MISSISSIPPI QUEEN
Cruise Review
< GUIDED TOUR >
Boat:
Mississippi Queen
Cruise Line:
Delta Queen Steamboat Company
Date:
06/24/2005 - 07/05/2005
Cruise Length:
11 nights
Theme:
The Great Steamboat Race, Delta Queen´s Family Riverventures
Cabin:
Category G 250, Cabin Deck (inside, triple occupancy)
Itinerary:
New Orleans - St. Louis (Natchez, Vicksburg, Greenville, Memphis, Paducah, Cape Girardeau)
River
Lower Mississippi River, Ohio River, Upper Mississippi River
Review by:
Carmen Winkler
Introduction
This was our 7th cruise on one of Delta Queen Steamboat Company boats and our 2nd cruise on the steamer Mississippi Queen. As this is the longest available cruise and as this cruise has a very special theme, I won´t do a day-by-day review but concentrate on certain topics.

Embarkation
Embarkation was as easy as always. We simply dropped our luggage at the designated area in Robin Street Wharf and walked over to the office to swipe our credit card for our onboard account and quick check-out and receive our boarding passes. As this was the Great Steamboat Race between the Delta Queen (further referred as "the other boat") and the Mississippi Queen there were some special activities at the wharf. First of all you can visit "the other boat" at all port stops (in some ports you lay side-by-side and have to walk over one of the boats). Music was playing ashore and a BBQ picnic was set up (additionally to the usually lunch buffet on embarkation day). The company´s president, Bruce Nierenberg, was present to start the race and a little ceremony was held to introduce the Masters of the boats and the Race Coordinators and to present the trophys.

The Great Steamboat Race
There are two competitions throughout the race, the speed race for the Golden Antlers and the Commodore´s Cup. A small booklet is provided as a score book which is listing all events with dates and times, a score list and all rules. Another booklet about the famous steamboat race between the Natchez and the Robert E. Lee gives some historical background about steamboat racing. Two celebrity judges accompany the boats. For years those are Chef Joe Cahn, founder of the New Orleans School of Cooking and Commissioner of Tailgaiting, and Bodine Jackson Balasco, the last of the Riverboat Gamblers, "Best Sleight-of-Hand Magician of the Year", "Best Comedy Magician of the Year" and "one of the Top 21 Speakers for the 21st Century". Both are doing a great show and guide and supervise all events of the Commodore´s Cup.

The speed race is held in three legs. The winner of the Golden Antlers is the best out of those three races. The final race is held into St. Louis on July 4th ending at the Arch. Due to several delays of the Mississippi Queen unfortunately the second leg had been rescheduled various times until it was skipped. Anyway the last race into St. Louis is the most fun one and you can see all passengers on the decks cheering for their boat. By the way, flags and pom poms are provided to cheer for your boat. During the last race Mimosa´s and Bloody Mary´s were offered for free. "The other boat" won both speed races and the Mississippi Queen had to give the Golden Antlers to "the other boat".

The Commodore´s Cup is actually a competition between passenger and crew of both boats. The "Great Steamboat Race 2005 Pep Rally" was held on the first day to explain all events and to sign up for the events. There are five events held ashore with try-outs on each boat. Each passenger who is taking part in the final events receives a commemorative race T-shirt (red on the Mississippi Queen, blue on "the other boat", white one´s are available for purchase in the Gift Shop). The first event was held in Greenville, Mississippi, and was a talent show called "Cap´n Foghorn´s Floating Follies". This year the Mississippi Queen had the greater variety in talents, a singer, dancers, a piano player and cowboy poetry. "The other boat" only had singers but did win this contest. The second event were the Steamboat Olympics held in Memphis, Tennessee. Actually the Steamboat Olympics were the event where the most people were able to take part in as it consisted of five single events: the Coffee Cup Chaos (carry a tray of filled coffee cups through an obstacle course), the Porters on Strike (put on the content of a suitcase as fast as you can), the Bucketboard Shuffle (two people walking/shuffle together on boards as fast as they can), the Life Ring Rodeo (toss life rings at a target cone) and the Galley Egg Toss (throw an egg to a partner who has to catch it unbroken). The Mississippi Queen did win the Steamboat Olympics. The third contest was held in Paducah, Kentucky, the Floozie Parade. Six passengers and two crewmembers of each boat "dress up" as floozies. The Mississippi Queen won the Miss Pride of Paducah (passenger) and the Miss Crew Floozie. Throughout the whole cruise there´s the forth event going on, the Great Americana Banner Contest. The celebrity judges and a local judge of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, voted the banner of "the other boat" the winner although we thought they have missed the theme. The last contest was also held in Cape Girardeau, the Riverlore Rumble. Three passengers of each boat have to answer eigh questions each about steamboating, the rivers and steamboat racing. All answers were provided throughout the race by the Riverlorians in their talks. The Mississippi Queen won the Riverlore Rumble 23 to 21. We´re still discussing about the 24th question as we think we answered it correctly. Anyway, the Mississippi Queen did win the Commodore´s Cup.

Special Race Entertainment
Of course the two celebrity judges did give a presentation of their skills. By the way, Joe Cahn was aboard the Mississippi Queen from New Orleans to Memphis, Bodine Jackson Balasco from Memphis to St. Louis (and vice versa). Chef Joe Cahn gave a cooking presentation with recipes available for the passengers. He made a Jambalya and Pralines which we got as a sample on his last night on the Mississippi Queen. But his show is a lot of fun and cooking is just a small part of it. Bodine Jackson Balasco gave a talk about the history of riverboat gambling and of course he gave a presentation of his sleight-of-hand magic which was one of the regular evening shows. As this show was held in the Paddlewheel Lounge there was an additional show the following day after lunch to seat all passengers.

Ronda Rich, a former sportswriter and a motor sports publicist, gave two talks throughout the cruise, one was "Moonshine, Fast Cars and Good Ol´ Boys: The History of NASCAR", the other was "My Life in the Pits". I didn´t attend these talks but I heard nothing but good about them. Another special was a guest appearance by Jan and Mickey Rooney. Their show "Let´s Put On A Show" was held in the Natchez City Auditorium. It was well attended but obviously his best days are over and I wasn´t the only one thinking like this.

Evening Entertainment
The Mississippi Queen Ensemble (Mark Cotter, Sybil Haggard, Heather Schrock, Steven Schroder) and Cruise Director Steve Spracklen as usual covered most of the evening entertainment. Some additional entertainers came aboard to fill all 11 nights. The first night´s theme was "God Bless The USA!" which is a great show and a salute to the USA. You won´t want to miss the second night´s "Take Me To The River" which is featuring music of the river from past and present. Highlights were Mark´s Ol´ Man River and Proud Mary featuring Heather. Another show was called "The Way We Were" featuring movie memories. Brand new was "Yesterday" featuring Beatles´ songs. Solo performances were given by Mark Cotter´s "The Mark Cotter Show", Sybil Haggard´s "The Best Is Yet To Come" and Heather Schrock´s first solo show "The Heather Shrock Show". Additional entertainers were Chip Saporiti, the Mississippi Queen´s Race Coordinator, featuring "The Ladies in my Life" and Cathy Barton and Dave Para "Hand-Me-Down Music". The latter is something you shouldn´t miss (o.k., I´m not really neutral as I love their CD which I got some years ago and this was one of my highlights as I´ve never met them before). The last night featured the Steamboat Syncopators with "Dixieland Tonight".

Dance music was provided in the Grand Saloon every night. The Paddlewheel Trio entertained in the Paddlewheel Lounge after the show (or the dinner for those on the main seating). Some of their themes were "Night Owl´s Club", "Country & Western Night", "Oldies Night" or "The Sound of New Orleans".

Daily Entertainment
Listing all on-board entertainment would take me too long. An absolute must for me are the Riverlorian River Chats usually held daily during breakfast in the Grand Saloon (also broadcasted on your cabin radio; rebroadcasts were available on your cabin radio in the afternoon). Jerry Hay, our Riverlorian on this cruise, is a real story teller and you will learn lots about steamboating and the rivers. He´s also available throughout the day for questions and is making announcement if something of interest can be seen on the river or ashore. The Riverlorian is also doing the pilot house tours during shore stops (don´t miss it!). Arts and crafts supplies were available in the Upper Paddlewheel Lounge throughout the cruise for the Door Decorating and the Hat Contest (awards were presented on the Mike Fink Party later on the cruise). Calliope Concerts were held each time departing and during locking procedures. Don´t miss the Calliope Capers and play some tunes on the calliope (steam organ) yourself and receive a nice certificate. Movie´s were shown serveral times throughout the cruise. Additional short movies featuring historic themes were shown daily between dinner and the evening show (or vice versa for the main seating). Card Players will find a sign up list at the Pursers Office to find fellow card players. For those needing a little exercise the A.M. Miller´s Club is walking one mile each day on the Observation Deck. Bingo ($ 5 a card) is held serveral times throughout the cruise. Musical entertainment is available pre-dinner in the Paddlewheel Lounge daily (don´t miss the sing along and keep your commemorative song book). Single events are a Video Trivia, a Scavenger Hunt, Victorian Parlor Crafts (create your own Victorian Lave Heart), the Captain´s Navigational Seminar, a Fashion Show featuring new arrivals of the Gift Shop, Match Game, a Chef Demonstration (recipes are handed out), He Said - She Said, Kite Flying and Line Dancing.

This and That
The daily Steamboatin´ Times informs about the daily activities. The outer part has interesting informations about the port stops or the history of steamboating. Don´t forget to take the Tributaries provided by the Riverlorian in the Chart Room. The Tributaries tell you more about the steamboating country, stats and facts about the Queens, a milage log of the river you´re cruising, showboats, steamboat racing or Mark Twain. The onboard photographer is available for photos on all major events (Captain´s Champagne Reception, repeat passenger party, Calliope Capers and more). Photos are $ 10 each. There are two formal nights on each cruise, the Captain´s Champage Reception and the Captain´s Champagne Dinner. For those who want to see the Captain´s table you have to be on the main seating. The captain will do a toast on the early seating. A disembarkation talk was held two days before we had to leave giving helpful hints about disembarkation, transports and tipping. Tipping Guidelines are provided one night before the final night together with envelopes (Stateroom Attendant $ 4.50 per person per night, Waiter $ 4.50 per person per night, Bus Person $ 3.25 per person per night, Dining Room Captain $ 5.75 per couple per cruise, Maitre D´ $ 4.25 per couple per cruise, Porters $ 5 per bag). You hand out the envelopes to the person you´re tipping. A box is provided for the porters´ tips. I remember seeing a notice on our last cruise that tips should also be made for children. I didn´t see it on this cruise but we tipped for our daughter anyway. You can also have the suggested amount of gratuities to be added to your bill instead of handing out the envelopes. For all repeat passengers a repeat passenger party is held on each cruise where you can share your stories with the other passengers. Prizes will be handed out for the passengers having the most cruises and the one having cruise one of the DQSC boats the farthest back in time (which can be WWII when the Delta Queen served as a ferry in San Francisco Bay). You also get a pin and a certificate stating the number of cruises you´ve done. By the way repeat passengers get a 10 % discount in the Gift Shop and half price on shuttle passes. On this race cruise a special certificate was handed out for taking part in the race. Don´t miss the Gift Shop, my favourite spot! They have daily specials and you will get a prize if your cabin number is the lucky cabin number of the day.

Food and Beverages
Although I did hear something about an decline in food quality and service during dinner I can´t confirm this for our cruise. The food was excellent as always. So was the service. There have been some waits between salad and main course on some days but our waiter kept us entertained and the time really rushed by. Most of the time we´d be able to go to the show for the main seating (which of course we didn´t). The dinner menue didn´t repeat on the 11 day cruise. It´s a five course dinner with a choice of two appetizers, two soups, two salads, five entrées and a variety of deserts. Some lunch menues repeated but this was fine for us as we missed our favourite the first time. If you want to try the Muffulatta for lunch take one for two!! We mainly had lunch off the buffet in the Grand Saloon. Usually one day there´s a picnic lunch with barbeque ribs, fried fish and chicken, corn on the cob, water melons, baked beans and more. There are three chances for breakfast (continental breakfast, menue and buffet). Room Service is available for continental breakfast. The Calliope Bar offers hot dogs and fixings each day up to 5 p.m.. Popcorn is available in the Paddlewheel Lounge. Soft serve ice cream with toppings is available at the Calliope Bar. If you´re still hungry try the afternoon tea (Forward Cabin Lounge) or the hors d´oeuvres (Paddlewheel Lounge) or the Midnight Buffet (Upper Paddlewheel Lounge). There was a Southern Style Cookout at the Calliope Bar with hot dogs and burgers one afternoon. Cookies were plentiful on this cruise even the chocolate chip cookies. Ice tea, ice water and coffee, hot tea and hot chocolate were available next to the Gift Shop. But I´ve still missed the ice. Ice tea, ice water and lemonade are free at all bars. For the Family Riverventure cruises a special mug is available at the Gift Shop which gives you free sodas at all bars during the cruise (I´m not sure about the price, I think it was app. $ 15). Bottled water (16 oz./500 ml) is available in the Gift Shop ($ 1 per bottle). Special drinks of the day are $ 3.75 each (Bloody Mary and Screwdriver until noon and Margaritas all day / $ 13 a pitcher, add $ 3 for a souvenir glass, souvenir glasses without a drink are $ 4). The Paddlewheel Lounge offered a different special each day including a souvenir glass for $ 7. A wine tasting is held on embarkation day (1 - 3 p.m.). Wines were $ 6 - $ 9 per glass and $ 22 - 47 per bottle. Non-alcoholic wines were $ 22 or 24 per bottle (Ariel White Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Cabernet, Brut Sparkling Wine) and $ 5 per glass (Stone Cellars by Beringer Chardonnay, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon). Champagne and sparkling wines ranged from $ 36 (Korbel Brut, $ 7.50 per glass), $ 40 (Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut Sparkling), $ 75 (Moet & Chandon White Star) to $ 150 (Perrier-Jouet Fleur de Champagne).

Delta Queen´s Family Riverventures
First of all the program has improved much since last year. The Movie Theatre serves as a Clubhouse. Three youth councelors were present to keep the kids entertained. All activities are published in the daily Junior Steamboatin´ Times. As on our cruise there were only five kids and only three of them showed up to the activities the youth councelors did adjust the program to the needs and wishes of the kids. Usually the kids are divided in three groups by their age (Pioneers ages 5 - 8, Adventurers ages 9 - 12 and Explorers ages 13 - 17). As there were only three kids, our daughter at the age of 5 years and two boys, 14 and 16 years, there was only one group. The first thing we found in our cabin were vouchers for the included three shore tours and the two board games. The board games arrived in our cabin after dinner on the first night. Also included is one free family portrait. The first morning the parents were invited to the Clubhouse and guidelines were handed out to the parents. After this first talk the youth councelors make a roundtrip all over the boat to show the kids their way around. One activity was the Cub Pilot License contest, consisting of five parts held throughout the cruise (Engine Room Tour with the Chief Engineer, Knot Tying Class with the Mate, Chart Reading with the Riverlorian, Lewis & Clark talk with the Riverlorian and Pilothouse Visit with the Captain). Each kid got a card where each part was signed by the "teacher". All kids finishing all five parts got a certificate (Cub Pilot License) and a Captain´s Hat at the Mike Fink Party. Unfortunately there was a little misunderstanding and the Lewis & Clark part had to be skipped (the Junior Steamboatin´ Times showed the ending time of this talk instead of the beginning time). Highlight was the Pilothouse tour with the Captain as this was while cruising which is usually not allowed. My daughter was even allowed to blow the steam whistle. I just want to list some of the daily activities mainly held in the Clubhouse: arts & crafts (my daughte made a visior and a T-shirt, others were scapbooking, family tree making, making a picture frame and more), movies (Shrek II, Incredibles, Shark Tales), board games, video games (on the big movie screen), a movie slumber party, Calliope Capers, Summer Fun Pool Party & Ice Cream Social (at the pool), Pirates of the Mississippi (dress as a pirate), Aeronautical Adventures (create your own paper plane and let all things that can fly fly), Kite Flying, Scavenger Hunt, Trivia and more. Each night cookies and milk were available next to the Gift Shop (I saw cookies but never milk which didn´t matter as our daughter was sleeping anyway). Special kids´ menues were available for dinner and our waiter didn´t stop to offer something off the menue but our daughter stuck on steamboat salad and fresh fruit. I will review the shore tours further down. All in all I rate the new program very good. Although our daughter (5 ½ years on cruising date) doesn´t speak more than a few words in English she soon got friends with the youth councelors trying to teach them German and sent us parents away. She couldn´t wait for the daily program to begin and rushed down to the Clubhouse as soon as we told her that something´s going on down there.

Cabin
We stayed in an inside Category G cabin on the Cabin Deck (No. 250). The cabin has two single bed which can´t be put together as a queen. A third bed can be folded out of the wall. As this bed isn´t provided with any guards or rails we decided that my husband sleeps there leaving the single bed to our 5 year old daughter. Our cabin attendant offered to bring us a ladder but we opted to leave it to have more space in the room. There´s a wooden looking, but metal chest of drawers between the beds. The room is equipped with a build-in radio (two channels, music and CNN news, one channel is also used for broadcasting or rebroadcasting the Riverlorian talks or shore tour and disembarkation talks to you cabin). The telephone can be used for onboard and ship-to-shore calls. An ice bucket is filled up twice daily by your cabin attendant. There is an information folder placed in your room including some stationary and some free postcards (free mailing within the U.S.). Room service is only available for breakfast (continental breakfast). There is some hanging space including a good amount of hangers and a storage rack. There was enough space on the floor to spread our two suitcases (one on the luggage rack), our two bags and the car safety seat (no we don´t need that aboard but for a later travel with a rental car). There is also a chair available. An iron and an iron-board were placed in the hanging space area. So was a hair dryer. The bathroom is quite tiny, the type of "sit on the toilet while brushing your teeth"). The bathroom is equipped with a more or less triangle shower with a very effective curtain (the bathroom was never "flooded" after taking a shower), a toilet and a very tiny sink. There is a medicine cabinet with an additional mirror available as a glass rack with a mirror over the sink. A night light was plugged in for guidance in the bathroom. Conditioning shampoo, soap, glycerine bar and an almond scented body lotion is provided in the bathroom. A sufficient amount of towels is available and will be relaced twice a day. We had a chance to look in one of the outside Category B cabins opposite to ours and found it less spacy than our inside one. As we only stay in our cabin for sleeping and changing clothes we don´t mind being in an inside one.

Shore Tours
As this cruise was a special one shore tours weren´t as interesting as usual. Anyway nearly all tours were filled up. The variety of shore tours wasn´t as numerous as on a regular cruise due to the race events. Some of the shore tours did conflict with the race events. Because of the length of the cruise there were two shore tour talks introducing all offered tours. We didn´t take part in one of the offered tours except the special kids´ tours. So I simply list the tours which were offered. In Natchez there was the Natchez Historic Homes tour ($ 50, app. 2 hours, motorcoach). The Natchez visitor center offered a trolley to tour the town ($ 1 each ride) and a walking map describing the most interesting points was available at the tour desk. Two tours were offered in Vicksburg, the Vicksburg Battlefield & Siege tour ($ 50, app. 3 hours, motorcoach) and the Past Comes Alive walking tour ($ 29, app. 2.5 hours, shuttle/walking). A DQSC shuttle bus ($ 10 per person) and a walking map was available. The first family tour was offered in Vicksburg to Linden Plantation called Play In the Country. We were picked up by a shuttle and greeted by the owner and his wife. Although the house was rebuilt about 10 years ago the tour was very interesting as this plantation is still in the ownership of the family who had founded the plantation. There are some beautiful gardens and we were introduced in the rich history of the plantation. As our daughter wasn't very interested in listening to something she didn´t understand another woman took her on a tour through the garden and a little playground. We met later for some cookies and lemonade. As it was only the three of us (all other kids went to the battlefield) the picnic announced in the brochure was cancelled. In Greenville there was the Literary Legacy tour ($ 39, app. 3.5 hours, motorcoach). The Memphis tour was a visit to Graceland ($ 66, app. 4 hours, motorcoach). The kids went to the Memphis Zoo featuring the giant panda bears. The guide for this tour was really nice and gav us a little city tour on the way to the zoo. When we returned she had dressed up as a clown and made balloon animals. She lead us to the panda bears and then we had time to explore the zoo on our own. This tour (and the Graceland tour) did conflict with the Steamboat Olympics held simultaneously. In Paducah a tour called Step Back in Time - Adsmore´s Many Faces was offered ($ 36, app. 3.5 - 4 hours, motorcoach/walking). Paducah was also the shore stop for the last family tour called Acting Up! Market House Theatre & The River Heritage Museum. As we had a private appointment at the River Heritage Museum we didn´t take part in that tour (but I highly recommend the museum!!). Two shore tours were offered in Cape Girardeau, the Trail of Tears tour ($ 60, app. 3 hours, motorcoach/walking) and the Tapestry of Time tour ($ 15, app. 3 hours, walking).

Disembarkation
Every cruise has an end some day. Luggage tags are provided in your stateroom depending on your way of transportation. The bags have to be out at 2 a.m.. You will find them lined out according to your tag color on the shore for identification. You will also find a comment card in your room (you can win $ 50 off your bill and every year a 7 night cruise will be awarded amongst all who filled out their cards). We usually let swipe our credit card for express check out (which still can be done throughout the cruise). You will receive your bill throughout the night. The Pursers Office is available on disembarkation morning. Breakfast is only served in the dining room on the last day but buffet style. Unfortunately this time this was a real mess. Used tables haven´t been set up new and when we arrived we couldn´t find a set up table so we sat down on a table still having the used dishes on. We finally found a waiter to get us clean cutlery and cups. We heard a lot of complaints about this chaotic breakfast and I have to commit that I´ve never experienced such a chaos on one of my previous cruises. Passengers are expected to leave the boat until 9 a.m. The keys can be left somewhere in your stateroom.