The American Queen. Photo: Alton Hannibal / American Queen Voyages

The Cruise Line With the Coolest River Boats in the World Is Shutting Down

by Morgane Croissant Feb 28, 2024

I took my very first cruise in July 2022, and as luck would have it, it was on one of the world’s most unique boats: the American Queen. The most iconic vessel from cruise line American Queen Voyages, the American Queen is a beautiful 1995 recreation of a Mississippi River paddlewheel steamboat, and the stuff of story books. Unfortunately, the future of the American Queen and its sister steamboats, the American Countess, the American Duchess, and the American Empress, is looking grim.

The American Queen. Photo: Alton Hannibal / American Queen Voyages
The American Countess. Photo: American Queen Voyages

As of February 23, 2024, American Queen Voyages (AQV) is shutting down. Unable to recover from the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic had on the cruising industry, the cruise line had become financially unsustainable. All the AQV cruises have been cancelled and, unless the cruise line is purchased, all the beautiful boats will stand still.

American Queen Voyages (AQV) is shutting down

Message displayed on AQV’s wbesite

And what a shame that would be to never see the slow-moving American Queen, the largest and grandest steamboat ever built, sail the rivers of the United States again. On my voyage from Memphis to Nashville, locals waited along the shores of the Mississippi River and its tributaries, cameras in hands and children on their shoulders, to get a chance to catch a sight of the majestic, one-of-kind boat pass by. Passengers, many of whom were living out their dream vacation, waved proudly from the decks.

Photo: Jesse Adams
Photo: Jesse Adams
Photo: Jesse Adams

And it’s easy to understand why this vessel is emblematic and triggers such an emotional response in people. The massive red paddlewheel at the back, the two huge 109-foot-tall crown-topped smokestacks, the old-fashioned steam engine, and the elegant decks all come together to induce a feeling of nostalgia for 19th-century luxury river travel. The fact that it was built in Louisiana, christened in New Orleans by none other than Priscilla Presley with a four-foot-tall bottle of Tabasco sauce, or that its lavish interior was modelled after the the J.M. White, an opulent steamboat from the 1800s, adds to the legend.

While it’s too early to tell what will happen to American Queen Voyages and its vessels, one thing is for sure: if you booked a trip with AQV, you’ll get a full refund. All you need to do is to visit the cruise line’s website and follow the instructions. With a bit of luck, the calliope, a unique steam-whistle organ found on the fifth deck of the American Queen, will be played along the American’s great rivers, and passengers will be waving to admirers again soon.

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