American Queen Not Stuck

American Queen Website
16 August 2012
By Greg Brown, Executive Vice President of Marine Operations

The mighty Mississippi has been a weakling lately. As you’re no doubt aware, the Midwest is in the grips of a drought the likes of which the region hasn’t seen for a generation. In fact, water levels are lower than any other time than the historic drought of 1988. In other words, the last time the water was so low, I wouldn’t have been able to blog about it because there was no Internet yet! That puts things in a bit of perspective, don’t you think?

As water levels dipped, the American Queen was sailing along the Ohio River which wasn’t nearly as impacted as the Mississippi. In the Mississippi, the problem was that the water had lowered enough that it was causing delays in some areas where two-way traffic had to become one-way traffic. More importantly, heavily loaded barges which sit deep in the water were getting stuck in various spots and if we ventured into the Lower Mississippi River, there was no guarantee we wouldn’t get bottled up someplace behind a stranded barge. So, we had to make a couple of adjustments to our schedule. As one example, a cruise that was to begin in Vicksburg instead embarked in Memphis.

We hate to make any changes to what our guests expect, even if the cause is Mother Nature herself. But here’s where river cruising really shows its benefits. If there’s a hurricane, an ocean-going ship might completely miss ports of call. But on the river, all ports are still accessible by land. So we rounded up our trusty Steamcoaches (those are luxury motorcoaches to you non-river folk), and were able to take guests to all their ports of call for a couple days while the American Queen remained in Memphis. All tours ran just as planned. We resumed the regular itinerary as soon as possible and, as I write this, the American Queen is paddling along right on schedule.

But as you can guess, we weren’t going to just sit in Memphis the entire time and transport guests to their ports of call. Oh no, this is Steamboating and you have to let the good times roll! Or as they say down in New Orleans, laissez le bon temps rouler!

In the evening when guests returned to the boat from a day of touring, we headed out on to the river north of Memphis for what we liked to call a “dinner cruise,” so that everyone aboard could still experience Steamboating until we could resume our regular schedule the next day. First of all, I want to thank our guests for their wonderful attitudes despite the unexpected alterations to the itinerary. Everyone was so understanding and our staff worked extra hard to make each moment on board memorable.

Despite the fact that local news reported the American Queen as “stranded,” we were anything but. We simply choose to remain in Memphis a few days to avoid getting trapped behind grounded barges on the river. As Mark Twain once said, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” In fact, we were alive and well and throwing parties!

Steamboating is the fine art of going with the flow and making memories happen when time presents itself. Our guests don’t sweat the small stuff. We were offering tours, special “hop-on, hop-off” routes through Memphis and even brought aboard a local Memphis band to entertain in the Grand Saloon.

If the river is at a record low, it doesn’t have to reduce the “fun factor.”  So, we amped up the entertainment with fantastic shows every night in the Grand Saloon and a deck party to end all deck parties. We had the Steamboat Syncopators orchestra out on deck playing dance tunes, our energetic young entertainers singing and dancing up a storm, plenty of inspired Southern cuisine and drink, and an atmosphere that was all about celebration.

“I know we weren’t really ‘stuck’ but if this is getting ‘stuck,’ then trust me when I tell you that I’d like to be ‘stuck’ on the American Queen any time,” someone who was aboard told me. “As a career traveler I have been stuck in the airport plenty of times and trust me it wasn’t nearly as fun!”

If life gives you lemons, then make lemonade. Or, in our case, lemon chiffon pie, shrimp with a lemon beurre blanc and lemon drop cocktails. Then bring out the band, play some music, and dance your socks off as the sun sets over the river!