In The Footsteps Of Mark
Twain On The Mississippi
By Georgina Cruz
“Life on the Mississippi,” Mark Twain described a steamboat in
glowing terms: “And the boat is rather a handsome sight, too. She is
long and sharp and trim and pretty; she has two tall, fancy-topped
Earlier this fall, my husband Humberto and I wanted to emulate Twain
and sail on his beloved Mississippi on a steamboat, so we booked
passage on the American Queen, the largest riverboat ever built with
capacity for up to 436 guests, for a journey on the Upper
Mississippi, from St. Louis to St. Paul—a region of the country
celebrated by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, and of course, Samuel
Clemens, who wrote under the name of Mark Twain.
We re-read “Tom Sawyer” and other Twain books in preparation for the
journey and thoroughly enjoyed an included, pre-cruise, overnight at
the Hilton at the Ballpark in St. Louis (with gorgeous views of the
St. Louis Arch, the Mississippi River, city skyline and Busch
Stadium). We had time to check out some of St. Louis’ attractions
including the world-famous St. Louis Arch, the St. Louis Arch
Riverboats, the Missouri Botanical Garden and the St. Louis Zoo.
After our all-too-brief sojourn in St. Louis (we’ve made a vow to
return in the near future), we boarded the American Queen for seven
days on the fabled river.
It was just wonderful to board this handsome 418-foot-long vessel
with its red paddlewheel, via one of two gangways in its front
“show” area. Built in 1995 (and formerly operated by the now defunct
Delta Queen Steamboat Co. until its parent company, American Classic
Voyages went out of business in 2001) she returned to service this
spring. A recreation of a Mississippi riverboat, the American-built
and American-crewed American Queen has six decks and an elegant
décor accented by gleaming woodwork, lacy filigree, fresh flowers
and antiques, and she boasts a gracious ambiance that instantly
transported us to the American Victorian era. Sipping tea and
enjoying pastries and dainty sandwiches during tea in the
pretty-as-a-picture Ladies’ Parlor, or playing a game of chess in
the Gentlemen’s Card Room, for instance, were just two of the
pleasures that heralded another nostalgic era.
“There is something I truly love about tradition,” Christopher Kyte,
American Queen Steamboat Co. president commented. “I’m drawn to the
timelessness that has survived all the vagaries of taste, style and
trends through the decades and yet still has relevance today. The
American Queen herself, although a 1995 creation, is timeless.”
Enjoying an old-fashioned calliope concert –and trying our hand at
playing it—was just one of many moments onboard when we felt as— if
we were back in the 19th century.
Ashore, among the itinerary highlights we experienced during our
timeless journey on the American Queen was an included excursion at
Hannibal, Mo. where we boarded the Twainland Express to the Mark
Twain Boyhood House & Museum Complex. We explored sights made famous
by Twain’s tales including the Cave where Tom Sawyer and Becky
Thatcher (Tom’s first sweetheart) were lost in and the Becky
Thatcher House and enjoyed other sights that our guide pointed out.
We also savored a free tasting at the Mark Twain winery.
Then, still as part of our excursion, we took a journey to a time
where the golden age of railroading and toy trains were part of most
everyone’s life at the Big River Train Town Museum. And stops were
made at the Trinity Church and the Huck Finn Shopping Center.
At each of the ports, an excursion such as this was included—an
excellent value—and options for other premium tours were available
at extra charge. For example, in Hannibal, a “Mississippi Mud
Hands-On Adventure” was an available premium option for $69. This
tour took participants to the Ayers Pottery shop and working studio
where visitors saw pottery pieces created by a professional artist,
followed by an introduction to basic wheel throwing from a master
potter. Afterwards, participants suited up with a protective apron
and headed to the workshop where they could sit at a potter's wheel
and create their own work of art. The piece is then fired and
shipped to the visitor’s home as a final souvenir of their Hannibal
Other premium tour options include a program out of Red Wing, Minn.
to Wabasha for bird watching and admiring America’s bird, the bald
eagle ($59) and an Americana: Baseball, Apple Pie & America’s
Heartland tour out of Dubuque, Iowa ($69) that takes in, among other
things, the Field of Dreams at the century-old Lansing Family Farm.
But while our adventures ashore at charming river towns and cities
were wonderful, some of our favorite moments of the journey to our
nation’s heartland included enjoying leisurely river days aboard the
steamboat, when we would while away hours on comfy rockers in the
outer decks, binoculars in hand, to spot bald eagles and other birds
flying about and perched on trees, and to enjoy the panoramas of the
mighty river with barges galore and a backdrop of fall colors.
Back in the gracious interior spaces of the boat (the steamboat’s
ambiance is laid-back with relaxed guests that don’t rush anywhere
and the dress code is casually elegant with no designated formal
nights), we had everything we needed and then some. The steamboat
offers a swimming pool, the Mark Twain Gallery (library), the Main
Deck Lounge that sets the scene for lively sing-along sessions, and
the two-deck-high Grand Saloon showplace featuring nightly
professional showboat-style entertainment (on our cruise with such
specialty acts as two polka groups and a rat-pack tribute band).
Other amenities include the AQ Spa by Pevonia Botanica for a bit of
pampering, and organized activities including talks by a “Riverlorian”
who enriches the sailings with legends and lore about the people and
events that shaped the region and our nation’s history.
Multiple dining venues tempting with the fresh Southern fare of
Natchez-born celebrity chef Regina Charboneau include the J. M.
White Saloon that serves traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner—the
latter including such delights as duck breast with orange currant
sauce and dessert beignets. The Front Porch of America, open 24
hours is ideal for a quick-out-the-door meal or snack (ice cream and
cookies, anyone?), and the Calliope Grill serves up grilled fare and
fresh salads—a delectable choice for alfresco meals in the evenings!
For late-night cravings the Engine Room Bar offers a Moonlight
Supper at midnight. The Grand Saloon offers buffet breakfast and
lunch, and there is 24-hour room service available. In addition to
the gourmet fare in the main dining room and specialty restaurants
(all at no extra charge), complimentary wines and beers are poured
at dinner and bottled water and soft drinks are free.
After days filled with touring and activities, guests retire to
staterooms that combine both a nostalgic ambiance of bygone times
with modern conveniences—ours gave us the impression of being a fine
room in a luxurious ante-bellum mansion). Such features as plush
bedding and linens, fine toiletries, large mirrors, wall-to-wall
carpeting, flat-screen television, Victorian-style décor with lots
of lace made us feel right at home.
After our journey on the Upper Mississippi, we left the American
Queen softly saying to ourselves, “long live the Queen,” and feeling
that Mark Twain himself would have approved!
IF YOU GO – For additional information, visit