A Mississippi riverboat just gives you that certain feel — especially if you love cruising and have an interest in the history of this great American waterway.
Just seeing a paddlewheeler from shore evokes images of the fascinating era of the classic steamships that helped develop the Mighty Mississippi by delivering passengers and goods to towns and cities along the river and its tributaries.
Getting onboard for a sailing, however, is even better. A Mississippi River cruise lets you follow some of these routes and immerse yourself in history and adventure. American Queen Steamboat Company has expanded the offerings for cruising in North America with the arrival of American Countess.
The vessel offers a spacious home for a fun mix of entertainment, enrichment, food and relaxation while you meet new friends and enjoy destinations on weeklong voyages traveling between New Orleans and Memphis on the Lower Mississippi.
American Countess can carry up to 245 passengers on a spacious four-deck design, and it’s the fourth riverboat in the AQSC fleet.
I joined the ship for its christening and inaugural sailing, a five-night voyage from New Orleans to Memphis, and discovered at least four cool reasons that cruisers will love a Mississippi River cruise on American Countess.
Style and Comfort
Most riverboats on the Mississippi have been traditionally adorned in the classic Victorian style. That means Tiffany glass windows and lamps, hardwood paneling and floors and swooping staircases and shiny chandeliers.
American Countess, however, sports a modern elegance that easily blends comfort and style. The décor steers away from the full wood paneling and, instead, features walnut wood accents, Italian fabrics, modern artwork, whimsical sculptures and eye-catching paintings, carpet and wallpaper.
Standard balcony staterooms offer large amounts of space, and the bathrooms are among the biggest we’ve seen on the rivers and feature big walk-in showers.
The Grand Lobby is the vessel’s main gathering area. It’s a stylish lounge with a long bar, plenty of seating (couches and chairs) and near floor-to-ceiling windows to view the flowing river and sunsets as you sail. This is where the riverboat’s house band plays tunes at cocktail hour and into the evening after the shows in the adjacent theater. Chandeliers hang from the ceilings.
The top sun deck is wide open, with cushioned loveseats and chairs arranged around tables and situated under canopies to offer a pleasant area to enjoy cocktails while basking in the fresh air and natural surroundings as you sail.
American Countess sails voyages on the Mississippi River (both upper and lower portions) and on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers.
Cruisers can choose voyages from New Orleans to Memphis (or reverse) and enjoy the music, history, food and heritage on display in this part of the country, which includes stops to Natchez and Vicksburg, Miss. A riverlorian offers enrichment chats so you can learn about the development of the river and communities for which the Mighty Mississippi serves as a vital driving force. You’ll learn about Mark Twain, jazz, blues, and the rich culinary influences of each region.
The Upper Mississippi sailings include visits to St. Louis and Minneapolis, as well as inviting towns in Iowa and Wisconsin. On the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland cruises, you’re immersed in America’s heartland, with exploration of St. Louis, Cincinnati and Louisville among the highlights.
Food and Drink
Your time spent cruising the rivers is a small part of the overall sensory experience. Food and drink is also part of the journey, and American Countess chefs craft menus that are rich in southern cooking classics and offer the very best cuisine in each area where you cruise.
On our New Orleans to Memphis voyage, we indulged in dishes like croque madame, andouille hash and Totally Bananas French Toast (bananas foster, banana nut bread and rum-flavored whipped cream) for breakfast, shrimp and grits for lunch and crispy Delta style catfish and roast lamb rack for dinner. Desserts included strawberry shortcake, carrot cake and molten lava cake.
There were two separate bourbon tastings on our sailing, and you can order up dozens of classic cocktails that quench your thirst and help tell the tale of the rivers. We saw a few people order Hurricanes as we pulled away from New Orleans, of course. I chose to indulge in an Abita beer, instead.
Music and History and More
You can reach a variety of historically and culturally interesting destinations when you cruise on the American rivers. Your excursions offer the chance for deeper exploration of the food, music and architecture of places in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and beyond.
You’ll get an important look at a former plantation in Nottoway, Louisiana, or learn about the civil war siege of Vicksburg, or discover the music of St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans and how it continues to play an important role in the arts and entertainment in those cities and around the world. American Countess offers a program of excursions and onboard entertainment and enrichment talks to help you expand your knowledge during your journey.
For those with an inclination toward fitness, American Countess offers bikes that you can check out for a pleasant ride along the river walks. The riverboat also offers an onboard fitness center.