I was sitting at my desk last Friday morning getting ready to pack for a 3 p.m. Mississippi River shakedown cruise on American Queen Steamboat Co.’s new 340' riverboat American Duchess when word came that our cruise was delayed. We wouldn’t be getting on the boat until Sunday, which solved my packing problem.

Upon my arrival aboard the Duchess Sunday afternoon, workers were everywhere hanging molding, placing furniture into some of the suites, and a litany of other last minute details designed to set the Duchess apart from its competition.

We media types, travel agents and others were led to the boat’s Lincoln library for cocktails. This part of the Duchess was complete and impressive, part of American Queen’s effort to attract its target audience — people with discretionary income, and lots of it.

The boat was christened with a bottle of whiskey instead of the traditional champagne. Ken Hocke photo

The boat was christened with a bottle of whiskey instead of the traditional champagne. Ken Hocke photo

From there we toured some of the accommodations in the all-suites configuration the Duchess has to offer then moved into the boat’s theater to hear from John H. Waggoner, chairman and CEO of American Queen Steamboat’s parent company, HMS Global Maritime. Addressing the delays the boat had been experiencing, he said, “I have a theory that every project will expand or contract in the time allotted.” He pointed out that it was just about a year ago that the company bought the old 280'6"x87'x14' Iowa casino boat Bettendorf Capri, built in 1995, to convert it into the Duchess. “I’m very proud of everyone involved in this project,” he said.

At the christening the next day, Waggoner said the company is looking for “a little more modern, younger crowd” for the new boat. His wife christened the second boat in American Queen Steamboat’s fleet, the American Empress, in 2014, and the crowd followed Waggoner onto the bow of the boat to watch his daughter, Marissa Applegate, christen the Duchess. “I have two other daughters and two granddaughters,” he said, suggesting there may be more vessels to come for American Queen. “We are a company only challenged by capacity,” he said.

What John Waggoner and his team did in the face of adversity this weekend was pretty impressive. Just the difference between Sunday and Monday was amazing — think about stepping on an ant hill in your yard on Sunday and coming out to find it all built back on Monday. It wasn’t the trip I expected, but it was quite a trip in itself.

And one other thing, the Duchess was not christened with the traditional champagne bottle but with a bottle of Kentucky Maker’s Mark supplied by the distillery’s chairman Emeritus, Bill Samuels Jr.

Meanwhile, the company disclosed that last year it bought another casino boat to add to its fleet of three — the 257'x78'x14' Kanesville Queen built in 1995 — but said it wasn't ready to talk about its plans for the vessel.


Ken Hocke has been the senior editor of WorkBoat since 1999. He was the associate editor of WorkBoat from 1997 to 1999. Prior to that, he was the editor of the Daily Shipping Guide, a transportation daily in New Orleans. He has written for other publications including The Times-Picayune. He graduated from Louisiana State University with an arts and sciences degree, with a concentration in English, in 1978.