Magazine article Insight on the News

Steaming Down the Mississippi Evokes a Kinder, Gentler Time

Magazine article Insight on the News

Steaming Down the Mississippi Evokes a Kinder, Gentler Time

Article excerpt

Steamboat cruises on America's inland waterways immerse tourists in pure Americana. The tours are particularly popular with the `mature market,' expected to grow 27 percent by the year 2010.

Harry Brunt and his wife, Zoe, are enjoying bowls of homemade strawberry ice cream in the cool shade of the "front porch," the broad veranda that overlooks the prow of the American Queen.

"Everywhere I look, there's another antique," says Brunt, a retired psychiatrist from Beach Haven, N.J. A steam-powered calliope, located at the stern near the churning paddle wheel, plays "Swannee" as the boat glides serenely by mangroves dotted with white egrets. The steady speed seems to change only as an occasional towboat (pushing a string of 40 barges) passes from the opposite direction.

The easygoing pace of the stately Mississippi is at once restful and invigorating, conducive to a genuine vacation. Steamboats take you back to a time when this mighty waterway was the frontier of America, a river traveled by rogues and adventurers alike, men such as Mike Fink, Abraham Lincoln, John James Audubon, the Marquis de Lafayette and Mark Twain.

The unspoiled scenery, the boat's 19th-century decor, even the whimsical shipboard activities harken passengers on the American Queen back to a simpler time when entertainment was a family affair enjoyed in the fresh air, not a sedentary, solitary offering from a glowing video screen.

Operated by Delta Queen Steamboat Co., the American Queen (along with her sister boats, the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen) is one of the last authentic paddle-wheel steamboats still plying the rivers of America's heartland. This state-of-the-art, steel-hulled reproduction accommodates 420 passengers in 206 sumptuously appointed staterooms and offers five-star service and cuisine.

"We've been to the West Coast of the United States and the East, but we've never really seen much of this part of the country," says Bob Burbank, a retired power-company executive from Newport Beach, Calif. "This cruise seemed like a wonderful way to see it."

"Travelers often rebook passage -- more than 25 percent of each cruise is made up of repeat customers -- because these riverboats immerse them in a world that is pure Americana. Part of the paddle-wheel experience is learning about local history and customs as you visit ports of call. On the "fall foliage" cruise, passengers make daytrips to Natchez, Miss., home of some of the finest antebellum mansions; Vicksburg, Miss., site of one of the greatest battles of the Civil War; and Memphis, which lays claim not only to Elvis Presley's Graceland but also to A. …

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