The American Queen Steamboat Line offers an annual Bourbon Tour every year in early July. As a native Louisvillian I have been on the Belle of Louisville several times, but never been on an extended river cruise on a steamboat before last year when I took part in the Bourbon cruise of July 2015. I was asked to be part of the cruise again this year and immediately accept the offer. Life on the American Queen is an experience that should not be missed. It is a first class experience in all ways.
One nice thing about this cruise is that it forces you to relax and enjoy life at eight miles per hour. The American Queen gets 70% of its power from the paddlewheel. Two smaller propellers supplement the paddlewheel and maneuver the boat providing the other 30% of its drive, slow moving against the current of the mighty Ohio River. The other thing that makes life on the river so pleasant is the lack of cell phone and internet service – it completely disappears for long stretches of time while on the river. Being disconnected has its advantages is that you have no excuse not to put away the phone and enjoy the trip.
This trip starts in St. Louis and ends in Cincinnati with stops at such places as Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Paducah, Brandenburg, and Louisville, Kentucky, and Madison, Indiana. The American Queen has three tour buses that follow the boat and two of them will provide transportation to some set destinations that are part of the trip package and one will provide a “Hop on – hop off” service through the port town allowing passenger to see the town’s attractions without having to take a taxi or walk great distances. The set trips included trips to Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Woodford Reserve. There were also trips to non-bourbon places of interest such as the Patton Museum and the Kentucky Derby Museum. The American Queen also provides on board entertainment in the Grand Saloon.
The Grand Saloon is a theater designed to be similar to the Ford Theater in Washington, D.C. The owners have full time paid entertainers that will put on nightly entertainments involving singing and dancing to various styles and eras of music. The Grand Saloon also is a meeting place for bingo, scavenger hunts and lectures. Don Flinn and Bill Samuels both provided talks on Bourbon here on this trip. The American Queen also has four bars where you can get drinks and in the Engine Room Bar, listen to live performance music on the stage every night.
It is in the Engine Room bar where I did my work. I gave three 2 hour talks on the history of Bourbon, each of which included a tasting. These talks were split up into three different days and all were well attended. The bar was chosen as the location of my talk to ease the serving of the Bourbons to the attendees. I also like the smaller room and cozy atmosphere of the bar to the larger Grand Saloon. The Engine Room bar has a great selection of Bourbons and ryes to choose from. The prices are reasonable and cocktails are well made. The person behind the bar the whole week was Jasmine. She makes a great Manhattan and Old Fashioned cocktails.
The only problem with the trip on the American Queen is that you need to plan on gaining weight. The food is excellent. There is a large dining room where you can get a sit down service meal at breakfast, lunch and dinner times. The service is good and the staff is very friendly. The menu has many great selections with options such as vegetarian meals. The other choice is to go to the Front Deck to eat. This is a buffet style restaurant that serves every meal. The food may be served buffet style but the quality is very good. I liked eating here because you do have selection and portion control. As a result I only gained four pounds on the trip. I should also mention that the Front Deck has a 24 hour soft serve ice cream machine with either cups or cones and all of the additions you could want such as chocolate sauce, sprinkles, nuts and cherries.
I am a pipe smoker and there are only two areas on the boat that allow smoking. There is an area on the top deck of the American Queen near the pool that is a smoking area. The area is large with plenty of tables and chairs to sit at and watch the river go by. Being on the top deck the view of both sides of the river are great. There is a bar near the area but it involves going down a flight of stairs from the smoking area to get your drink. It is also only protected from the weather by a canvas awning above the tables and chairs. The other choice is go to the smoking deck off of the Engine Room Bar. It is smaller and you only see one side of the river as it passes by but being at the rear of the boat the paddlewheel provides some interesting background scenery and it is well protected from the weather.
The Bourbon Cruise on the American Queen is an excellent way to spend a week. It is a slow paced trip that allows for plenty of R&R, but still filled with many excellent Bourbon activities. The crew is very friendly and helpful and the food and drink are excellent. The cabins are small but well provided with comfortable beds and hot showers and baths. Take some time and learn to enjoy a life at eight miles per hour while sipping a Bourbon.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl