Thursday, September 8, 2016

AMERICA: A Mississippi Riverboat Cruise: By Polly Guerin

By WSS member Polly Guerin

Review for the WORLD SHIP SOCIETY Port of New York Branch
The AMERICA Christening Ceremony 

I'm an old-fashioned gal who waxes nostalgic when comes to sentimental journeys. So when it came to deciding on a riverboat cruise this year I fancied remembering the 1927 musical "Showboat" and opted to take a River Boat cruise right here in the good old USA.
     Although I had taken riverboat cruises on the Volga in Russia and the Rhone in France I decided that it was time to travel through the land of the bayous and Southern Belles, where the culture of the the Old South would emanate throughout the trip.  So I took an eight-day/seven night round trip cruise,  to and from New Orleans, Louisiana, May 28 to June 4, on American Cruise Lines' newest ship, christened AMERICA.  An overnight stay on May 27th at the AC Marriott in New Orleans was included in the cruise package so that guests could embark early the next day.
       Festive events were woven into the cruise with ports-of-call along the Mississippi at Houmas House, Baton Rouge, St. Francisville, Natchez, Vicksburg and Oak Alley. In addition to visiting antebellum mansions/plantations. daily highlights included Bill Wiemuth, the River Historian's lectures, the Mississippi Songbird, Laura Sable and other showboat entertainments, plus on site afternoon tea, a visit to the Pilot House and the amazing Kitchen Galley with its efficient quarters. 
       However, the capstone of the festivities was the christening ceremony of the brand new AMERICA;  I knew then that special memories were aboard as well. As Riverboat Historian Bill Wiemuth said, "It is so exciting to see riverboat cruising have a vibrant future. The new riverboat America keeps alive the tradition of the Mississippi riverboat travel that dates back more than two centuries.  The 2016 launch of America is the second riverboat built in the past twenty years to ply the Mississippi River system. "
     America, the cruise line's largest ship with a capacity of 185 guests, maintains the intimacy and personalization of small ship travel. The ship brings never before seen features to Mississippi including advanced engineering for faster yet quieter travel allowing guests to spend more time at the ports-of-call and travel at a higher level of comfort.  For die-hard WSS cruise historians the propulsion of the boat is two 1600-horsepower Z-drives for a total of 3200 horsepower. The newly built paddlewheeler America was built at Chespeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland.  The launch of America includes four authentic paddlewheelers, while an additional four are coastal cruises.  Like its fleetmates, AMERICA flies the United States flag with an all American crew.  It is the eighth ship for American Cruise Lines, which is based in Guilford, Connecticut. 
      While the ship is adorned with gleaming woodwork, brass fixtures, and historic decor, it was constructed with the latest cruise technology. The cabins, public spaces and lounges are designed with traditional Southern-inspired flair that elegantly blends with a traditional appearance with modern features and amenities. Every cabin has a balcony.  I especially enjoyed taking breakfast served on mine each morning, and the room itself had a certain tasteful Southern cham with exquisite textiles, pillows, a comfortable bed, an upholstered swivel chair, dressers and a bathroom with perfectly adequate shower stall.
      Although I traveled alone on this cruise, as I always do, meeting new people is a friendly exchange and  it extends to the Dining Salon where open seating provides another opportunity for conversation. The three meals a day are presented in an atmosphere of Southern decor and Southern hospitality. The pleasant surroundings provide an opportunity to sit as you please, at tables that accommodate four, six, eight and even twelve guests. American culinary care to the ship's cuisine has gourmet flare and wine is served. It is interesting to note the the American crew included college/waiters who were efficient, prompt, but especially polite.
      The first welcome aboard day  guests were invited to meet River Historian Bill Wiemuth for a fascinating introduction to the significance of "The Mississippi River, Then and Now." And, if you were not inclined to venture out of your cabin, his daily lectures and commentary was broadcast each day on the ship's "Narration" channel. Visit Bill at 
AMERICA's Paddlewheel Lounge
After a day of sightseeing and mansion/plantation visits the activities get into full swing at 5:30 p.m. when cocktails and hors d'oeuvres are served in the Magnolia Lounge on Deck 2. Although the River Historian Bill Wiemuth and Mississippi songbird, Laura Sable are the entertainment headliners on this riverboat other notables included the Victory Belles for an evening of songs and stories from the Andrews Sisters and a salute to our military men and women. On another night  Captain Hopkin's cocktail hour honored all of our veterans that served in the Armed Forces, with a bit of Old New Orleans jazz with Tom Hook and Wendell Brunious. Comic relief came with comedian Judy Davis, for song, storytelling, and a whole lot of laughs and guest were invited to "Bring your dancin' shoes to the Magnolia Lounge to enjoy some old time classics with entertainers Osgood and Blaque.

        Festivities included marvelous music with the lovely Laura Sable performing hits of timeless singers including Garland, Streisand and Parton, 's accompanied by River Historian, Bill Wiemuth at the piano.  A departure from Bill's daily historical lectures included "10 Amazing Card Tricks Anyone can Do," held in the Paddlewheel Lounge.
      By far, AMERICA'S Christening Ceremony was a major highlight with passengers gathered on the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th deck bows to watch Mrs. Barbara Suttles christen the ship by smashing the requisite champagne bottle against its railing. We all sang God Bless America, and sipped champagne as our voices rang out with pride of the moment. Visit Bill at RiverHistory.
      Plantation/mansion visits at ports-of-call were facilitated with coordinated ease so that when the AMERICA docked passengers could walk directly to the plantation. The ship also provided golf carts to transport anyone with special needs.
      Herewith I capsulate some my observations. 
      The first welcome mat was open to the southern splendor of Houmas House, once a massive sugar plantation, aptly called "The Sugar Palace." It is a total immersion into the Old South's grandeur and features 16 rooms filled with period antiques and furnishings, plus time to explore the 38 lush acres of exquisite gardens. A charming docent in period costume made the experience of Southern Plantation life memorable.
     In St. Francisville we visited Rosedown Plantation is considered on of the most beautiful plantations in the South. As Keats wrote, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." The magnificent property provides insight into Southern culture and hospitality.
     Oak Alley with its alley of 300-old Live Oak Trees leads to "The Grand Dame of the Great River Road. This antebellum home with historical culture makes it worthy enough to become a Downton-Abbey-like American series. The restored slave quarters and magnificent grounds invite your observation.
       If you are interested in reading in-depth features on some of these plantation/mansion visits visit Polly's  Blog:

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