aboard the vessel and provides reading space and tables for puzzles and offers a Victorian atmosphere. There is also a movie theatre that will seat 75 people, a swimming pool, a spa for pampering, and a state-of-the-art gym.
Dining on the American Queen is a highlight of the voyage. There are 2 restaurants offered on board along with 4 bars. "The Front Porch" is a passenger favorite that replicates an antebellum mansion and offers an informal setting. On Wednesday while visiting, the aroma of grilled hamburgers filled the air as the restaurant hosted a cookout. The "J.M. White Dining Room" portrays the atmosphere of an original steamboat and offers a 5-course dinner nightly from the acclaimed cuisine of chef Regina Charboneau.
Before yesterday, I'd never stepped onto a boat of such grandeur. I was honored to be invited onboard and was taken back at the beauty of the American Queen. There were several times I had to remind myself that I was on a boat and not in a mansion. Many never have the opportunity to cruise on such a vessel, including myself. Captain Willits shared that piloting a boat such as the American Queen was a dream. For me, it would be a dream trip to set sail on the inland river waterways for such a historical voyage.