Thursday, 8 November 2012

Mississippi River Cruise - Pt 3

Continuing our journey along the Mississippi aboard the new Queen of the Mississippi of American Cruise Lines from St Louis to Memphis…
It is quickly very obvious there is a real daily routine about our week’s cruise on this smart 150-passenger paddle-steamer. Everything starts with breakfast from 7.30-9am (or tea, coffee and pastries for early risers in the Sky Lounge for early risers).
Then it is time for our Cruise Director Nikki and Riverlorian Jim to give us a quick talk on the day’s events and some history about the River. At 10am there are fresh cookies to be enjoyed in the Sky Lounge (the regular availability of free snacks and drinks about the boat is quite notable) and lunch is served at 12.30pm.
If we’re in port, it is off on an excursion (or exploring under your own steam); if not, the morning lecture is saved for the afternoon, accompanied by afternoon tea at 3.30pm, a free cocktail hour at 5.30 and then dinner from 6.30-8pm.
Live musical entertainment is provided after dinner in the main Magnolia Lounge, accompanied by popcorn and, a bit later, by ice cream sundaes (because, apparently, we haven’t eaten enough during the day!).
Our first port of call after leaving St Louis, Missouri, is the town of Alton in Illinois (about 30 miles upriver). We arrive in the evening and it is possible to visit the riverside Casino for those who like a flutter. Instead, we stay aboard to enjoy a memorable dinner and get an early night ready for a 9am excursion.
Alton is a major stop on the former Underground Railroad that helped escaping slaves reach the northern states and, ultimately, the freedom of Canada, and our coach tour of the town is ostensibly to learn all about this history, although it actually turns out to be more of a town tour than Underground Railroad lesson.
We have slightly less than an hour after the tour finishes to see some of Alton on foot, as our steamboat sails again at mid-day, destined for Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Sadly, as it is a Sunday, most of Alton is closed, hence it takes about 15 minutes to complete a tour of the immediate downtown area.
It is a cute town, with some original 19th century brick-built streets and an impressive memorial to the owner of the local newspaper, a slavery abolitionist who was murdered back in the 1830s. More importantly, it was here that a certain lawyer by the name of Abraham Lincoln made a name for himself a few years later, both for his legal work but also for a series of public debates with a renowned pro-slavery politician.
The special statues and signage dedicated to the debates are well worth seeing, and, after a few photos and a quick look around the Casino (complete with its billion slot machines), it is time to be back aboard.
Next up – Cape Girardeau.