Departed from Dallas Love Field to MSY (New Orleans). Easy airport. Taxis to the Riverfront hotels and port have a fixed rate of $33.00 so, if you have two people, they are less than a coach transfer at $20/pp and much quicker. We went to the Hilton Riverside where American Queen River Cruises does their included New Orleans hotel stay and their cruise check-in. The Hilton is a large and busy hotel across from Harrah’s Casino and hotel. On the lower level of the Hilton, you will find a fantastic shopping venue, Riverside Outlet Center, with a huge selection of quality stores including a small Cafe du Monde where you can get their famous beignets and cafe au lait. The American Queen docks right behind the outlet mall and is easy to get to. Once you check in, they take your luggage and deliver it to your stateroom.
Boarding beings at 3pm. It’s an easy process without large crowds. Many of the guests were on an optional New Orleans tour that departed at 10am from the hotel and arrived at the American Queen around 4pm. Deck 3 forward is home to The Front Porch where breakfast, lunch and dinner is served buffet style as well as light snacks rom 3-5pm daily. There is always coffee, tea, espresso and cappuccino available and self-serve ice cream with toppings, cookies and popcorn. A dangerous place to be if watching your calories!
The main dining room is beautiful. Breakfast and lunch always includes the option of a full buffet in addition to ordering off the menu. Quality of food and service is very good. I like the fact that the dining room chairs are on wheels which allows guests to move to and away from the tables with ease. The floor is carpeted which keeps the chairs from getting away from you so there is no safety hazard.
I was able to board early and view some of the accessible cabins. Access is very interesting on this ship. To begin with, it is not consistent as every cabin is set up a little differently. Of the nine accessible cabins, only one has a roll-in shower. It’s very nice with a large padded shower seat attached to the wall and hand held shower. The room has two twin beds. Beds are quite high and I know many of my clients may have an issue with this. I spoke with housekeeping and was told that they have lowered beds for guests and are willing to do this. I spoke to two guests who were both having major problems with the toilets in their cabins. The toilet risers they were given were very unstable and did not offer the support necessary for them to safely transfer from toilet to wheelchair. Within a day, the staff had purchased 10 new over the toilet seat risers with arms which worked very well for all. I was very impressed by how quickly the crew responded and solved the problem. The remaining 8 accessible cabins have bathtubs and they provide a shower seat. They have a hand held shower head and a grab bar on the side of the tub. I spoke to the Chief Purser regarding the installation of additional grab bars for better security and, again, they were very receptive. There is a public restroom located between the main dining room and the showroom with a large accessible stall.
So, given this information, is this the cruise for a person with disabilities? Like every other vacation choice, we must look at each perspective participant on an individual basis and decide if this is the right choice for them. On this particular voyage there are many guests with limited mobility using canes and walkers. There are also 4 guests using manual wheelchairs who have a friend or family member to assist them. Additionally, there are two others using a scooter in addition to me and one person who uses a power chair. The American Queen is easy to navigate in a wheelchair or scooter and the crew is friendly and ready to lend a hand when needed. There are small thresholds to go over to get from inside to outside and doors tended to be heavy but I believe this can be adjusted and will be in my report to the home office of American Queen. The boat carries two golf carts that they use for passengers with walking difficulties when they dock. The crew will also push people up the ramps in wheelchairs. There are two elevators which did a good job of accommodating those needing them. I saw very little crowding. I was on a sailing that was not at capacity which may be a good choice for those with mobility issues. I believe that if you have a sense of adventure and want a new experience, you can have a very enjoyable time. The majority of passengers are retired. The food is very good quality and many of the offerings are indicative of the region we were traveling through. Pecan pie, fried oysters, greens, shrimp and grits and beignets are some of the regional choices. Sugar free desserts are offered at lunch and dinner.
The vessel has a lovely library as well as various sitting rooms where you can read, play cards or enjoy board games with your fellow passengers. The Chart Room is where you can go to find out how the river is being navigated and ask questions of the Riverlorian. The Riverlorian also lectures on a regular basis about life on the river and other pertinent subjects. You will truly feel as if you have stepped back in time. We certainly enjoyed the relaxed, slower pace of an era gone by. Entertainment is abundant with a piano player/singer in the Captain’s Bar, singers and dancers in the main showroom as well as more in the Engine Room Bar for night owls. There is a small swimming pool and gym but neither is accessible to anyone who cannot negotiate stairs. Spa services are available on the main deck.
I was on a seven night itinerary round-trip New Orleans. Day 2 found us at Oak Alley, a beautiful plantation home surrounded by 300 year old oak trees which canopy over the long walkway leading to the main house. Oak Alley is accessible except for the 2nd floor of the house but the staff has solved that problem. They offer guests who cannot go upstairs an IPad with a lovely, informative video of the upper level of the home. Turns out you saw and learned a lot more by watching the video than actually staying with the group and going upstairs.
Next day we docked in St. Francisville whose claim to fame is home to Angola Prison often referred to as Alcatraz of the South. The bloodiest riots ever took place here but it is now known for a very successful faith based rehabilitation program. American Queen operates an outstanding Hop On – Hop Off Bus System. This is a very well organized, efficient and accessible system of touring the towns where the boat docks at most days. In my case, the driver put my scooter under the bus but I had the option of using the lift if I wanted.
You are given a map with the various stops and points of interest. Buses run approximately every 15 minutes. You get off where you want and catch the next bus at your leisure. Bus stops are well marked with large sandwich boards so you know where to wait when ready to continue on. Each bus has a local guide on it who is very knowledgeable about each town’s history and landmarks. In all honesty, one could ride around town listening to the guides and have a very enjoyable time. I point this out as many of the stops lack in accessibility but there are always a few stops that are worth your while to get off the motor coach. The staff is very accommodating to passengers using canes and walkers (of which there are many). The stairs on the buses are easy to navigate and several seats towards the front of the coach are reserved for those with limited mobility. Other guests are courteous and mindful of this. Natchez, MS was next on our agenda whose claim to fame was getting wealthy from the cotton plantations. In 1860 Natchez was the wealthiest city in the U.S.
We then found ourselves in Vicksburg where we enjoyed a premium shore excursion, “On the Front Lines of the Civil War”. This tour was quite interesting and informative and worth the additional cost. We had a few stops and most were fully accessible. The surrender of Vicksburg by General John Pemberton July 4, 1863 marked the turning point of the civil war. Vicksburg did not celebrate the 4th of July again until 1945.
On to Baton Rouge, LA, the state capital of Louisiana. There is a lot to see here with good accessibility. My favorite stop was the Capital Park Museum which boasted excellent exhibits on two floors. I also enjoyed the Art Museum at LSU.
Our final full day found us back at the plantations. This time we docked in front of Nottoway Plantation which now also serves as a Bed & Breakfast and has a restaurant and gift shop. It is truly magnificent but we had rain that day so it was a little more difficult to fully enjoy. The access at the plantation is not very good. They installed a small elevator but it barely accommodates a manual wheelchair. If the weather had cooperated, we could have enjoyed the grounds.
On the day of disembarkation you have a choice of an airport transfer or a tour. You can also do an extended city stay.
Yes, I do think that persons with mobility limitations can get a lot of enjoyment from this journey. We have all learned that in order to see the world, some venues may not be fully accessible but that should not keep us from venturing out.