Cruising at 7 Miles Per Hour
By Mark West
This past July, I took my parents on a cruise up and down the Mississippi River on the Mississippi Queen Steamboat. The Queen is one of three Paddlewheel Steamboats that cruise year-round on the rivers of the Midwest and South. Her sisters include the smallest and oldest, the venerable Delta Queen as well as the American Queen, the largest and the newest.
The Mississippi Queen had been recently refurbished, outfitted with new furniture, carpeting, and a fresh coat of paint. She's five years old and carries most of the amenities of home with her including a staff of eager-to-please young attendants.
We received an upgrade on our accommodations as a present from the Steamboat Company to my parents who were celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary. Our cabin was large and spacious with a King Sized Bed and a Sofa that pulled out into a Full Size Bed. We also had a tub, shower and our own private Veranda, a wonderful place to sit, read and watch. River cruising requires the ability to relax and enjoy the world as it moves by at 5 to 7 miles per hour. If speed is your game, check out the Concorde.
If you enjoy great food and lots of it, this is your cruise. Breakfast and Lunch could be ordered off of the menu or enjoyed at a bountiful buffet. Dinner included a choice of Appetizers, Soups, Salads, four Entrees, and wonderful Deserts. Each night there was a Midnight Buffet that was theme based, including "Chocolate Heaven." The cooking tended to be Southern and New Orleans Style, not at all out of character for a Steamboat on the Mississippi.
Our particular journey began at the famous Arch in St. Louis. We headed North to the home of Samuel Clemmons, a.k.a. Mark Twain, at Hannibal, MO. This cruise shared two Themes: "In the Good Old Summertime", and "Mark Twain". Speakers and Actors recreated the life and stories of America's most famous writer as we paddled along the Mississippi.
After a hot, humid day in Hannibal, we shoved off for the next stop on our trip, Burlington, Iowa. On this stretch of river north of St. Louis to Burlington we passed through 13 locks, although most of the lockings raised us only a couple of inches due to high water. Locking is an activity that gets a lot of attention from the passengers as well as the local citizenry. As soon as they heard the sound of the Queen's Steam Calliope, they would turn out in cars and pickup trucks and would run to the locks to wave and talk with us.
This trip truly proved the old adage that often getting there is much more fun than your actual destination. While the towns of Hannibal and Burlington were clean and quiet, the real enjoyment of the trip was moving up and down the river.
After Burlington, we headed South, passing through all of the locks again, passing St. Louis at night headed for Cape Girardeau, MO. A half day there, with a city bus tour arranged by the local citizenry, and we turned around North again for our next half day stop, St. Genevieve, MO.
St. Genevieve is the oldest settlement west of the Mississippi, showing its French ancestry in its architecture. The Acadians settled there on their trip south to their eventual destination of Louisiana, where they became known as Cajuns.
On the Seventh day, we docked at St. Louis, loaded ourselves onto a bus and headed for the airport, full of delightful memories. Thirty two years ago, when I was eight, my parents took me on a seven day cruise on the Delta Queen, a trip that I have never forgotten. It seemed only right to return the favor and give us some more happy times to relive.