Rolling down the Mississippi River on a stylish steamer

The American Queen, said to be the largest steamboat ever built at 418 feet long and 109.5 feet tall, offers passengers a unique view of the might Mississippi River. 

Since the press is dominated by election news, the timing is perfect to discuss American traditions, specifically those marvelous steamboats reminiscent of “Showboat,” the 1951 film starring Howard Keel, Ava Gardner and Catherine Grayson.

From Old Hollywood, fast-forward to the personality packed “American Queen,” said to be the largest steamboat ever built. Checking in at a cool 418 feet in length and 109.5 feet tall, the snappy steamer carries a crew of 160 and can accommodate 436 passengers as it cruises the Mississippi River from St. Paul, Minn., to New Orleans, La., and back.

The mammoth cruiser is pure Americana from the two-deck tall Grand Saloon, a replica of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., to a menu serving comfort cuisine such as herb-roasted turkey with cornbread dressing and a triple chocolate brownie sundae. In other words, if it is designer-driven cuisine with ingredients you can’t pronounce that you are after, bypass this cruise.

But if you can remember mid-century musical icons such as Bill Haley’s Comets and the Platters, then welcome aboard the irresistibly plush Queen, where ragtime is in and Lady Gaga is out. Up and down the lazy river she goes, a classic American travel experience that would impress Mark Twain, the mighty Mississippi’s iconic sage. If you treasure Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, you will find the Queen’s four- to 10-night cruises, stopping at river towns such as Hannibal and Cape Giradeau in Missouri and, heading east, at Louisville and Cincinnati on the Ohio River a welcome journey into the past.

Ken Grigsby, a tour operator with a passion for history and cruising, says there has been a resurgence of interest in travel with vestiges of the past.

“This is all about discovering Mississippi culture with a genteel mint julep now and then, ” says Grigsby.

Most passengers are around 60 years old, Grigsby says, but he refutes the idea that the under-30 crowd “wouldn’t mind listening to the sounds of the Glenn Miller Orchestra or The Lovin’ Spoon serenade passengers with ‘Do You Believe in Magic?’”

The inaugural season aboard the Grand American Queen begins this fall and winter with 11 cruises scheduled between Oct. 29 and Dec. 28. Check itineraries for 2013 at, or call 888.508.3401.