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Legendary Queen of the Mississippi


For those of us who didn't grow up on the banks of the Mississippi, our introduction to its boats was Davy Crockett. You remember Davy…and the keelboat races with Mike Fink, and the river pirates, and all the other comic book stories that turned into books and movies and a merchandise business that surpassed 42 billion.

The sometimes fictitious accounts of this legendary American folk hero were an introduction to what is arguably the nation's greatest river, stretching from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, fast forward.

On Saturday, another legend arrived on the Mississippi, in the form of a riverboat unlike anything Davy and Mike could have imagined. If the Queen of the Mississippi isn't a legend, she will become one, as the vessel that changed river boating as we know it. She is a 21st-century paddlewheeler with all the modern amenities, taking her passengers back 75 to 100 years, a time warp in luxury.

On one hand, the Queen of the Mississippi passengers currently on the inaugural, 8-day return trip from New Orleans are on a ship that looks, from the outside, that it might have been in Mississippi waters a century ago. On the inside, the flagship of the American Cruise Lines fleet has "hotel-room" staterooms — 300 square feet or more, private balconies with sliding doors, full bathrooms just like the hotels have, and the opportunity to dine in private whenever they want.

On one hand, on-board educational events and themed entertainment will take them back to the way it was, and seeing historical plantations and mansions and landmarks. On the other hand, they can step off the boat and see Baton Rouge, New Orleans and cities of the south the way they are today.

The first paddlewheeler built for the mighty river in two decades, Queen of the Mississippi takes its people on a trip that's a merging of centuries on the Mississippi, the way it was and the way it is. Davy and Mike and their men would be proud…although they might have trouble getting their heads around WiFi.

Carnival Fascination
5 nights
November 5, 2012
Jacksonville (return): Half Moon Cay, Nassau
Inside: $269
Cost per day: $53 $53

Mississippi Cruisers Gamblers at Heart?

Last week, American Cruise Lines announced that its new Queen of the Mississippi was going to be even more like an authentic riverboat with the installation of a 23-ton paddlewheel.

Everything that goes around…

Paddlewheelers on the Mississippi were originally designed to transport goods from state to state. That made them trade centers, which attracted people with money, which led to professional gamblers. Hence the terms Mississippi gambler and riverboat gambler. By being on water, it circumvented state laws prohibiting gambling and besides, on land, gamblers were known to be hanged for their vices.

That was about two centuries ago and It’s ironic that with the return to the authentic ways of the past, gambler seems like a four-letter word. American riverboats are growing, albeit not as fast as their European counterparts, and are trying to attract customers with trips to the Kentucky Derby, visits to Graceland, Civil War vacations and retro music ranging from Glenn Miller to Paul Revere and the Raiders.

And now, an authentic paddlewheel!

What about the riverboat gamblers?

While we seldom know what exactly motivates people to go river cruising, we’ll never know if it’s to be a Mississippi Gambler.

You’d almost think they were afraid of the hangman.

Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas
12 nights
May 28, 2012
Rome (return): Palermo, Chania, Rhodes, Istanbul, Ephesus, Athens, Naples
Inside $899
Cost per day: $75

River Cruising: Time Has Come

Here’s one of the New Year’s resolutions made in our house: By the end of 2012, we hope we will no longer be able to say we’ve never been on a river cruise.

Clearly, river cruising is becoming a significant part of the “cruise community” and it’s time for us — so that we can properly serve you — to get on board, so to speak.

Besides, there are more choices than ever.

On the Danube, Avalon River Cruises has two new ships arriving in May, the Vista and the Visionary, and calling them the latest “Suite Ships.” Avalon will then have 18 ships in its fleet.

On the Rhine, as well as the Danube, Viking plans to have six new ships on the water before the end of 2012. They call them “the longships.” By then, there will be 31 Viking river cruisers.

On the Mississippi, there are three river cruise companies and two new ships — one of them the Queen of the Mississippi — mark the return of paddle wheelers to the river for the first time in two decades. The message is that cruising the Mississippi is making a comeback.

Geographically, that would make the most sense for us. However, there is one caveat. It’s those tales of Mississippi gamblers…

Royal Caribbean Voyageur of the Seas
7 nights
February 11, 2012
New Orleans (return): Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside $469

Mississippi Steamin' Comin' Back

Maybe there’s a generation gap here. Among the news in cruising is that next year there will be two steamboats working the Mississippi River, up one from this year and up two from 2010.

For some of us “steamboats” were what quarterbacks counted before they had to throw a pass in touch football. The “Mighty Mississippi” was just something Johnny Horton sang about in regaling us about the Battle of New Orleans. And riverboats were floating restaurants anchored to the banks of the Mississippi where one could be introduced to tasty dishes like catfish thermidor.

How times have changed. Now there’s a boom on the river!

When the Queen of the Mississippi joins The American Queen (above) on the mighty river next year, it will be either a test on the future of river cruising, or a precursor of what is to come. River cruising is up in most parts of the world, and the Mississippi has been void of steamboats since 2008, when the company that owned The American Queen (and the Mississippi Queen) sank in muddy financial waters. The Mississippi Queen was eventually sold for scrap.

Now her 436-passenger sibling, The American Queen — largest steamer in the world, is getting a $5 million facelift and a permanent port in Memphis. And the 140-passenger Queen of the Mississippi will be making her maiden voyage from New Orleans to Memphis in one year from this month.

Meanwhile, what will quarterbacks count now?

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