Courtesy Great American Steamboat Company
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — One of America’s best-loved traditions is set to return in April when authentic steam-boating on the Mississippi, Ohio and other well-known rivers returns in grand fashion.
The Steamboat American Queen, now being refreshed with a several-million-dollar investment, is being offered for groups to enjoy by its new owner, the Great American Steamboat Company.
The Steamboat American Queen will call Memphis and the iconic Beale Street Landing its homeport and will sail to some of the country’s favorite river towns, including Memphis; New Orleans; St. Louis; Minneapolis/St. Paul Cincinnati; Pittsburgh; Louisville, Kentucky; and Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Other smaller but equally romantic towns across the rich river region will also enjoy stops by the paddle wheeler.
“The demand right now from groups is huge,” said CEO Jeff Krida. “We’ve sold $14 million in group space since September 30. It’s pretty simple, really.
“In 2008, there were 1,400 beds on these riverboats available, and since then, there haven’t been any. So travel agents and tour operators have been saying, ‘Please bring this market back.’”
Originally built in 1995 by the fabled Delta Queen Steamboat Company, the 418-foot Steamboat American Queen will be the only authentic paddle-wheel steamboat offering overnight voyages through America’s heartland. The vessel will accommodate up to 436 guests and will offer three- to 10-night journeys.
Elegant staterooms, plush public spaces and the distinctive cuisine of chef Regina Charboneau will be among the highlights of the guest experience on the paddle wheeler.
“Many of these cruises are themed cruises, like Civil War History, Big Band Music, Southern Cuisine and even the Kentucky Derby,” said Krida. “We’ve booked a ballroom at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville for our Derby cruise. Guests who don’t have tickets to the Derby will attend our Derby party at the Seelbach and have a great time.”
In keeping with the contemporary amenities that travelers expect today in any setting, the Steamboat American Queen will also feature a fitness center, wellness programs for guests and bicycles for use in port.
“These are important to today’s travelers,” said Krida. “Our chef is from Natchez, Mississippi, and will do hands-on cooking classes. We’ll offer yoga and Pilates for guests on board. We have 30 mountain bikes available for any port we stop in.”
Bank travel directors will recognize longtime BankTravel Conference attendee and sponsor Bob Buesing of East Coast Touring Company as one of the key members of the vessel’s ground operation services.
Buesing and Jim Palmeri, his partner in Shore Excursions of America, have been selected to offer local sightseeing services via custom-designed coaches in key cities along the ship’s passage.
“People don’t realize that half the experience on a river cruise is on the shore,” said Krida. “Bob and his crew have five custom coaches that will be with our boat 11 months a year in port cities.
“They’ve been doing their ground research for the past six months. And, very importantly, all ground excursions are included in the cruise price. We’re not nickel-and-diming anyone once they come aboard.”