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September 5, 2018
The Mississippi River says “You shall not pass”

Yesterday morning at 9:00 am, before we had reached our day’s port of Hannibal, Missouri, American Queen Captain Bobby Duncan convened a town hall meeting in the Grand Saloon to share some important news.

Captain Bobby Duncan (on right) and at the town hall meeting
(Photo by Anne Kalosh from Seatrade Cruise News)

Due to rainstorms north of us, the water level on the Mississippi River was rising. The water level affects our ability to pass under bridges. We would still be able to proceed into Hannibal. However, we could not proceed any further north without the risk of getting stuck between two bridges.

Captain Bobby showed some predictive charts of the water level of the Mississippi River. The water is expected to surpass flood levels within a matter of days.

The water will not reced below flood levels until September 13 – three days after our cruise ends

The changing water level of the Mississippi River is not something to take lightly. Due to the thousands of other tributaries that feed it, the water level of the Mississippi can rise very suddenly to flood levels. Every port we visited has flood walls in place, as well as monuments marking previous flood levels.

The flood wall in Paducah, Kentucky (where Russell had his bicycle accident)
A flood marker in Cape Girardeau, Missouri

We have written before how the American Queen can lower its smoke stacks in order to pass under bridges. In addition, the Pilot House itself can be lowered nine feet in order to pass beneath particularly low bridges. During these situations, the crew actually stands out on deck to navigate the boat. Even so, we have seen bridges pass mere inches above of the lowered Pilot House.

The smoke stacks can be lowered

The Pilot House can be lowered up to nine feet

The crew has a separate set of controls for navigating out on the wing

The worse thing would be for the water level to suddenly rise while we are between two bridges without a port. Onboard Riverlorian Jerry Hay says that in 1997, an American Queen vessel became trapped between two bridges for 17 days before the water level receded.

Even with the Pilot House lowered, we barely made it under this bridge!

We were amazed at how much data the boat’s crew needs to deal with, and how far ahead they need to plan. While we enjoyed our afternoon in Hannibal, the crew was working to figure out how to preserve the rest of our cruise.

By the end of the day, American Queen had a revised plan.

Our original itinerary called for us to continue up the Mississippi River almost to Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota. Cruisers would leave the ship at Red Wing, then fly home from the Minneapolis airport.

Our revised itinerary looks like this:

After Hannibal, instead of proceeding upriver, we will turn around and head downriver to the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers at Grafton, Illinois. From there, we will proceed up the Illinois River. Captain Bobby says this is the first time the American Queen has ever cruised on the Illinois River!

Our original and revised routes

From Ottawa, travelers will proceed to the Chicago airport for their journeys home. American Queen will have a representative come onboard to help everyone with their travel changes. In addition, American Queen is providing all passengers with a discount credit toward a future cruise. We have said this many time, but we continue to be impressed by the level of customer service that constantly exceeds our expectations.

Unfortunately, we have a unique situation. We were going to stay in the area for a half-week after the end of the cruise. In Minneapolis/St. Paul we were going to visit and stay with our longtime friend Erin. We have already contacted her with our regrets.

In La Crosse, we were going to visit our daughter, son-in-law and six-year-old granddaughter. Le Crosse is five hours away from Chicago. We still need to figure out what we’re going to do once the cruise ends in less than a week.

Russell pores over the maps


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