Jan and I decided it was time for us to have a more extended vacation than the weekend trips we’ve been doing so far this year.  After some searching we came across the American Queen river boat from the Great American Steamboat Company.

This looked like it had everything we wanted.  Departure and arrivals not too far from home, a relatively small ship, quality accommodations and a relaxing itinerary.  We booked it almost on the spur-of-the-moment.  It turned out to be a wonderful choice for a number of reasons.

Click (double click?) the video above to play 
(about 53 seconds long).

This trip report is organized a little differently than the usual reverse-chronological blog order.  I hope it works.  You should click on the links below to step through the sections on that particular subject.  This will open  a new window or tab and when you close that you should return here.

1. Entertainment & Activities
2. Food & Drink
3. Stops & River Sights
4. Air Shows
5. Fireworks
Please let me know about any errors, important omissions, or other problems.  Either post a comment after this section or email me at:

Opinions & Conclusions

Most of all, this trip was the best we’ve taken for several years and it had a great therapeutic effect on me.  I came back feeling the best I have since Spring of 2011.  My oncologist was quite amazed!


The food was great, even though we felt the selection was limited at breakfast and lunch if you ordered off the menu.   The evening meal (not a buffet) had a variety of choices and staff were quite willing to accommodate changes and substitutions.

The overall atmosphere was one of relaxation with the crew members very “laid back”.  They enjoyed talking and laughing with the passengers who were open to that and properly reserved for those who were not.

The music and entertainment was fitting for a Riverboat cruise. We really enjoyed all we saw.  Not lavish “Las Vegas” sorts of productions but good performances by talented musicians.

The “Hop-On Hop-Off” tours worked well with no congestion or confusion.


You could tell this was an inaugural season with some disorganization in specific areas.  For example, some staff clearly needed additional training.  For four days we had to contact housekeeping to get the necessary number of towels and washcloths.  Also, we never learned the name of the person who dealt with cleaning and stocking our cabin.

There were schedule changes which were not communicated very well to passengers.  Mostly these were due to river conditions but it made planning the next day a problem sometimes.  Jan and I were a little disjointed by the amount of steamboating we did, we had expected more time on the river than we got.

Though not the fault of the American Queen, the hot weather was a deterrent to many outside activities.  Temperatures of 104 degrees with humidity kept us inside a lot.  We did suggest that strategic placement of fans and ‘misters’ around the open decks would have helped a lot.

Passenger Demographics

As you might expect, the passengers tended to be more affluent, retired people but there was a smattering of younger people too.  We only encountered a few who were not Americans, and the rest  were mostly from the South or East coast.   Overall passengers were friendly but there were some groups who tended to stay with themselves.

Dress was casual.  I only saw a few men in sports coats though the women tended to dress up a little more.   I got mixed reactions to my usual daytime “weird T-shirt” wardrobe and some people seemed confused or offended by the one that read “Not Dead Yet.”

Final Note

We liked this cruise enough that we have booked another in October from St. Louis to St. Paul.  With luck this will be in the Fall Color season and should be a lot cooler.


 Many thanks to my long-time friend Mike Apsey for editing the video and for help with creating these blog posts.

For most of the day there was some sort of music or activity going on, aboard or ashore, often more than one thing at a time.  We had a few occasions where it was necessary to choose which activity to do.

Off the boat (when docked) there were the freeHop-On Hop-Off”  bus tours which took passengers around the town and would stop at a few of significant locations to let passengers shop, see the sights or visit local attractions.  The buses are made up to look like the AQ itself.  The quality of these tours varied depending the town.  As I commented elsewhere the river towns suffered when the riverboats shut down and now are rebuilding the attractions that used to bring tourists in off the river.

There were also other tours (for a fee) that were more extensive or went farther afield.  We didn’t take any of these so I can’t comment on them except to say they were available.

Later in the day there were movies, bingo, and lectures by Riverlorian and author Jerry Hay.  In the various bars and other locations there was music by the ‘house’ musicians (The Riverboat Syncopaters) either as the full group, duo, trio or singly.




There were additional musicians such as Jackie Bankston who we had first met on Windstar cruises and enjoy her performances a lot.



The evenings always had a show in the theater.  For our cruise these included; The Juggernaut Jug Band.



A Mark Twain impersonator who we did not see.

Blend, a Doo-Wop quartet – these guys were good and had a great variety of 50’s & 60’s music.  They even had an Elvis Impersonator.


Bodine Balasco “The Last of the Riverboat Gamblers” a stage magician.  He also provided instruction in the Mark Twain Gallery on card tricks and  riverboat gambler card ploys.

and ?


The theater shows always had two performances, one during the early dinner seating so the late diners could see the late show and vice versa.

I’m not sure you can call it music or entertainment but one thing you shouldn’t miss is the calliope.  It is located on the top deck, just above the River Grill and produces an awesome sound that echos back and forth across the river.  Believe me this is one fearsome musical instrument!  But once is enough if you value your hearing!



It seemed to us that The American Queen placed a lot of emphasis on dining.  In fact, several people commented that they may have gone overboard in that way.   I have to say I had no complaints with the food served in any of the dining rooms.  The only problems were service-related and were generally minor.

Food on the AQ is served in several other places.  Besides the Main Dining Room, food is also served on The Front Porch and at The River Grill also serve food.

The Main Dining Room serves the major meals.  Breakfast and lunch is buffet style with an optional limited menu.  Dinner is served at two sittings, early at 5:30 and late at 8:30 (times varied depending upon other events).

Here’s  a typical view of the lunch buffet in the main dining room.



Was surprised one day to find whole roast pig on the lunch buffet.  I was told they spend over 12 hours preparing each one (and they had several.)


Seating for dinner is at an assigned table and with the same dinner companions each evening.  Jan and I were exceptionally fortunate that we fell in with an interesting and fun group.  Every evening was fill with good conversation and humor.  Left to right are Diane & Joe (Florida), Me & Jan (Iowa), Pam (New Zealand), and Tom & Wendy (Maryland).

The Front Porch is open 24 hrs per day featuring free soft drinks, soft-serve ice cream, popcorn, snacks, fruit and limited food selections for breakfast and lunch.  Occasionally they served dinner such as barbecue ribs or chicken.  It seemed to be the favorite place for non-drinkers though often there was someone there to fetch drinks from one of the bars if desired.  Her’s the inside (air conditioned) part.  This was early in the morning so not many people were there.  The outside (open air) part was popular in the morning before it got too hot.  It was a good vantage point for watching where the boat was going or what was happening when docked.


The River Grill is an open deck Bar (partly shaded) overlooking the paddle wheel.  Usually they have food there like burgers, ribs etc. but on this cruise the temperatures were so hot that the only time they did this was for the 4th of July ‘picnic’.  Still, with a breeze and  when some tables were shaded, we spent a lot of time there.  It is also the place where we went to watch the fireworks and the air show.

Here is a picture of the setting up for the 4th of July picnic at the River Grill


Alcohol is available in several places.  I should warn that, except at the evening meal and for special occasions, you must charge your drinks to your stateroom.  Their prices for drinks are rather high – for example a glass of Single Malt Scotch starts at $18 for Oban and ranges up to $30  for Laphroaig .  A good Chardonnay was $9 a glass.

In the Main Dining Room complementary wine and beer is available with the evening meal.

The Captains Lounge and Bar is just outside the Main dining room and provides comfortable seating with a good selection of wine, beer and spirits which you can charge to your cabin.

The Engine Room  Bar is the nicest, most ‘cozy’ place to get a drink.  They have a large selection and often have entertainment.  Just outside this bar on the port side is the only smoking area that I noticed but it is well isolated from the bar proper.  The Engine Room Bar is rather and in the later evenings of for certain entertainers it can get crowded.

Alcohol is also served during many evening performances in the theater at the same charge as from the Captain Bar.



Counting the departure and arrival we made six stops along the trip.   They were, Memphis TN (Departure),   New Madrid MO,  Padukah KY,  Cape Giraradeau MO,  Chester IL, and St. Louis MO (Destination).

Because of the shut down of the older Riverboats in 2008 most of the small towns along the route have declined due to the loss of Riverboat tourists.  Now that the AQ is back in service many of these places are starting to revive but it is obviously a slow process and what we saw was a number of boarded-up shops around the docking area.


We flew into Memphis on Wed, 06/27 and immediately went to our hotel.  We learned that Hillary Clinton would be delivering a speech the next day directly across the street!  Luckily she was finished before we had to get out to the boat.

The hotel was fine (Marriott) but there were a few timing issues.  Checkout was at noon but we would not be taken to the boat until after 3pm.  On top of that the hotel bars/restaurants did not open until 1:30pm or later.    Finally we walked a couple of blocks to a unique  little bar/restaurant called Westy’s. They had a friendly, small-town atmosphere and an extensive menu.  I had the Chicken & Dumplings and was oohing, aahing and yumming through the whole meal.  There was a good beer and wine selection too.

New Madrid MO

Our first stop (after two days ‘Steamboating’) was the site (approximately) of the famous New Madrid (pronounced Mad-Drid) Earthquake  (1812-1813).  This town has lots of historical building and interesting architecture but very little shopping remains open, particularly on a Saturday.

Here is the AQ at the levee in New Madrid.  You can’t tell from the picture but it is actually quite a steep climb from the water level.  They had golf carts to assist those with limited mobility.


Here is one of the many beautiful old homes along the pleasant streets of New Madrid.  Several of them were built from Cyprus wood which resists termites and lasts a long time in the climate.


Padukah KY

Again, the lack of river boat traffic has taken its toll on the riverfront businesses here.  Plus, since we were there on a Sunday, many were closed for the day.

Padukah is known for the National Quilt Museum which hosts 40,000 visitors a year.  Besides exhibits they have educational programs and gatherings of quilters annually.

Here is how it looked as we approached the landing at Padukah.    Of the two barges on the right, the one without the crane on it was actually a floating concert stage.  It was probably brought in for the July 4th celebration coming up.

One interesting thing about the flood-wall mural project which involved painting historic scenes of along the concrete wall which protects the town from exceptionally high water. The murals are on the town side of the wall though some impromptu ones are on the river side.

Continue Reading


One great part of the July 4th celebrations in St. Louis was, not one but two, airshows over the Mississippi River – right where the American Queen was docked.  I took nearly 1000 photos, mainly in ‘burst mode’, as it was difficult to track some of the planes in the air and get a decent shot.

I (sort of) recognized a number of these aircraft but I’m no expert so anyone who can give more definite identification, please add a comment and I’ll  update the ID’s in the post. (As usual, clicking on a thumbnail will take you to a larger version of the picture in another window or tab.)

Here a group of sky divers have jumped from above the Arch and are trying to pass through it before landing.  Most of them made it.


This is (I believe) a B-17 with its fighter escort.  I don’t recognize the fighters for sure.  This was really quite a sight and got a lot of attention from the viewers.


Another airplane I couldn’t identify.  It was a graceful and zippy little jet that appeared like a glider with a jet engine attached.  He/she did some incredible maneuvers quite close to the water.


Another shot of the same jet showing it was no slouch when it came to the speed department.  You could tell the pilot was having a lot of fun showing off.



There were a number of biplanes in this show.  Again my identification skills are lacking.  The only ones I know of (by name only) are the Setabria and the Stearman.  Anyway, this one sure was peppy and maneuverable.


For the size of this twin engine plane it certainly did some spectacular flying.  I would not have wanted to be a passenger on this flight!


A biplane in an inverted loop.  Made me queasy just to watch!





Because of length I’ll split this post here:

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St. Louis is a city which takes Independence Day very seriously with parades, music, food and a huge fireworks display. We were extremely lucky to have an unmatched viewing location for the 2012 fireworks.  The American Queen was moored just South of The Arch while the fireworks were set off from a barge in mid-river across from The Arch.

Here is a sampling of pictures of the display.  I took hundreds of shots and it was hard to choose a few best representatives.  I wish I could add the sound that goes with these pictures but that would have made this page a whole lot more complicated to construct and view, so just use your imagination. 

As usual,  clicking on a thumbnail image will take you to an enlarged version of that picture in another window or tab.


The Dayton Hamvention is the largest Ham Radio get-together in the in USA and possibly in the world.  It goes on for three days every year along with many related events before and after.

Here I am on a rented scooter, checking out some of the gear in the flea market



Here is a view of a small section of the flea market.  Overall it covered acres.  This is where the scooter was a very big help.  Particularly when it got hotter later in the day




More radios from the 50’s and 60′.  These are ones I drooled over   as a kid.




Click to enlarge

Here I’m wondering how I could get one of these neat old radios home if I bought one  Probably too much of an load to lug back to the bus/



Not only Amateur Radio gear was here but lots of broadcast equipment too.  Here are a couple of old audio mixing boards.




When we went out to Dayton we traveled with a number of members of our local radio club, The EIDXA.  We kept in touch via radio along the highways and could coordinate stops  that way.

Here are fellow members Tom Vavra (WB8ZRL) and Jim Spencer (WØSR).

An inflatable antenna.  Pretty impressive.







This old Edison phonograph was not for sale but seemed to be in great shape, in working order, and prized by the owner.






Not all serious stuff.  Here is the Alien Biker Ham.





This is a view of the inside vendors displays.  Later in the weekend it got a lot more crowded and I took to parking my scooter and walking to avoid running over someone in the crowd.




Here is one of the most popular booths, the one for ICOM radios.  They were showing some newly released gear so it was quite popular and always busy.



I never could figure out what the business model of this company was.  A very unusual combination of things being sold.









Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority.  The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong.  All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on “I am not too sure.”

–H. L. Menken

Откъде да купя иконаХудожник 

Warning, this is sort of a brag post but I hope you will allow me this bit of vanity.

Last weekend (Feb 17-19) was the ARRL International DX Contest, CW  and, despite chemotherapy on the 16th, I participated.  I made a moderately serious effort, mostly to prove that I could.  My final results were: 648 QSO‘s,  251 Countries, & 487,944 Points.  This was approximately 90,000 points fewer than last year but I am still happy, considering my health situation.

Related to this.  On that Saturday (Feb 18) I received a large envelope from the ARRL.  In it was this certificate for my effort in the 2011 ARRL International DX Contest, Phone.  My score in that contest was 739 QSOs, 277 Countries & 614,109 Points.  On February 27 I received a second envelope with a updated certificate.  It seems that the original contained a printing error which implied my achievement was greater than it actually was.    The certificate is for first place in my category in the ARRL Midwest Division which consists of the states of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.   The corrected certificate is for first place in my category in the state of Iowa, not the entire division.   Still, this is something I am proud of.

Next month is the 2012 instance of this contest — we’ll see how I do on that one.

БогородицаI don’t usually make posts like this but I will make an exception for things I think are cool, fun and useful.

If you are a ham radio operator then you almost certainly know about the Dayton Hamvention.  This is one of the largest gatherings of radio amateurs in the US and occurs each May.  Even if you can’t attend in person, you can join in some of the fun by connecting to the video stream provided every year by Tom Medlin, W5KUB.

Each year Tom goes to considerable expense to provide this service and I would like to urge anyone who can, to make a small donation to help out with his expenses.  Go to his web site for details.

Also, I want to emphasize that I have no connection to Tom other than enjoying the streaming video that he provides.  As always, posts on this blog are completely non-commercial and not meant to generate any revenue for me in any way.