Rolling On the River, Revisited

The cruise industry’s newest ships now call on New Orleans as the city grows into a more important cruise hub. But lately, evocative reminders of the riverfront’s past are also visiting New Orleans in the form of paddle wheelers.

This spring, the American Queen, once a fixture on the river, resumed cruises from New Orleans for the first time since 2008. And in August, a newly built paddle wheeler called the Queen of the Mississippi is scheduled to begin cruise itineraries here. Both offer multi-day trips for passengers who want to visit cities and sites along the Mississippi River, take in shows and history talks abroad and reconnect with America’s riverine heritage.

“This is the slowest time machine man has ever created. It travels at 8 miles per hour, but you almost instantly feel transported back in time,” says Tim Rubacky, senior vice president of marketing for the American Queen Steamboat Co.

The American Queen certainly looks the part, with its splashing red paddle wheel, its wedding-cake decks and its towering smokestacks. It also represents a remarkable turn-around for a travel sector that seemed dead just a few years ago, when the bankruptcy of the American Queen’s previous operator removed the last paddle wheeler from  the Mississippi.

Accommodating 436 passengers, it was first launched in 1995 and originally sailed for the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., along with the smaller sister ships Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen. But that company got into financial trouble and the vessel was eventually repossessed by the federal government, which had underwritten its construction. The new company bought it for $15 million last year and invested another $6.5 million for upgrades.

Meanwhile, a second company, American Cruise Lines, is slated to begin service on its Queen of the Mississippi, a smaller vessel, his month.
 
“I think what this says is that it’s tough to erase 200 years of history and steamboats are part of this country’s history,” says Rubacky of the American Queen.

For AmericanQueen schedules see GreatAmerican-SteamboatCompany.com; for Queen of the Mississippi schedules, see AmericanCruiselines.com

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