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August 28, 2018
Life on a Paddle-Wheel Steamboat


Today is a rare “steamboating day” (i.e. river cruising without a port), which gives us an opportunity to write about daily life aboard the American Queen. While we have been on many ocean cruises, this is our first river cruise. There are several differences.

First, the water is always calm. There are no swells or choppy waters. Other than a constant slight hum and vibration, you would have no idea you were going up a river on a boat. If you get seasick or apprehensive about being on a boat, this is the cruise for you!

Second, there is always something to see. On ocean ships, we could stand out on deck and literally see nothing for days except the ocean and the sky. On the riverboat, we are always mere yards away from the shore on both sides. And the view is gorgeous.

Third, the mornings and evenings are warm. We can be out at 6:00 am or 11:00 pm without a jacket. This makes it even more fun to get out on deck and watch the world go by. (Of course, it can get quite hot and humid in the middle of the day.)

Finally – and this is particular to this cruise and vessel – the boat itself matches the theme of the cruise. We are going up the Mississippi River, and we are on a paddle-wheel steamboat. We decided several cruises ago that we prefer small intimate vessels over large “floating cities.” The American Queen is the epitome of this intimacy. We cannot put into words how deeply satisfying it feels to be here every day.

         
The working smoke stacks can be lowered, allowing us to pass under low bridges!


The boat’s flags are currently at half staff in honor of John McCain

The Mississippi River passes through 10 states, but is fed by water from 31 American states and 2 Canadian provinces. In total, 6,000 various waterways join the Mississippi. We are traveling 1,739 miles of the river on our cruise, traveling at about 6-7 miles per hour.

We are in what is called the “Lower Mississippi,” which will last until we cross the Ohio River at Cairo. This is what most people picture when they think of the Mississippi River: a wide body of water with gradual banks on the sides, populated by barges and maritime commerce.

Still ahead will be the “Upper Mississippi,” which is narrower and surrounded by cliffs. There will be much less river traffic, and we may be able to see more wildlife further north.

         
Scenes from the Lower Mississippi River


Huge barges usually contain coal, rocks or other raw materials. The “tow boats” actually push the barges upriver.


The “Muddy River” really is brown, thanks to accumulated silt

Russell’s day begins earlier than Gail’s, at about 6:00 am. He gets up, puts on his sweats, and goes up to the “AQ Athletic Center” to exercise. (It’s really a small room with a couple of free weights and machines. Russell is usually the only person in there.)

By 6:45, Gail is up having a cup of coffee and watching the sunrise. We have a small breakfast at the Front Porch Café at about 9:00. We usually succeed at snatching a table against the front side railing, where we sit for a while looking out at the river.

    
Inside and outside the Front Porch Café


Breakfast

We can arrive at port as early as 8:00, though it’s usually closer to noon. We put on our shorts, tee shirts, sunscreen and cameras, grab a couple of water bottles and head out for the day. By the time we reboard in the afternoon, we are hot, tired and exhausted. The Front Porch café obliges with an endless supply of lemonade, cookies, ice cream and popcorn.


We take a dip in the itty-bitty pool after a hot day. Yes, we are the only ones in the pool. (The fitness center behind the pool.)

Each port departure is always accompanied by pianist Phil Westbrook playing the steam calliope (one of the only actual steam calliopes anywhere in the world).

On our last cruise we did not have an assigned dinner table. We discovered that we prefer meeting new people at each meal. As a result, we have worked out the same arrangement on this cruise. We will go to the 5:15 or 7:45 dinner seating at the J.M. White Dinning Room, depending on how hungry we are. Oscar the maître d’ does a fantastic job of finding us a new table every night.

The food, almost entirely American cuisine, is superb.


Maître d’ Oscar and his entire wait staff are all superb

    
The J.M. White Dining Room at lunch and dinner


Russell went on a no-sugar diet for the first half of the year, just for moments like this

After dinner we may go to the Grand Saloon to see the entertainment show, depending on who is performing. (We find that we greatly prefer the onboard singers and band, as opposed to the visiting guest artists.) Or we may walk around the boat and chat with other cruisers.

(Russell has been trying to update the blog every single day. This process can take up to 3 hours for each letter, between the writing, the photo sorting, the formatting and the ridiculously slow onboard Internet.)

When he is able (i.e., not updating the blog), Russell tries to retire at about 9:30. Gail will often stay up much later, continuing to socialize at the Engine Room Bar.

We are both here to do what we never get to do at home. For Gail, this means socializing and meeting new people. For Russell, this means relaxing and recharging his batteries.

On steamboating days (we’ve only had a few so far), Gail likes to go out on deck and find a quiet spot to read or take photos. Russell has brought an assortment of activities including a tablet (he has become addicted to Picross games), a big fat book (that he has not even opened), several board games, a jigsaw puzzle and a Lego set. Russell also plays the grand piano in the atrium, which guests are encouraged to do.


Boardgaming in the Captain’s Bar


Russell’s finished USA map puzzle. (We couldn’t find a puzzle of the Missippi River – this is the next best thing.) The board is cardboard that folds up into a suitcase, reinforced by report cover spines)

Overall we have fallen into a very comfortable rhythm here, and we are glad we have booked the entire 23-day cruise. (This “Mighty Mississippi” itinerary is only offered once a year.) As Gail has said many times as we watch the sunset on deck, “I am really going to miss this river.”


 

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