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Bill A. Belt

Age: 69

Occupation:Retired

Number of Cruises: 8

Cruise Line: Delta Queen

Ship: Mississippi Queen

Sailing Date: November 16th, 2004

Itinerary: Mississippi River

Disclaimer

I write this as being my opinion about our cruise. I am aware that some may have been on the same cruise and had a different experience. We are not in anyway connected with the cruise industry and the opinions expressed are solely our thoughts and view of our cruise.

My wife and I had been on a number of cruises but never a river boat cruise, primarily due to the cost. With today’s competitive prices, ocean cruising is perhaps the best bargain available in the travel industry. On the other hand only selected river boat cruises offer any significant discounts from the posted brochure prices. We did find a very good price on a New Orleans to New Orleans round trip six day cruise in November 2004. If one has not traveled extensively in the Mississippi River area around New Orleans , the stops we made we would find most interesting. There was Oak Alley, St. Francisville, Natchez, Vicksburg and Baton Rouge, before returning to New Orleans.

The Boat

The Mississippi Queen Docked At St. Francisville, LA.

One of the hardest things I found to try to remember was that I was on a boat and not a ship. After hearing that word repeatedly from the Riverlorian and the Pilots I finally accepted that we were on a boat and not a ship. The Mississippi Queen is 28 years old, although it was renovated in 1996. The boat is 382 feet long, 81 feet tall and had staterooms for 416 guest. There is old fashioned elegance. The rooms are small, however if you will let history remind you, so were the hotel rooms of the 1800’s. A room was a place to sleep for a while. The rooms on the Mississippi Queen are small, small, small. Even the highest priced room on the top deck, except for two front cabins, will in no way match the same categories aboard a modern cruise ship. Nevertheless, the rooms are adequate and very pleasant. The décor is right out of the roaring 1920s.

Our cabin was on the Cabin Deck and had one outside window that was partially blocked by a staircase. We knew that when we booked the cruise and that was one of the reasons for the highly discounted room. We were never more than a few feet from the river’s edge thus we could always look out the room to see the world go by. We had a full size bed, not two pushed together twins, and we found it be to comfortable with adequate space on both sides of the bed. There was only one chair in the room so we took turns laying on the bed or sitting in the chair. The bathroom is smaller than our bath in our motor home. Taking a shower can be an exercise as the space is rather limited. Count on only one person at a time being inside the approximated 25 square foot bathroom. We were able to store our four suitcases under the bed, thus freeing up space in the rest of the room. There was an ironing board in the closet and an extra blanket and pillow. The air conditioning in our room was very noisy but that was an exception as we did not find that in some other rooms that we observed. We grew to love the décor and count that as one of our positive experiences aboard the Mississippi Queen.

There are three decks with cabins, the Cabin Deck, The Texas Deck and the Main Deck. They were all equally as nice. There is a movie theater in the lowest part of the boat as well as a beauty salon. Free popcorn is available at the theater and one night we found free Snicker Bars.

Dining

The Main Dining Room On The Mississippi Queen

We were not ask what dinner seating we desired and however once aboard we learned that it was late seating which meant 7:45PM. Early sitting was 5:15PM which really is early. We asked to be changed to the early seating and was immediately offered a large table for two. While it would have been nice to have been at a large table we found this experience of having a romantic dinner for two each evening to be a welcomed change. Breakfast options include open seating in the main dining room, a breakfast buffet in the Grand Saloon area or Danish at the coffee bar area. All were good although if one arrived late at the Grand Saloon, finding a table would always prove to be a challenge. We learned to arrive earlier than just a few minutes before closing. The breakfast food is standard food for a cruise type boat or ship. Service in the main dining room left something to be desired as food would sometimes arrive warm or cold.

This Is The Main entrance To The Main Dining Room. You Enter Through The Port Gallery Where One Finds The Coffee Bar Just Opposite The Gift Shop. The Coffee Bar Was Stocked With Fresh Cookies, Coffee, Tea and Hot Cocoa Almost Anytime of The Day or Night

Lunch was offered in the main dining room and the Grand Saloon area hosted a buffet. The buffet contained sandwiches, salads, fruit and a light fare. Seating was always problem if you arrived late. There was hot dog and potato chips available on one of the back decks provided the weather was good. If not the food was moved inside to the Golden Antlers Bar. The hot dogs were great with toppings of relish, kraut or chili. A tip---at both lunch and dinner you could get a fountain coke for free. Any other times the charge was $1.00. We have never experienced free cokes on a cruise at anytime.

Dinner was available only in the main dining room, thus you had no choice for alternative dining in the evening. We had the early seating which starting at 5:15PM and you should plan on almost two hours as the service was very slow. The waiters were always working hard and actually contributed to part of the entertainment aboard the boat, however getting food out of the kitchen always seemed to be a hassle. Many times our waiter apologized for the delay and brought us some other type food that we had not ordered, to offset the delay that was being experienced. Once night our waiter brought in three Snicker bars for his four tables and cut each into serving size for each of the guest. While he did this as a joke, the food had not arrived and it was still several minutes before it arrived very late in the evening. We all accepted the fact that it was not the waiter’s fault, but rather the kitchen. Some of the guest spoke to management about the problem but we did not see anything appreciative change.

The food at all meals was adequate, but don’t expect gourmet food from a 4 or 5 star restaurant. Some of the menu items carry fancy titles, but don’t let that fool you, the food is common everyday food with some fancy displays at time. The menu always offered at least 5 or 6 entrees each evening. The waiters “pushed” the specialty of the night and it was usually served more quickly than some of the other entrees. Desserts were right out of a frozen food section and while eatable, would not be anything to “write home about”. There was absolutely no shortage but we noticed that most passengers only asked for one desert. The wait staff was more than willing to accommodate you with additional desserts just by your asking.

There is a coffee bar just opposite the gift shop that we found always stocked with great cookies and Danish, plus cold tea, hot tea and coffee. There was also hot water for making your own tea or hot chocolate. This was a very nice area although there was limited seating. All this is free, something you don’t always find on the large cruise ships.

One could also go to the Calliope Bar on the back deck and get a hot dog and potato chips. There were no drinks on the food bar, but you could order a coke from the bar for free or go back to the Grand Saloon and get a drink there. On inclement weather days hot dog bar was moved to the Golden Antlers Bar.

In summary, we found the food to be good and the service to be acceptable although both had flaws at time. We just tried to remember that we were on a steamboat, laid back and cruising at 2 ½ miles an hour at times, and to just take life easy.

Passengers

We have been on several Holland American Line cruises where we found many seniors traveling. This cruise though was well oven 90% seniors, many in the upper 70s and 80s. Many we found to be very experienced travelers, and some like us, had never traveled on a river boat and just wanted to do something different. On cruises with such a high percentage of seniors, one must remember that lines are going to move a little slower, and getting on and off the boat may take a little more time. This is not a boat for the runner or jogger, yet you always encounter one or two who think the boat is solely for them and fail to keep in mind that seniors don’t move as quickly as they might. In spite of the very narrow passageways, these joggers seemed not to care and would just as soon run over you as not. We found the seniors, which include us, to be active and willing to walk reasonable distances on shore.

Crew

The crew was very personable, starting with the boat’s officers, who always spoke to you and seemed to be willing to take the time to answer a question or two. The Pilot often conversed with the passengers. Remember the boat runs at a very slow speed and in spite of the fact it is a steamboat, the boat is equipped with the latest electronic equipment for navigation. The lounge personnel were friendly and helpful and the wait staff in the dining room was not just waiters, as some liked to entertain you during the cruise. They were all appropriately dressed in riverboat type uniforms. Unlike the cruise ships everyone we came across spoke English.

The Paddlewheel Is Powered By Steam And Is The Only Power For The Boat. There is a two Story Lounge At The Rear Of The Boat.

Entertainment

I’m not the best judge when it comes to entertainment so I leave most of the evaluation to my spouse. She told me the entertainers were very good. There were two males and two female singers and performers in the Grand Saloon each evening. The stage are will not permit any extravagant type performances as seen on the larger cruise ships, however these young people did an excellent job. Some of the performers work on shore at various venues, with one singer just having completed some time with Jon Travolta during a trip to California. One evening we had a person representing Mark Twain and unfortunately a number of the passengers found this to be a good time to catch up on their naps. I too, could have passed up that night.



“Local Talent” Contest One Afternoon In The Grand Saloon. This “Talent” Consisted Of Homemade Hats With A Theme.

The lounges had some entertainment each evening, plus bingo sometimes in the afternoon. PS: There are no TVs in the rooms, same as it was in the 1920s. There is a two band radio in the room that will give you CNN news and a channel with music. There is a TV set located in the Lower Paddlewheel Lounge, but expect to see either the news or a sports program.

Service Of Our Room

We saw our room porter the first day we boarded the boat and never saw him again, not even at the end of the cruise. You must hang a card on the room’s doorknob if you are out of the room and want the room refreshed. It always happened but not once did we see the person who was responsible. If we needed something extra during the cruise we had no ideal how we could obtain that item or service.

Activities Aboard and On Shore

One of the many beautiful homes located in St. Francisville, LA.

Let me take you though a typical day aboard the Mississippi Queen.
6-10AM Continental Breakfast
6:30-9AM Breakfast Buffet
7-9AM Breakfast Dining Room
7:30AM Riverlorain River Chat
8AM-8PM Gift Shop Open
9:00AM Pilot House Tour
9:00AM Walk around boat
9:00AM Beauty Shop Open
9:30AM Calliope Bar Open
10:15AM Golf Putting Contest
11AM Golden Antlers Bar Open
11-6PM Ice Cream & Hotdogs at calliope Bar
11:30-1:00PM Chef’s light lunch Bistro
11:30-1:15 Open seating lunch
Noon departure from Vicksburg
12:00-1:00 Photos with Karl
12:30 Cards
1:30PM Disembarkation Talk
2:15PM Mike Fink Party
2:30-4:00PM Riverloarian Rendezvous
3:00PM Paddlewheel Lounge Open
3:15PM Cocktail Bingo
4:15PM Lewis & Clark Talk
4:30PM Old time sing along
5:15PM Early dinner
6:45Pm Late seating show
7:45PM Late seating dinner
8:00Pm Early seating show
9:30PM Paddlewheel Lounge Open
9:45PM Dance
11:00PM Chocolate Lovers Buffet

Ports

My wife and I have made numerous trips to each of the ports listed on this literary. Just four weeks ago we had lunch at Oak Alley, the first stop on this cruise. For anyone who has not toured any of the stops listed on this cruises, getting off the boat and taking one of the shore trips would be a memorable experience. Oak Alley is just one of the many plantations still existing along the Mississippi and should not be missed. St. Francisville is one of the cleanest little towns along the Mississippi and while it is a small town there are many beautiful old homes in the town. An old Episcopal Church in the middle of town has some of the most beautiful grounds around and moss hangs from the old oak trees throughout the church grounds an almost movie picture quality setting.

In Vicksburg one must visit the battlefield area which will take some time. Ground transportation is not readily available so a shore tour is your best bet, but keep in mind you are only touching the surface and may want to come back another day when you can stay longer. At Vicksburg the downtown has come back to life with some great intercity renovation. Nice streets, sidewalks, lighting and many stores are now open with more to open in the near future.

Hand Painted Murals Are Being Placed on The Floodwall In Vicksburg. There Are Also These Same Kind Of Murals, Depicting Years Past, On the Floodwalls In Paducah, Kentucky. They Are Truly Outstanding.

In Natchez you can get a $10 carriage ride in the downtown section. New York prices will be tripled this price and then some. The carriage ride takes you along some of the old downtown streets and past some of the oldest structures in Mississippi. A very interesting tour and well worth the price. Sorry—you won’t get this offered aboard the boat. Walking the downtown streets is also interesting but don’t expect much in the way of retail as downtown, in many cities among the Mississippi as without significant retail in their downtown.

“Under The Hill” at the Natchez Port—Old Tavern In Middle. There Was Also A Small Riverboat Casino Docked In This Area.

In Baton Rouge you are thrust into a deserted downtown area. Almost all retail stores have closed in downtown and many buildings are boarded up. A walk to the new capital building is well worth your time. Going up the tower to the observation deck will give you a view of miles around Baton Rouge and well worth the trip. The grounds include a statute of Huey P. Long and one would have to agree that the grounds are beautiful. There is a large hotel downtown that has a casino attached and is just a few feet from where the boat docks. One can walk to that location and engage in most gaming usually found at large casinos. Outside these attractions one will not find much else in the downtown are. There are some nice old churches within walking distance but don’t count on getting a cup of coffee anywhere as nothing was open the day we docked.

The “Old State Capitol” at Baton Rouge---Just a few feet from the docks

Our departure city and return city was New Orleans. All the downtown activities are within close distance to the boat area and we would suggest one either plan on arriving a day or two early in New Orleans or stay a day of two after the boat cruise and take in the downtown activities of the city. There really is no need to leave the downtown area if you plan to stay an extras day or two in New Orleans. While hotels can be expensive during seasonal periods in New Orleans , you can find some great bargains during the off season, such as November and December. Just check the internet for these great prices.

Tipping

Tipping always seems to be the subject most talked about the last evening of any cruise and this one was no exception. I personally think the tipping proposed was too high. That’s my own personal opinion. I think employers should pay their fair share of an employee’s wages and thus I don’t like to see the $2.13 per hour paid many of the waiters and waitresses in this country. While it’s perfectly legal under federal law, I would trust this would one day change so that customers/tourist are not having to pay wages direct in the form of “tips”. (Now back to page 1). Tips recommended for the houseboy/girl were $4.50 per day per passenger, $4.50 for the waiter per day per passenger, $3.25 per day per passenger for the bus boy. The recommend tip for the Dining Room Captain and maitre d’ was $5.25 and $4.50 per couple. 15% was automatically added to the bar tabs.

I consider myself an above average tipper, however I am beginning to have some second thoughts when it come to tipping where there is little or no service being provided. $9.00 a day for a “houseboy” that you never see and can’t locate seems to be excessive. At $9.00 per meal in the dining room , that means your meal was around $60.00 since 15% of $60.00 would be $9.00. I personally think this is stretching the fact as our meals would not come even close to $60.00 at most restaurants. Then add $6.50 for the bus boy for the evening that means your meal should have cost in excess of $100.00. Give me a break--- the recommended tipping seems to have gotten out of hand. The wine steward tips are separate and included as part of you bar tab.

The Pilot Room Displays Some Of Today’s Most Advanced Electronics, However The Boat Uses Steam For Propulsion, The Same As The Steamboats Of A Hundred Years Ago Used .Here The Riverlorian Takes Us On A Tour. The Riverlorian On This Boat Was Most knowledgeable Not Only About The Mississippi , but about The Boat’s Operation As Well.

Purser’s Office

We don’t often add a paragraph about the purser’s office, however this time we make an exception. Daily newspapers may be read in the very nice sitting area outside the purser’s office and in the afternoon tea and light snacks are found. Also if you would like to send one of the boat’s postcards back home, the purser will give you the card , put a stamp on it (for free) and mail it at the next port, with the post mark of the boat. What a deal!!!

In the same area you will find the desk for the shore tour folks who are always helpful and courteous.

The Boat’s Newspaper
The boat has a very good newspaper that was distributed each evening, “Steamboatin Events—On Board The Mississippi Queen”. There was an insert in the newspaper that gave you the history and some highlights about the port to be visited the next day. In addition there was a chart available showing the mileage of each port from New Orleans and extras at times about the history along the Mississippi as well as other timely subjects. We thought this was a great addition. In addition in the Purser’s area one could always locate a map of the port with highlights to visit if you wanted to walk the area.

There is a small self serve library on the Observation Deck where the honor system is in place for checking out a limited selection of books. If you plan on cruising on one of these river boats, why not bring along a couple of extra books and leave them behind in the library for future passengers.

Embarkation and Disembarking

This has to be the easiest simplest embarkation and disembarking we have ever experienced. The cruise terminal is just a few feet from the boat and the processing through the terminal was quick, friendly and efficient. We had all our papers completed and signed (some did not). Just taking a few minutes to read and sign necessary papers before approaching the desk personnel not only save you time but the waiting passengers time as well. We drove to the terminal and upon entrance was provide a parking pass that permitted us to park the entire six day inside the terminal building at no cost. What a great deal, after paying $27 a night to park at a downtown hotel. We immediately unloaded our luggage, which we had already properly tagged (some had not) and a person on the dock check our name off and the fact we had unloaded baggage. The wait in the line at the desk was short and we were on board in a very short time. We could not go to our room until 3:00PM, however a lunch buffet was already set up and we headed straight to get something to eat. Afterwards we sat in one of the large white wooden rocking chairs that lined the deck and dreamed that we were in the days of Tom Sawyer and (his girl friend). We toured the boat, got our bearings and were ready for the 11:00PM sailing. There was a delay due to a large number of passengers not arriving on time. Our original departure was to have been at 7:30PM. That would have been better since we could have seen a lot of the shore line around New Orleans.

One Of the Several Wooden Rockers That Was On The Outside Decks As My Wife Takes A Minute To Make Just One More Phone Call

Disembarkation was something else. On the cruise ships you have to follow a lot of orders, be at a designated place, wait for a loudspeaker message and then find long lines to get off. Not on this boat. Since we were traveling by car we could get off anytime we desired, but we did have to be out of our room by 9:00AM. We watched the crew tie the boat up and the start of the unloading of the luggage. In a few minutes we spotted our luggage being taken off so we headed to the gangplank to exit. We were off the boat in minutes. A porter was waiting to meet us when he got off the boat and he asked that we get the car, which was less than 50 feet away, and he would load our baggage for us. A good tip was in order for this young man and we were out of the terminal in minutes and on the road to Dallas in a very short time. What a great experience!

Summary

We had a great time and in spite of the fact we have visited each of the ports several times, traveling to those destination by riverboat was a new experience we shall never forget. At “speeds of 2 1/2 to 7 ½ miles per hour it was great. Would we go back again----we can’t wait to catch a really great bargain on the American Queen and head to some of the northern ports. Cruising by steamboat is one of the most relaxing weeks we have experienced in a long time.

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