Delta Queen Steamboat Company
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Operator: Delta Queen Steamboat Company
Year Built / Last Refurbished: 1926 / 1993
Length / Tonnage: 285 / 3,360
Number of Cabins / Passengers: 90 / 174
Officers / Crew: American / American
Operating Area: Year-round Mississippi River
Review by Mark H. Goldberg, TravelPage.com, Cruise Editor, and Christopher E. Smith, TravelPage.com, Associate Cruise Editor
HAIL TO THIS GRAND OLD AMERICAN LADY OF THE WATERS!!
LET’S GO STEAMBOATIN!!!! Hats off to the Delta Queen Steamboat Company for keeping the grand tradition of steamboating alive and well in the USA!!! Through its purchase of Greene Line, a Cincinnati steamboat line established back in 1890, the Delta Queen Steamboat Company is successor to over one hundred years of service on the rivers of America’s heartland…and not only on ol’Man River himself. Often, when new owners buy old standards, they muck things up so badly that the eventual product bares a scant resemblance to what came before. We’re here to tell you that that didn’t happen in this case, and under its current owners, steamboating on the Mississippi, Ohio and other neighboring rivers is more comfortable and nicer than ever before. Since America’s first steam powered vessels started to appear with some frequency on the Mississippi River (from 1811 on), it’s no surprise that the operators of the night boats, those ships offering passengers overnight accommodation and transportation along the river, would have developed credible, if not enviable, standards of catering and hostelry....and they did. Many of the big boats of the past were considered "floating palaces", so sumptuously were they furnished and decorates…For many years, some of America’s best restaurants, if not actually on board the boats running the Mississippi River, were located in nearby locations like New Orleans. Would you be surprised to learn that some of the staples of the American kitchen, fried chicken, pecan pie and chocolate brownies first showed up on the tables of Mississippi River steamers? They did, and America has been licking its fingers after chowing down on plate after plate of Southern fried chicken ever since. Don’t be mislead into thinking these river boats existed solely to carry passengers.....their true raison d’etre was to carry cargo....cotton, in great measure.....and the carriage of passengers was but a peripheral business to add a few bucks to the voyage report. But passenger carrying really did catch on, and some of the boats developed were nothing short of marvelous. And that’s the word for the DELTA QUEEN!!!
Now, as far as the DELTA QUEEN is concerned, she was born a river boat, but the Mississippi wasn’t her river. She was built in 1926, one of a pair of new boats to work the waters of the Sacramento Delta in California, and the son of Greene Lines owner bought her in the late 1940s, astounding the shipping world when he announced he was going to have this shallow draft river boat boarded up....actually turning her into a big floating box....and bring her east through the Panama Canal and into the Mississippi River, where after some modifications to her accommodation spaces, his prize, the now famous DELTA QUEEN, would become flagship of Greene Line.
I guess in her way, the old DELTA QUEEN is as much of a character as was old Mary Greene, one of America’s first female river pilots, and for a time the only woman to own and operate a fleet of steamboats. Well, Mary Greene is gone now, and so is the name of her line....but much of what it was and did lives on.....of course, they don’t haul cargo anymore…except after a few too many of those amazing DELTA QUEEN meals…when the cargo is in the form of a few additional pounds per passenger! Obviously, a vessel that’s been around since 1926 was not endowed by her creators with either all the modern conveniences today’s cruise passenger might want, nor could you expect such a craft to have been able to meet modern safety requirements from the moment of her delivery. In the seventy three years this boat has lived, she’s been the beneficiary of many loving refits....each one making her safer than the one before. While we’re on the subject of her illustrious background, for a time in the seventies, we came close to losing her because she was incapable of complying with then current safety rules. It took a special Act of Congress to exempt her from those rules, and permit her to remain in operation. She is the only passenger carrying vessel (night boat) today that is so honored. We might also mention that this historic beauty is one of the only, if not THE only, former World War II Navy vessel still in service today.
Maybe we haven’t seen them all but in our decades of experience sailing in and visiting things that float and move under their own power, we’ve seen some pretty impressive vessels…We’re here to tell you that none of them matches the total charm and mood of the old DELTA QUEEN, a vessel with a charm and grace all her own. A steamboat is no Atlantic liner…so don’t expect the same kind of on board experience you might get on the ILE DE FRANCE if that lovely lady were still around. And even if she were, there are things she couldn’t give you that a river boat could. There’s something about sitting back on a rocking chair on a covered deck of a river boat and watching America slide by. Maybe it’s kind of like sitting on my home porch, but in this instance, it’s a porch that moves and that’s mighty appealing. So, if you’re angling to see a big slice of middle America....and we’re not referring to the class system here....but geography....the Delta Queen steamboats are a great way to go. They are comfortable craft, lovingly maintained....and the American crew will wow you with their earnest friendliness and efficiency.
These vessels are one of a kind....designed to hint, at the very least, of what it must have been like to be a wealthy passenger on the steamboats of the nineteenth century…and if you choose the DELTA QUEEN you will be instantly transported back to a far more gentle time when the world simply didn’t whizz past you at the speed of light… As the Delta Queen Steamboat Company quotes, "eight knots is as fast as anybody NEEDS to go…" Of course, American travelers are a coddled group, and would not put up with the inconveniences their ancestors had to endure. So you’ll find well appointed cabins, a full array of activities and entertainment, and satisfying, if not elegant food...and on the subject of food…of which there will be further word a few lines down…this line really knows how to feed you. If you are traveling with the family, consider how much more relaxing a river boat vacation is versus long motor trips. The kids will love the boats...and so will you....because parents will be able to sit back and relax a bit. So let the sound of the calliope lull you into a bit of river fever.....and come experience the magic of the Mississippi....on a Delta Queen steamboat.
With such port intensive itineraries, the availability or lack of public rooms is less important. Nonetheless, you’ll be spending most of your cruise evenings on board, and quite a few daylight hours as your steamboat paddles up or down a lazy river and we’re delighted to report that there are some wonderful places to relax on the DELTA QUEEN. The Texas Lounge is on the appropriately named Texas Deck and besides the great views of the river you get from here....the lounge has large windows facing forward and to both sides of the vessel…this is the one of the hot spot on the ship when night falls....it’s the place for night owls....there’s a large bar and a bandstand. It also has one of the best bars afloat…and since you won’t have any driving to do, you can feel free to enjoy a cocktail or two…go on ahead…and you’ll be as pleased as we were to discover that taxed though Delta Queen Steamboat spirits are…the Delta Queen Steamboat Company does not go in for the trendy cruise line game of "gouge the passenger"… AMAZINGLY….when you consider that these guys are paying all kinds of taxes on their hooch, their bar prices are lower than the prices on those salt water cruisers where tax free liquors used to allow steamship operators to offer the lowest drink prices anywhere in the world…A short walk down one flight of stairs will deposit you in the Forward Cabin Lounge on Cabin Deck. This quieter room, with sofas for relaxing, tables for writing postcards or playing bridge, and a service center for coffee is also where the Riverlorian is stationed to answer questions and regale you with tales of the river and the grand steamboats. As with the Texas Lounge, the views from here are not to be missed.
The nearby Gift Shop sells a variety of goods, and the cheerful staff at the adjacent Purser’s Office is available to sort out any question or problem you may have. Aft of this area, enter a throwback to the nineteenth century... the Betty Blake Lounge. Modern visitors will look at this space as a grand hall, separating port situated cabins from starboard. Once a very familiar arrangement, such lounges disappeared from water born vessels when designers found other places to put public rooms. Remember the traditional steamboat cabin was entered from outdoor decks....like the cabins on Texas and Sun Decks....and there isn’t enough room to use this Cabin Deck’s hall for inside accommodation....so chairs and tables were put here for passenger use. With a number of separate conversation groupings, card tables, an old Victrola, a player piano, the Betty Blake Lounge is the ultimate old fashioned living room afloat..Keep in mind that though floating casinos now sit oddly at the riverbank in so many Southern and Midwest river towns, Delta Queen Steamboats have no casino.....no 21st century electronic gadgetry.....and no grand atriums. But don’t think these girls lack for amenities…and we think you’ll want to be here to explore America’s history.....not the future
The DELTA QUEEN is a vessel proudly flying the flag of the United States of America, registered in the Port of Cincinnati, Ohio....and what a spectacle it is…those "Stars and Stripes" fluttering proudly from the stern of this Grand Old Lady…It is also our pleasant duty to inform you that the apple pie served in the Orleans Room is excellent.....but go for the boats’ signature dessert sometime…the bread pudding…it’s incomparable…for that matter, most of the food you’ll get here is excellent. Whether you are an American or a visitor from a far off land, I entreat you to taste the typical American dishes that are served up on these steamboats....the southern style cooking is particularly appealing...and since there’s an off chance that your breakfast menu at home doesn’t include fried grits, try them here.....you may realize what you’ve been missing all these years. The Orleans Room has a grande descente of sorts....the staircase that connects the dining room with the forward Cabin Lounge is a magnificent work of wood and brass.....too bad that it won’t fit in any standard suitcase....it would make a great souvenir. But chances are you didn’t come all the way down this stairway just so you could admire its workmanship....though you will…you came because you have been called to dinner.....either early or late sitting....and you want to know how much you are going to enjoy the food. Well, as long as you’re not the type to insist on cuisine de Maxim’s, you’ll leave your table very satisfied. Feeding time here is a bit earlier than we’re used to…lunch starts at 11:30 and is an open sitting affair…First Sitting Dinner starts at 5:45PM and second sitting at 7:00PM…but if you get hungry later on, when the clock strikes 11:30, there’s a buffet of tasties just waiting for you… The Orleans Room is also where the DELTA QUEEN entertainers strut their stuff for you and in the center of the room is a neat old wooden dance floor…this is a space that will satisfy you in as many ways as it does us.
We cannot think of anyone who would select the DELTA QUEEN because of her cabins....and as charmingly decorated as they are, they do not come up to the same comfort levels as similarly graded rooms on the MISSISSIPPI QUEEN and AMERICAN QUEEN. But you must understand that the DELTA QUEEN is an American treasure....sure, Delta Queen could have ripped out walls to double the floor space of the cabins, but getting extra creature comforts would have compromised the total effect that the line is trying to achieve....simulating a deluxe old style river boat trip. A major chunk of enjoyment on a Delta Queen cruise is the river scenery....and on the DELTA QUEEN, you are in luck....there are no inside cabins. There is a significant difference between the amenities afforded an Outside Superior Suite and a lowest priced outside stateroom. These category "E and F" cabins have bunk beds, and are, to use a euphemism, cozy....in fact, the bed takes up most of the floor space. The room does have large mirrors to help soften the shock of living in such narrow confines, and there is some...but not plentiful....storage space....and yes, the cabin has its own bathroom with shower. The category "D" cabins have the advantage of two lower beds....but they are so close together that if you and your companion are in good physical shape, you would do better with the "E" grades, because you’ll get more floor space. Grades "A, B and C" are the perfect compromise....twin bedded room with space to move about the cabin without stepping on a loved ones’ toes. Although the Luxury Suites and Superior Suites are not suites per se.....because they don’t have two rooms....they are the best the DELTA QUEEN can offer....with double beds, a couple of easy chairs, desks, good storage space and in the case of the "superiors", a tub in the bathroom. Such a room was occupied by Britain’s Princess Margaret when she cruised on the DELTA QUEEN…OK, we’ll tell you which one it is…it’s "AAA" grade Cabin 119, on Cabin Deck aft on Port Side…When he was President of the United States, Jimmy Carter traveled in Cabin 340, an "AA" grade room on Sun Deck, one of the many cabins that open out onto the open deck....a real throwback to the past, and a great way to get outside in record time. When you look at the DELTA QUEEN, don’t fail to notice the smallish stained glass window above the main window in every cabin…
You will find all kinds of folk on these vessels....and that’s not such a bad thing, because everyone wants to be here. They chose a unique vacation....one that melds the water with the land...and they are well traveled, having already visited America’s well known cities. They’re making the advanced tour of the States now.....places like New Orleans, St. Louis, St. Paul, Paducah, Cairo and Natchez are foremost in their minds. All of them have the means to travel....steamboatin’ ain’t cheap. Children, the grandparents, all the kin, for that matter....will have a great time on the DELTA QUEEN.
To fully describe every itinerary the DELTA QUEEN offers would be to write a book. Except for some coastal journeys to Galveston from New Orleans, this steamboat remains in the Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, Tennessee and Illinois Rivers. It may be of more interest to know that the DELTA QUEEN often offers cruises for those with special interests....stern wheel regattas, fall foliage, old fashioned holidays, dixie fests, Kentucky Derby, Cajun culture, Civil War, Great Steamboat Race, and Mark Twain. Cruises last from four to eleven days....but if the DELTA QUEEN is making successive cruises to different destinations, it’s fun to go on "back to backs"....doubling the number of ports you’ll visit.
We are not going to finish this review of the DELTA QUEEN without mentioning her music…it’s more than calliope..with the sounds of Big Band, Broadway, Dixieland, Jazz and Blues, we don’t know any other vessel unless we consider her fleetmates…that offers music we liked more…The DELTA QUEEN will treat your ears to some mighty good tunes…
They may not travel the open oceans, but the steamboats of the Delta Queen Steamboat Company are American through and through....so they cost more to operate....with resultingly higher fares. We won’t get political here and insist you "buy American".....but let us onto the bandstand for just a moment and urge you to give your support to our American flag ships....they’re all we have left of a once proud passenger ship fleet. Now, will you get your money’s worth here? Probably. We know we did…and we should also tell you we went CRAZY buying stuff in the Steamboutique…the gift shop…great stuff at fair prices… You’ll get to ride along America’s famous rivers, coasts and waterways. You’ll get to see towns and cities you never dreamed could be seen from a cruise ship...and you’ll travel very comfortably, basking in a touristic production of Americana....courtesy of the hard working and friendly staff on board. If your objective is to travel the Mississippi via a large ship, this is really the only company offering such a product....so comparison shopping would be futile. Suffice to say that if you are contemplating a trip here versus a Caribbean cruise, that’s like comparing an airplane with a car....they have a common purpose, but everything else about them is different. But we can, and do say, that the Delta Queen Steamboat Company will give you good travel....and you may become a regular face ‘round their neck of the woods.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, this old girl the DELTA QUEEN has us hooked….and well she should….we can’t think of a more charming, gracious cruise vessel than this wonderful old steamboat!
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