Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Mississippi River Cruise, Pt 2

We’re sailing the Mississippi aboard the brand new Queen of the Mississippi of American Cruise Lines. Follow along with us as we go from St Louis to Memphis…

After finding our feet aboard this modern interpretation of a classic 19th century paddle-steamer, our first meal comes as a pleasant surprise.

There is just the one dining room aboard and it is open seating from 12.30pm for lunch and 6.30-7.30pm for dinner. And, interestingly, you get to pre-select your meals in advance (basically, so the galley doesn’t over-cater). At breakfast each day, every guest receives a form to fill in for their lunch and dinner choice from an either/or choice for starter and main course at lunch, and, in the evening, a choice of two starters (usually a soup or salad) and three main course options.

Our first lunch is impressive, with a relatively simple choice (soup or salad; sandwich or main-course salad) and lots of flavour. We are also told that if we don’t see something on the menu we like, they will be happy to accommodate most requests. In fact, given a little notice, the galley can come up with a wide variety of alternatives, including vegetarian, low sodium and kosher.

After lunch, our ship sails, leaving St Louis behind and sailing upriver to Alton in Illinois. Surprisingly, we go through two sets of locks and a canal that by-passes a rocky section of the Mississippi proper. It seems surprising to us this far down the river but our resident ‘Riverlorian’ – the onboard lecturer on all things Mississippian – tells us it is a relatively modern alteration that really helps the smooth flow of river traffic.

More importantly, it gives us chance to explore our home for the next 7 days, this new ship that may seem a bit small by the standards of past river-cruisers (which could be almost 400ft long and carry 400-plus, as opposed to our 150) but is certainly beautifully out-fitted and immensely comfortable.

This Queen is certainly more modest in terms of dimensions and amenities. In addition to the dining room, there are three separate lounges, including the main Magnolia Lounge, which is used for the daily lectures and evening entertainment, the Deck 4 conservatory Sky Lounge (below),with its outdoor patio and terrace, and the clubby Paddle Wheel Lounge.

Deck 5 is largely open air, with a large covering, with the addition of a small putting green and plenty of chairs and rocking chairs in which to sit and watch the riverbanks glide slowly by.

Each of the 4 main interior decks also have a small lounge/card/room/library type set-up, providing a nice small-scale retreat for those who just like a quiet place to read or chat.

This is certainly not the all-action, all-feature type ships we see on ocean-going routes and even some bigger river-cruise vessels, but, with a clientele that is largely 60-plus, well-travelled and keen more on listening than doing, it is superbly well-equipped for the job.

The staff aboard are all young, keen and fresh-faced, as well as immensely friendly. This isn’t the white-glove, six-star service of a Silversea, Seabourn or even a Uniworld, but they make up for it with a personable style that is enthusiastic and accommodating, very eager to please and very familiar with their river-going vessel.

The weather isn’t great so far – around 50F and overcast – but every stateroom has its own climate control system that works extremely well and the overall effect is of great travelling style.

Next – Our first stop, Alton, Illinois.