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Rolling on the River – The Mississippi

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Written by Denny Custer.

So, what is the second longest river in the US? Naw, not the Missouri – it’s number 1!

The Mississippi is some 200 miles shorter. This was just one of the educational tidbits we learned recently, riding the Mississippi Queen from St Louis to St Paul. The awesome reality of this trip is that the Mississippi is very pristine, with relatively little development along it, outside of the towns, which are not that numerous. This was a most scenic journey, operated with Swiss-like competence.

The Delta Queen Steamboat Company, based in New Orleans, operates three paddlewheel steamboats on a variety of routes which center around the Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers. Our trip was 6 days and 7 nights, with cast off at 7:30 pm at the Gateway Arch in St Louis. With a diagram of the ship and the daily Steamboatin’ Times, we were prepared for anything and everything.

We can tell you the food was excellent, in variety, preparation and presentation. Breakfast was available as a very well done buffet or ala carte. Lunch was a buffet with many many choices. Dinners were 5 course with a choice of 2 appetizers, choice of two soups, choice of two salads, choice between 5 entrees, and a plethora of dessert options. Because we carried 410 passengers, there were two sittings for dinner, one at 5:15 and the other at 7:45. You have the same table mates for dinner all seven nights.

Entertainment was also absolutely excellent. Shows were put on each of the 7 evenings, also in two sittings to match dinner times. The core was an excellent band, the Steamboat Syncopaters. In addition to supporting the nightly talent, the group played for those enjoying dancing from about 9:15 pm until the last rug was cut. There was a core ensemble of 4 singers, each very very talented. One, Laura Sable, presented a solo performance on the great ladies of song….which was tops. Each of the shows was unique (featuring jazz, rag-time, dixieland, patriotic, oldies but goodies and easy listening music) and just very very well done.

The Paddlewheel Lounge, a two story affair looking out over the paddlewheel, featured a trio with nightly entertainment. The pianist, guitarist and drummer, along with their singing were top quality and highly entertaining. Not only could one enjoy popcorn and drinks, but late evening buffets were available in the lounge for the very late nighters.

An absolute highlight of the trip were the daily 45 minute lectures of our Riverlorian, Bill Wiemuth. Bill was simply outstanding. One was, naturally, about Mark Twain. Two featured the Mississippi River and its 26 locks that we would pass through. One was on the Louisiana Purchase and it was superb. Our Riverlorian got into buckskins and presented two lectures on the Lewis and Clark expedition, through his eyes as Sergeant Bill Gass, one of the exploration party. Again, the word outstanding comes to mind. He also had two presentations on steamboats which were first class. He also conducted daily he tours of the pilot house which were excellent and was available daily to answer passenger questions. Mileage charts of this trip were available to all so one could follow our progress through the locks and towns along the way.

Our cruise made stops at Hannibal, Dubuque, LaCrosse and Red Wing. Intended as half day stops, we were early enough in 3 cases that they were almost full day stops. One could just walk the towns ( easy from the ship’s tie up locations) or there were several that had organized side-trips if one wished. One particularly interesting visitation was at the Mississippi River Museum at Dubuque. Just opened this past July, it is a first rate facility which is extremely well done.

The ships departures are a real show and in addition to Mark Twain and Becky Thatcher seeing us off from Hannibal, there were some folks at Lacrosse dressed in period costumes to wave goodbye. As we pull away, Nancy Waldman had the calliope warmed up and she played river songs for 5 minutes or so to the delight of those on board and on shore.

We were just very fortunate to have a nice week weather-wise. We departed under gloomy skies but awoke in Hannibal to clear skies and a nice warm temperature. This would hold all the way to Red Wing, where that day was a bit cooler and partly cloudy. It was just soooooo relaxing to sit up front, catching warm rays and breeze and enjoying the scenery. We would really recommend doing a river trip during warm weather. Fall foliage may be nice, but jacket weather wouldn’t make the trip as much fun. One also has to be aware of May Fly season. We’re told it only lasts a night or two, but it is extremely messy.

Our stateroom was very tastefully done and we enjoyed a private veranda. The daily care the crew gave the ship in cleaning and assuring all was in ship-shape was well done.

The Mississippi Queen also had a very comfortable small theatre for viewing feature length films as well as documentaries having to do with historical themes. There was also an on-board beautician available all week long. While we didn’t participate, there were games and activities daily for those
who wished.

The value for the cost was certainly in line. And yes, we are well aware of the vast number of superlatives used in this write-up. The superlatives are justified. Our hosts have done this trip many many times before and their meticulous attention to details showed. This was just a great adventure, one we can heartily recommend.

Bon Voyage!

Karen and Denny Custer

PS: Dress is casual with two exceptions, the Captain’s Reception and the Captain’s Dinner. We’re on our way to Captain’s Dinner!