Roads Traveled with Linda L. Osmundson
Over New Years we sailed down the Mississippi from Memphis to New Orleans on the American Queen. Boarding the paddlewheel steamboat was like stepping onto a larger version of the Cotton Blossom of “Show Boat” movie fame. Everywhere I looked, I saw southern Victorian items; furnishings, china, hats, gloves, dolls, wallpaper, and portraits. Specialty rooms called “The Ladies’ Parlor” and “The Men’s Card Room” provided quiet reading alcoves or
game tables. The lobby presented more of the same. Electric light fixtures seemed reminiscent of kerosene lamps out of the movie “Meet Me in St. Louis.”
The American Queen celebrated its return to the river last spring, and this trip ended its first touring season. The paddlewheel suffered a crack on a previous trip so we were accompanied by a tug called Buffalo Girl. Maritime law requires two sources of power such as paddlewheel and steam. With no paddlewheel, Buffalo Girl was commissioned to push us all the way to New Orleans.
Accommodations for 436 passengers came in the form of small inside or outside cabins to larger suites with verandas. Prices ranged from $3,000 to $7,800 per person. The price included one pre-cruise night in a hotel, meals, most excursions, entertainment, and wine or beer with dinner. We chose a smaller cabin with an outside entry. Cold, humid, and sometimes wet weather proved a bit uncomfortable, but we survived the movement from cabin to inside locations without mishap.
Our Jazzdagen Dixieland Jazz tour group of 230 chose late dinner seating. Sit-down meals included choices of appetizer, soup, salad, entree, and dessert. Catfish often appeared on the menu as well as other southern delights. At the breakfast buffet, we chose from biscuits, sausage gravy, grits, and choices of fruit, eggs, and breakfast meats. The highlight was small beignets (pronounced ben-yays) sprinkled with powdered sugar, a New Orleans delicacy similar to Mexican sopapillas. Lunch buffet offered southern Andouille (an-doo-ee) sausage, fried chicken, sliced meats and all the condiments. You can view some of the meals at their website.
Since our Jazzdagen Agency hires musicians for its jazz trips, we usually skip the boat’s entertainment. This time we enjoyed both our musicians and shows performed by two young women singers/dancers and two equally talented young men. They performed three nights: show tunes, southern songs, and songs of popular singers. The Glenn Miller band played three nights including New Year’s Eve. The boat passed out hats, masks, horns, and other noisemakers. At midnight, balloons fell from the ceiling along with confetti. We danced until 1:30 a.m. Another night a Mark Twain impersonator wore a white three-piece long-coated suit, spoke from a chair or while pacing, and related humorous Twain-life stories. An unexpected highlight of the trip actually came from another tour group. Their daily Victorian dress awed all passengers. The women donned hooped skirts and matching daytime or formal bodices, hats, wigs, gloves, fans, and fabric purses. The men wore long-coated three-piece suits or Union/Confederate uniforms.
Ports-of-call included Vicksburg, Natchez, St. Francisville, Baton Rouge, and Oak Alley. Hop on/hop off buses provided free transportation between sites. Premium tours (extra cost) viewed other locations like battlefields. One premium excursion was a cooking class at the home of southern chef Regina Charboneau. My favorite tour was Oak Alley, an antebellum plantation with a walkway lined by 300-year-old Live Oak trees leading to a mansion reminiscent of Tara in “Gone with the Wind.” As the boat left the dock, the Carousel music played for the last time on our trip.
I highly recommend the American Queen for a relaxing step into the past. Check their website for destinations, deck plans, and prices.