Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rolling on the Rivers

People who have never taken a river cruise have asked me what the attraction is. For me there are several attractive aspects of traveling by paddlewheel steamboat, and the first is the boat itself. The American Queen is a beautiful sight, a floating wedding cake. As the boat steams along at about seven miles an hour people pull over in their cars, stand waving, take pictures. At night I could see the flash of cameras as the Queen passed homes and towns. She's big, over 400 feet long, almost 90 feet wide, with 222 staterooms and ten public rooms. She's fancy, white with red and blue gingerbread trim and a red paddlewheel, and two feathered stacks that can be lowered when the Queen passes under bridges. She can be loud when she whistles or plays her steam calliope. Everything about her says "Look at me."

Inside too is lovely in a fussy Victorian way. Our room had comfortable beds with lots of pillows, room for storage, and a good bathroom. There is a pretty dining room with big windows to showcase the passing view, there is a Grand Saloon (theater) for lectures and musical entertainment, there is a Mark Twain Gallery (library) and there are parlors decorated for ladies and gentlemen, complete with fireplaces and caged birds. There is a bathing pool for cooling off, and there is a small gym that I failed to use. If all of these possibilities fail, there is a small television in each stateroom.

Certainly there is plenty of good food and drink; cruises are famous for that. But it's more. It's people, both passengers and the crew. It's the chance to explore America from an unusual vantage point. It's an opportunity to learn about the history of river transportation and history in general; I know lots more about Lewis and Clark and Natives American people of the Ohio River Valley than I did before. It's a slow pace that invites contemplation. For me all this added up to a really pleasant and interesting excursion.

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