Thursday marks the beginning of Part 2 of this great trip I'm on. That's when I'll board the newly renovated American Queen for a steamboat cruise up the Mississippi River. Part 1 is the road trip I've been making from Miami to New Orleans, and I still have the last stretch of that trip before me.
The American Queen -- 418 feet long, 90 feet wide, with beds for 436 passengers -- will be christened in its homeport of Memphis on May 27. But first it is taking a boatload of guests from New Orleans to Memphis. I'll be on that cruise.
It's a milestone of sorts. Steamboats have been traveling on the Mississippi River for about 200 years. But overnight passenger cruises ended in 2008 when this same ship was foreclosed on and the U.S. Maritime Administration took custody of it. The new owner is the Great American Steamboat Co., which has some of the same principals as the previous owner, the Delta Queen Steamboat Co.
It's a weeklong cruise, with the boat traveling at 8 to 10 miles an hour -- plenty of time to unwind, just watching the scenery go by. I expect the ambience will be quie different from an ocean cruise, partly because of the speed and the scenery, partly because the steamboat is so much smaller than most ocean-going cruise ships. We'll stop in Louisiana (Oak Alley and St. Francisville), Mississippi (Natchez, Vicksburg) and Arkansas (Helena) before reaching Memphis.
Priscilla Presley, the ship's godmother, will preside over the christening on April 27. Then I'll come home, and the American Queen will continue up the river to Cincinnati.
Watch this blog for my reports.