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Crown Cruise Vacations | February 26, 2020

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American Queen Cruising Again on America’s Rivers - Crown Cruise Vacations

American Queen Cruising Again on America’s Rivers
Heidi

An early morning sun sweeps off a shroud of wispy fog as the American Queen paddles her way along the Mississippi River. In the J.M. White Dining Room, I’m savoring a big Southern breakfast while a friendly dining staff delivers coffee, tea and cheerfulness.

“It’s like a miracle,” says Ernest Thompson of Louisville. “We didn’t think we would ever see the riverboats cruising again. Once they left the river, we were afraid they would never be back.”

Many folks might agree with those sentiments. But, despite the odds, the beautiful American Queen is cruising the rivers once again.

Her improbable tale started when the youngest of three sister ships was constructed in 1995. Listed at a whopping 418 feet long with a passenger capacity of about 435, the American Queen is said to be the biggest steamboat ever built. With her elaborate gingerbread trim and six decks, the American Queen looks like a fancy floating wedding cake.

Once owned by the Delta Queen Company, the American Queen – along with the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen – ruled the rivers. Devoted cruisers eagerly awaited each year’s itineraries.

Then hard times hit. In 2008, the Majestic American Line, which then owned the American Queen, went belly up. The historic Delta Queen was permanently docked in Chattanooga as a floating hotel. The Mississippi Queen was sold for scrap. And the American Queen was put in the custody of the United States Maritime Administration. The luxury steamboat sat in mothballs for years. Her future seemed dark.

However, three steamboat lovers – Jeff Krida, chief executive officer of the original Delta Queen Steamboat Company; Christopher Kyte, founder of the travel firm Uncommon Journeys and formerly the top seller of Delta Queen Steamboat Company cruises; and John Waggoner, president of HMS Global Maritime – decided they couldn’t allow the beautiful boat to be destroyed.

In 2011, they joined forces to form the Great American Steamboat Company and bought the paddlewheeler for $30 million. After a $6.5 million facelift, the American Queen is back where she belongs – on America’s rivers.

In April 2012, the American Queen left her new homeport of Memphis for an inaugural cruise. Priscilla Presley did the honors of formally rechristening the boat with a bottle of champagne. Since then, the American Queen has been drawing passengers with her charms of bygone days.

“It’s been far too long since genuine steamboats have graced the rivers of America,” said  Krida, “Steamboating is back and better than ever.”

Krida should know. He was president of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company during its heyday in the 1990s, a time when the company had the highest ratings going for service, entertainment and value.

Boarding the American Queen in Memphis for an eight-day cruise to St. Louis, I immediately felt a sense of homecoming. After cruising many times on all three queens, I definitely missed them.

There was something special about the three riverboats and to be on the Mississippi Queen again was – much as Ernest Thompson had described it – “a miracle.”

-By Jackie Sheckler Finch