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The American Queen

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness …broad, wholesome,
Charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in
one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
       Mark Twain

Our foursome met on a river cruise from Vienna to Amsterdam. We shared a passion for travel and writing, and friendship developed. The Midwestern Eads convinced the New England Fastesons that travel experiences are incomplete without an American river adventure. Two years later, here we were, writing about our travels and exploring New Orleans and the ‘Mighty Mississippi’, loved by river enthusiasts for generations. We flew in a day early to sample the city before our river quest.

We stayed at one of the grand hotels of the South, the Fairmont New Orleans. We were impressed by the elegant lobby, illuminated by crystal chandeliers, complimented by gilded columns and arches.

The Fairmont has been frequented by Presidents and royalty, and was home and campaign headquarters during the 1920s for Huey Long, controversial governor, and later Senator from Louisiana. Radio broadcasts were beamed from the Fairmont’s Blue Room; Guy Lombardo and Glenn Miller were some of the greats who performed.

The hotel concierge gave us directions and we were off. The Fairmont, conveniently located just off Canal Street, one of New Orleans’ main arteries, is a short walk to the Vieux Carré, or French Quarter, and major attractions.

Discoverin’ N’Awlins

New Orleans proved much more than Mardi Gras. From the bawdy backdrop of Bourbon Street to the gracious gentility of Royal Street—what a difference a block makes!

We strolled the French Quarter for an overview of the area—Jackson Square, the Café du Monde, and then returned to the Fairmont to dress for dinner at the renowned Brennan’s www.brennansneworleans.com . Brennan’s, one of the best-known family names in culinary excellence, has been awarded many accolades. The menu was a cornucopia of tempting choices.

Each of us ordered a different soup, appetizer, entree, and dessert and had a fun-filled evening sampling one another’s dishes. Our favorites were the Turtle Soup, Buster Crab Pecan, Tournedos Chanteclair, and, of course, their signature Bananas Foster.

We sat at the table where this scrumptious dessert was created, according to Blake Brennan, grandson of the founder, who greeted us. This is a dining experience that exudes pride in the quality of the cuisine, meticulous attention to detail, and the personal attention of its restaurateur family. After a delightful meal we returned to the Fairmont to dream of the majestic paddlewheeler, American Queen.

The Cruise

After a half-day city tour, we boarded the American Queen. Walking to the Robin Street Wharf, we could see her fluted 109 foot tall stacks rising above the buildings, and we knew we were in for a treat. Check-in was a snap. Soon we were snacking and exploring this “floating palace”, inspired by the legendary luxury steamer the J.M. White, of 1878.

“The steamboats were finer than anything on shore – like palaces.”
Mark Twain

Departure: American flags snapped in warm breezes, and historic images were evoked from storied river passages. The calliope resonated with Americana tunes, and jubilant passengers waved to curiosity seekers ashore.

The massive riverboat puffed and steamed in the mighty Mississippi. We were on our way upstream, but back to the spirit of Mark Twain, River Bard himself.

American Queen dazzles the mind with grandeur from bygone days. We first saw the posh Victorian Ladies’ Parlor, and where we later enjoyed afternoon tea. Across was the Gentlemen’s Card Room, a masculine den.

Then we entered the Mark Twain Gallery, an antique-filled retreat with Tiffany-style lamps and rich mahogany, offering many cozy areas for reading daily newspapers or library selections, enjoying coffee or tea, or simply relaxing. Ahead, guests find the Grand Staircase with its majestic trompe l’oeil style ceiling … Fine appointments abound.

Life onboard

The plush veranda suites had double doors opening onto captivating views of the river. The cabin décor throughout American Queen is a blend of Victorian antiques and replicas.

For breakfast, we could enjoy a light meal on the Front Porch of America, a made-to-order breakfast in the formal dining room, or a buffet in the Grand Saloon that included talks by the Riverlorian (river historian), Chris Wistey. Her chats revealed river features that might otherwise be overlooked, and her amusing tales of the area and its past added to our cruise enjoyment.

The theme of our voyage was “Food and Wine Experience”. There was an array of regional specialties at dinner, supplemented with choices designed by guest chefs from New Orleans, and each course was enhanced with select wines.

Daily, there were wine and cheese seminars by vintners and demonstrations by guest chefs, offering a foretaste of evening meals. Delta Queen’s cruises offer differing themes and this variety attracts repeat passengers. Others simply enjoy the river’s serenity and lifestyle.

One day we ventured below to the Engine Room and saw the massive mechanics of the American Queen. The eye-level view of the powerful 50-ton red paddlewheel churning in the mighty muddy Mississippi will long be remembered.

Evenings, the Grand Saloon offered selections by seasoned entertainers offering great talent and enthusiasm —“French Quarter Follies”, “On Broadway”, and more. The finale, “An Evening in Acadiana”, featured a Cajun band and a hilarious comedian. The infectious Cajun music had every toe in the house tappin’ and all hands clappin’ as they strummed and sang. Later, beads flew from the balcony, and a taste of Mardi Gras and N’Awlins came to the American Queen. What a treat!

The Main Deck Lounge and Captain’s Bar just outside the J.M. White Dining Room, was a popular gathering place evenings for relaxing and enjoying piano melodies. Although she has a more intimate ambiance than ocean cruise ships, the American Queen is the largest steamboat ever built, and offers a host of options for clientele.

Three televisions were concealed on this grand paddlewheeler, somewhere. Why intrude upon intrude on the tranquility? We were steamboatin’ along leisurely, and would get to Natchez on river-time – all was serene. This was Life on the Mississippi.

Quality service and luxurious amenities of the American Queen was vacation enough, but we were reminded of all that awaited us at port stops – antebellum mansions, historic sites… We were in the Deep South – gracious and welcoming.

Imagine times past, and feel fortunate that this Americana tradition is kept alive as an elegant option for roaming America’s waterways. From rocking chairs, freshly baked cookies and lemonade on America’s Front Porch, to hors d’oeuvres and entertainment into the night at the Engine Room Bar, there were nooks throughout the paddlewheeler befitting any mood.

We lingered over breakfast before reluctantly disembarking in New Orleans. Ours had been a wonderful four night cruise. Next time we must do a week on America’s rivers. We had two more days in New Orleans, and headed to our hotel. We’d only scratched the surface of the South, and there was much more…

New Orleans can be like a capricious teen, sometimes impetuous, tawdry and brazen, yet other times elegant, urbane and refined. The choice is yours.

Add a colorful past and present to a sophisticated culture, the finest dining imaginable, bake in Southern warmth and hospitality, and you have the recipe that is only an appetizer for a place we affectionately call N’Awlins.

For more information, go to New Orleans Visitors Bureau

 

 

Story by Doug and Carolyn Eads and Roger and Linda Fasteson

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