Sunday, 25 November 2012

Mississippi Cruise - Epilogue

Concluding our recent - and hugely enjoyably - cruise along the Mississippi with American Cruise Lines on their new Queen of the Mississippi riverboat...

Now we're home again, it's good to look back on the 7-day trip and pick out some of our highlights from the journey, which is certainly an extremely different experience from anything else we've done cruise-wise.

Sailing down the sluggish river to the cheerful sound of the calliope is definitely one of those unique moments, while the sheer camaraderie and conviviality of the whole voyage really stands out.

The slow-paced nature of the journey was highlighted by a series of low-key, if quite charming, ports of call. Alton, Cape Girardeau and Paducah were all well worth a day's visit, but Columbus and New Madrid could easily have been combined, or missed out altogether, as they were barely a two-hour diversion.

On board, the new Queen of the Mississippi is absolutely charming, a modern reinterpretation on the classic river steamers of the past. Cabin space is excellent and the public rooms all a joy to spend time if, if lacking in the one large entertainment Saloon that boats of the past boasted.

The food was unfailingly excellent; a tad below five star but always appetising and well-presented and features like the soups and sandwiches were real stand-outs. The offering of half-portions at both lunch and dinner was also appreciated, as it's easy to over-eat in these slow, sedentary situations. The small on-deck exercise area did provide a bit of relief in this aspect, though!

The provision of free tea, coffee and snack stations in the public rooms was very notable and another highly pleasant feature. Certainly no-one went hungry and the ability to get a good-quality espresso or latte whenever required was much appreciated in these days of some cruise lines charging for small-scale incidentals (as was the free wi-fi throughout the vessel).

Service was unfailingly friendly and efficient, if lacking in a little polish with their lunch and dinner service. The young American staff are all bright and personable, but a little schooling on the proper way to serve formal meals (and not taking away unfinished plates!) would be a good idea.

The voyage was certainly a journey through small-time America, showcased at either end by the cities of St Louis and Memphis, and benefitting hugely from finishing in the Tennessee music setting. The shore excursions were all well thought out and well priced (from just $15-$65) and the provision of free shuttles at many points was definitely welcome.

And the presence of the onboard 'Riverlorian' was a master-stroke in terms of providing the necessary educational and informational content of the cruise, making the journey one of gentle learning and discovery in truly delightful surroundings.

Having never sailed with American Cruise Lines before, it was an absolute pleasure being in their company and, with so many other voyages around the country on offer - notably to Alaska and along the Snake and Columbia Rivers in the north-west - there is certainly much more to explore in future.

And I think we may well do that...

Simon Veness