They may look like they’ve come straight out of a Mark Twain novel, but these modern river cruise ships offer all the comforts and conveniences of a European river cruise ship, with spacious staterooms, inclusive amenities, gourmet cuisine, and hand-crafted cocktails.
In fact, on most, the paddlewheel is strictly for show: a series of small propeller systems, known as Z-Drives, typically propels these unique vessels through the water.
Within the United States, two major river cruise lines are leading the way when it comes to classically-styled paddlewheelers: American Cruise Lines and the American Queen Steamboat Company.
American Cruise Lines
American Cruise Lines has four paddlewheel ships out of its total fleet of eight vessels that ply the inland and coastal waterways of North America.
Of these, the venerable Queen of the West is the oldest, having been constructed in 1995 for the now-defunct American West Steamboat Company. As built, she carried nearly 200 guests, but American Cruise Lines ratcheted that down to just 120 guests. She entered service for American Cruise Lines back in 2011 and has been extensively refurbished in the intervening years.
After nearly two decades in service, Queen of the West was finally joined by two fleetmates. American Cruise Lines introduced the brand-new American Pride back in 2012, which carries 150 guests and was originally named Queen of the Mississippi from 2012 until 2015.
Her direct sister, Queen of the Mississippi, entered service in 2015 under the name American Eagle. It’s not just you: the naming convention is very confusing. American Pride and Queen of the West sail the Columbia and Snake Rivers; the Queen of the Mississippi plies the waters of her namesake river.
The final ship in American Cruise Line’s paddlewheel fleet is the brand-new America. Representing the latest in cruise ship design, she carries 185 guests on voyages along the historic Mississippi River.
American Cruise Lines is currently building a fifth riverboat, to enter service on the Mississippi River sometime in 2017. When it was announced, the line stated it intended to name this vessel Queen of the Mississippi. Since there is already one of those in the fleet (and since the Great Name Swap of 2015 still causes endless confusion), we’d like to hope that ACL will name her something – anything – else.
Still, with a fleet of four paddlewheel-driven riverboats and another one on the way, nostalgia has never looked more modern than with American Cruise Lines.