Cruising up the Mississippi River in a steam driven stern-wheeler at seven miles per hour, I was reading the River Times for the next day trying to decide whether to go ashore tomorrow morning or stay on board for a tour of the wheel house, and it suddenly occurred to me that this was the most restful and relaxed vacation of my entire life. From the moment we boarded the American Queen in New Orleans until we left her in Memphis seven days later, we were totally taken care of. Coming on board we were greeted by a reception line of the boat’s officers. Then Bobby stepped forward, introduced himself as our steward, led us to our cabin (our bags were already there, picked up from our hotel room) and asked what time we wanted our coffee the next morning.
Our days went something like this: a soft knock at the door, and Bobby appeared with a coffee tray. The two-hour breakfast and then lunch, both in the dining room set with starched white linen, was a chioce between buffet and menu. In the morning we could be picked up by a Hop-On, Hop-off bus to tour one of the quaint river towns, all with ante-bellum houses and local museums, or we could check out a bicycle and tour on our own. During lunch the gangway would be pulled up and we would set off up the river to our next town. We could amuse ourselves by exploring the boat, from engine room to wheel house to the gym and pool on the top deck, or we could be entertained by the musicians playing in the various gathering spaces throughout the boat or attend a lecture by the “Riverlorian,” a title invented by the steamship company for the very knowledgable employee whose job it was to inform us about everything on board and on the shores of the big river.
Dinner was a more formal affair. There were two seatings, at 5 and at 8, at assigned tables. At 7 o’clock, while the dining room staff was busy re-setting the room for the late dinner, all the guests were invited to the theatre for a lively musical performance, different each night, with a cast of four talented singers (two men, two women) and a seven piece band. We had the late seating. After dinner we coulld adjourn to the engine room bar, where there was live music and dancing, or to the captain’s bar for quiet conversation and soft piano music. Or back in our cabin we could read or watch not-to-be-missed television favorites.
On our last day, it was up early for a tour of Memphis–Beale Street, Gibson guitars, and St. Jude’s Hospital–followed by a visit to Graceland. Our luggage came with us, and the last stop was the Memphis airport for the trip home.
This article originally appeared int Laurelhurst &Windermere Living August 2015
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