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The Mississippi Queen

  • Submitted by: David Stybr
  • Website: None Available
  • Submission Date: 04th Feb 2005

Our favorite travels are on the Mississippi Queen, a giant paddlewheel riverboat built in 1976 à la Mark Twain, but with all modern amenities and space for 500 pampered passengers. This boat is virtually a cruise ship that plies large rivers for 3, 4, 7 or 14 days. This is a superb way to explore the heart of the United States, and indulge in first rate gluttony and sloth too.

On 4 cruises in 15 years, my wife Denise & I have seen more of the Mississippi River than anyone in his right mind would want: from New Orleans, Louisiana to St. Paul, Minnesota; and the Ohio River from Cairo (KAY row), Illinois as far as Cincinnati, Ohio. Europeans cruise this great boat too, particularly British, French and German. In 1996 Denise's parents celebrated their 45th anniversary, so that July the 4 of us cruised the Mississippi Queen from St. Louis, Missouri. One stop was Hannibal, the hometown of Mark Twain, and the cruise was a nice time to reread "Life on the Mississippi".

The Mississippi Queen steamboat both left from and returned to St. Louis, Missouri, so we decided to drive our van there. On July 4 we drove from Chicago, Illinois to St. Louis, Missouri for the Independence Day Celebration under the Gateway Arch on the historic riverfront. The highlight was the finale of the annual Great Steamboat Race between the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen.

To make matters even more special, the new American Queen was already in port. After the evening fireworks we spent the night in the splendid Adams Mark Hotel. Then July 5 we boarded the Mississippi Queen to begin our cruise. Our cruise was also a good time for me to write about a hundred zillion letters and postcards to numerous friends and penpals I hadn't written to for about 6 months.

This was our 4th cruise on the Mississippi Queen (we've also cruised once on the Delta Queen). Boarding was very casual and our luggage was in our room before we were. They had a light lunch buffet, which included free soft drinks along with the usual ice tea, lemonade, coffee. We were allowed on the boat at 1:00 PM, and check in was fast. We were not allowed into our cabins until 3:00 PM, although no one mentioned this so we went to them right after check in. The housekeeper asked us, in a nice way, to leave. They probably should have mentioned this when they took our tickets.

As repeat clients we were given a lapel pin and 10% off at the gift shop. The Steamboatique was very nice, run by friendly and helpful young women. It looked small but they brought out new merchandise for "special of the day" sales.

Our cabins were small but comfortable, a little larger than a walk in closet. We expected this as we had reserved one of the least expensive ones offered as part of the special fare we had found. They were nicely decorated in a Victorian style. The bathroom was also small. There was a medicine cabinet and small shelf for storage. We had a hanging bag for our toiletries and were very happy that we did. There was a 5-drawer dresser and one small closet. Storage was a challenge and we ended up putting our life jackets under the bed along with our soft luggage. Previously they took up all the floor space of the closet. Our large, hard suitcase had to be stored in the closet, as it would fit nowhere else.

The food was wonderful, and better than on any of our previous cruises (including Celebrity, which was great). Lots of variety and very well spiced, always piping hot. The service was also terrific. BUT the dining room was much too crowded. The poor servers could hardly squeeze through the chairs and the noise level was annoying. Another annoyance was a haughty French Maître d'. He demanded to see our boarding passes on the first night and hustled us (a party of six) to the adjacent, identical table, making it seem as if we were at fault. His table captain had seated us at the wrong table because they had no numbers on them. We complained to his boss later that evening and he was nice as pie the rest of the trip.

A note about this haughty Maître d' (Maître d'Hôtel, or Master of the Hotel, in French) we encountered. His name was Robert, pronounced in French as "Robear", which was how he spelled it on his nametag. During the previous decade I had made countless business travels to Germany and France and had made a genuine effort to learn German and French fairly well. After we learned that "Robear" was a Frenchman, I suddenly spoke French to him and he almost fainted. An American who speaks French? Impossible! By the end of the week he had groveled enough so that we tipped him generously after all. On the tip envelope I wrote in French, "We will always carry our boarding passes close to our hearts." He was stunned and replied "Touché!", so we parted on good terms. We forgave him, but didn't forget. Hilarious. Maybe he'll be a bit more considerate to other passengers in the future. Well, pardon my French, ha ha.

Our ports were more interesting than we had expected. We were in Hannibal, Missouri during Mark Twain Days and got to participate in a Fence Painting Competition. We also visited some friends who lived in the area. Burlington, Iowa was our next stop and the least impressive although the townspeople gave us a nice welcome. Next we went to Cape Girardeau, Missouri which was very nice indeed. There was an interesting mural painted at almost every corner. Our last stop was Ste. Généviève, Missouri which was founded in 1735 and had very nice historical French colonial buildings and quaint little shops. The weather was almost perfect everywhere we went.

The entertainment on board was great, not the typical Las Vegas style acts. We had 3 Mark Twain speakers, a fabulous "red hot mama", and the regular boat band of four. One night was Broadway Hits, another was songs from the 40's, another was Blues and Jazz.

The onboard activities could have been more plentiful and scheduled better. My wife's mother was very disappointed that they had bingo only twice and my wife & I wondered why they had only one game of trivia. The activities that they did have, Mike Fink Day Party and a carnival, were really fun and arranged well.

There were few children on board and no activities or programs for them. On our cruise we saw one infant, five children between 6 and 12, and four teens. Most were well behaved and looked after by their parents. The teens were friendly and often stopped to chat with our group. The passengers tend to be in their late 60s and 70s, but are very friendly. Our friends, my wife & and I are all in our early 40s. There were four or five other couples in that age range.

A highlight, and something other cruise ships charge for, was the offer of a marriage vow renewal ceremony. We took advantage of this and it was done beautifully. The captain performed the ceremony. They provided flowers, photos, cake, champagne, and a nice certificate. All in all a very nice cruise.

On our drive home Friday July 12 the road construction (destruction?) crews were present in force. At Bloomington, Illinois we found a nice detour around the construction that by SHEER COINCIDENCE (well, not really) took us to the Nestlé Beich chocolate factory, so we stocked up on some goodies at the outlet store. And to return our frames of mind to normal, but certainly not better food, we stopped in Normal for pizza. We reached home about 6:00 PM.

We're sure glad we drove our van to St. Louis and back. The fact that our cruise departed and returned to the same nearby port was a rare opportunity.

Speaking of "normal" food, have you ever noticed how many cruise passengers run for the nearest McDonald's or Pizza Hut in port for what they so quaintly call "real food"? We don't know how we manage it, but somehow we can endure all of the incredibly delightful cuisine on almost every cruise until reluctantly it is time to debark. Only then do we return to normal food.

We found a very good deal for this cruise. Otherwise the Delta Queen Company fares have become so expensive in recent years that other more exotic cruises such as the Caribbean Sea have become better values. Even our planned cruise of Chile and Argentina next December, expensive as it is, will be a better value because it will be twice as long.

David Stybr

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