Planned and Past

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:

Continue Reading


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.


Or – I Can Row, Canoe?

Back in the ’70s and ’80s we spent a lot of time canoeing on local Iowa rivers.  Nearly every nice weekend between Memorial Day and Labor Day would find us on the water.   Sometimes it was just Jan and I in one canoe, but often it was with a group of from 3 to 20 canoes and up to 50 people in the group.   Often we would camp along the river on sand bars or islands.

For several reasons we have not continued this practice into the ’90s and ’00s.  Just recently my two sons (Steev, Allan and partners) were here for a visit and we decided to get out on the river again.  Here is a picture of the group (minus Jan who took the photo.)  L. to R. Jeannette, Allan, Steev, Greta and me.

We rented canoes at a nearby County park which also provided us with all the needed gear and transported us to the put-in point.  Here is the trailer load of canoes ready to head upstream.

It didn’t take long to get to the put-in and within half and hour we were on the river without incident.  Here is Steev and Greta underway.

And here are Allan and Jeannette.

One of the things that makes canoeing in a group extra fun is being able to barge all the canoes together and just float (with minor steering when needed.)  Jan particularly likes this  because she can just sit in the canoe and, as she puts it, “play hostess-mostess.”  Here she is in action.

Another feature of many of our canoe trips is the lunch stop.  When we had estimated that we had covered half the distance to the takeout, we found a {relatively) dry sand bar and beached our canoes.  Here is our simple setup for our picnic lunch.

After lunch a few of us decided to take a dip in the river.  It’s quite shallow and the bottom here was sandy.

The rest of the trip was pleasant though we had a strong headwind which made paddling a little more difficult but we still completed the trip in about 5 hours.  In another hour we were home again and some of us decided on a little apres-canoe soak in the hot tub.  A great ending for a fun day.



On Thursday morning we drove to Oracle, AZ to tour Biosphere2 ; a facility created to better understand how natural environments create habitable conditions for human sustainability. It contains recreations of five of Earth’s biomes, plus a human habitat and a large ecological experiment facility.  It is currently managed by the University of Arizona.    Tom and Steev even helped with the Green Roof experiment.

After returning to Tucson, we went back to our motel where we swam and sat by the pool (in the shade).  Steev and Greta prepared us another great meal that evening.  Because we were getting up early the morning to depart, we said our ‘good byes’ to all three.

After leaving Tucson, we drove another 1165 miles through two time zones to Bella Vista, Arkansas where we spent three nights with our friends, Joyce & George Sheldon.  We arrived back home on Tuesday, March 22, after driving a total of 3240 miles.  A good way to ‘break’ our new truck in!  It was a great trip with lots of beautiful scenery, history, good food, great conversations, and fantastic weather.

After a walk up the canyon on Wednesday Steev, Tom, and I went to breakfast before taking the Queen Mine tour at 10:30; however, it was sold out by the time we arrived so we decided to take in the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum instead.  Before we went to the museum, Steev drove us to the border where we were able to see the wall that has been constructed to keep the illegal immigrants out of the country. 

After the museum, we gathered up Greta and Josie, said our good byes to Peter, and headed back to Tucson.  That evening we went to Chars Thai Restaurant for dinner.

After eating a breakfast prepared by Steev but included Greta’s fabulous scones,  we packed up the car and headed to Bisbee.  On the way, we stopped at Tombstone which is an old mining camp that has  preserved many of the original 1880’s buildings .  It definitely had tourist overload; we lasted for about 40 minutes.

We arrived in Bisbee  in time for lunch.  We walked around Bisbee with Greta’s good friend, Peter, an artist who has been a resident of the town for over 37 years; he served as tour guide and gave us much insight as to the history of the town/area.  Peter also provided a tour of the local radio station where he has a program every week. Tom and I stayed at the historic Copper Queen Hotel where our room has been known to be visited by the ghost of a young boy who drowned in the San Pedro River; it’s believed that his spirit found its way to the hotel because a relative was employed there at the time.  After we settled in, we met up with everyone and went to the Screaming Banshee for pizza .  This was an old gas station that was turned into a very successful pizza business.