New paddlewheeler leaves on maiden voyage

American Cruise Lines (ACL) new 150-passenger paddlewheeler Queen of the Mississippi left on its initial cruise from New Orleans last Saturday with a full boat. ACL is offering eight-day and seven-night cruises that will cost passengers an average of $4,000.

“That includes everything,” Charles A. Robertson, ACL’s president and CEO, told a group of reporters at a luncheon aboard the Queen the day before the boat left on its cruise for Vicksburg, Miss. “This cruise will only go as far north as Vicksburg. It’s a pre-inaugural cruise. We didn’t have any trouble selling it out. Most of the people aboard were on the waiting lists for our other cruises.”

Regular itineraries include Memphis, Tenn., to New Orleans with stops at Helena, Ark.; Vicksburg; Natchez, Miss.; St. Francisville, La.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Louisiana’s Oak Alley Plantation. Another itinerary begins and ends in New Orleans. Each cruise has a theme such as Southern cuisine, musical, Mark Twain, and the Civil War.

The Queen of the Mississippi is the first new paddlewheeler built for the Mississippi River in nearly 20 years. In April, the American Queen Steamboat Co. (formerly the Great American Steamboat Co.) launched a 436-passenger 419’x85′ steamboat paddlewheeler, American Queen, this spring, but that boat was a refurb/rebuild.

Twin Caterpillar 32C diesel engines provide the vessel’s main propulsion to the paddlewheel and two Z-drives, which can be used individually or simultaneously. “I doubt we’ll build another boat for us that doesn’t have Z-drives,” said Robertson.

The Queen of the Mississippi offers spacious 300-plus-sq.-ft. staterooms — the largest in the industry — private balconies with sliding glass doors, and an all-American crew catering to passengers’ every need. Daily educational events and themed entertainment help paint a picture of what life on the Mississippi was like in days gone by. “You can see the difference [in the size of our suites],” said Robertson. “The staterooms are about twice the size of the older boats.”

Construction of the Queen of the Mississippi was completed in June at Chesapeake Shipbuilding, also owned by Robertson, in Salisbury, Md., making it the most elegant, fully functioning, authentic paddlewheeler in the industry, according to ACL “This boat was built in two halves, and that made a big difference,” Robertson said, “because we were in a controlled environment and the weather was not really a factor.”


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