There’s something new at the south leg of the Gateway Arch, and no, it’s not a casino. It’s something much better: The American Queen steamboat. It rolled into town for the first time on July 4, and gave its 400+ passengers a to-die-for view of the riverfront fireworks show. The next evening, the AQ fired up its steam engine, played its calliope and launched another contingent of steamboaters on its first St. Louis to Louisville cruise.
The AQ is the last steamboat [beautifully refurbished] in a fleet that once included the Mississippi Queen [scrapped] and the Delta Queen [now a floating hotel in Chattanooga].
I’m here to wish the new owner great success. St. Louis needs a steamboat, for gawd’s sake. We’re the steamboat capital of America–at least we used to be–and until last week, you couldn’t find a real river-running paddle wheeler anywhere around here. So, it’s about time, and hallelujah.
And, by the way, I can attest to the quality of the boat and the journey, as I’m writing this blog as I sit on the “Front Porch” of the AQ. It’s about 100 degrees here, somewhere between Paducah KY and Hendersonville, IL, the next stop on the way to Louisville. Inside, of course, it’s air-conditioned to a near freeze, but who’s complaining? If you’ve got some cash to spare, a week with no commitments, and the desire to have someone do just about everything else for you–and if you’re not in a hurry and like to read or play cards–the AQ is for you.
But I’m not really here to review the boat–although I will say that the food is very good, the cabins quite nice–with excellent linens, the bathrooms roomy and the staff extremely friendly and helpful.
What I really want to say is that the AQ deserves success, and St. Louis should do its darndest to help it along. Other, much smaller towns have already figured out that a steamboat docking at their port is a big deal. Yesterday, we had a bonus stop in Paducah, KY. Even though the stop wasn’t scheduled until less than 24 hours before we got there, the word got out, and hundreds of people drove down to the levee to see the big steamboat pull in. Some of the museums and shops stayed open late to accommodate [and benefit from the economic potential of] 400 steamboaters with credit cards. As we pulled up the gangplank and steamed away from town, the levee was covered with cars and people who stayed to watch the big boat leave.
The same thing happened in Cave-in-Rock, a tiny town in Kentucky with a population of about 350. And again in Henderson and Owensboro. Clearly, the idea of an old-fashioned [looking] steamboat has fired up the imagination of lots of people. St. Louis needs to make the most of this opportunity.