See America From A Paddle Wheel Riverboat

TRAVEL TALK

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Traveling the rivers and coastal waterways of our vast nation by paddle wheel riverboats is truly a unique vacation experience. It is certainly not new, this method of transportation harkens back to the times of such legendary Americans as Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). Riverboat transportation was as important as the railroad in our early history.

Today, one can river travel in near luxury.

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The American Queen is one of the fleet of river boats now cruising the Mississippi River and several in the northwest. The cruises provide a different way to see the country, with entertainment and education included.

About a year ago, two riverboat companies merged to become the Majestic America Line. One segment was the historical Green Line, which later became the Delta Steamboat Company and the other was the America West Steamboat Company. Their boats are all U.S. registered and crewed.

The new company offers Mississippi River cruising with a fleet of three paddle wheelers, including the famous 1926 "Delta Queen," which carries 174 passengers. The vessel is now on our Historical Register. The flagship is the "American Queen," which carries 436 guests in luxury, the third sister is the "Mississippi Queen" holding 412 passengers.

In the Northwest you can cruise aboard the equally luxurious "Empress of the North," "Queen of the West" and "Columbia Queen" -- which is built like a paddle wheeler but goes up the river without a paddle.

The company also offers Inside Passage cruising in Canada and Alaska with the "Empress of the North" and a small yacht-like vessel named "Contessa," which carries 48 guests.

Entertainment on board the Mississippi boats is a celebration of Americana, with guests enjoying Cajun, jazz and blues music. Historians and lecturers are featured to enhance the enjoyment of your selected itinerary along with naturalists to enrich the experience.

Fine dining is accomplished with notable American culinary experts who bring to life fantastic experiences of our country's distinct regional flavors. They try to utilize local fresh and seasonal ingredients.

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River boat cruising is by no means cut-rate. In fact, opulence is the order of the day in the public areas of the boats.

Luxuries in your cabin include slippers, robes and amenities kits. Many of the cabins feature private balconies to further enhance your enjoyment of the scenery of our land as you cruise the rivers. The public rooms are spacious and remind us of the past.

You'll never forget the docking of your Mississippi steamboat in the villages and towns with the calliope playing to announce the boat's arrival. You'll smell the popcorn, which begins at 10:30 in the morning, and enjoy kite flying from the stern. It's All-American and it's a special travel experience.

The Mississippi River itineraries feature varied three- to 11-night cruises. You can select a seven-night cruise from New Orleans up the river through what is known as the Old South visiting Baton Rouge, Vicksburg and Natchez among several ports of call. You can also cruise from Memphis to St. Louis, and St. Louis to Cincinnati, plus travel the upper river from St. Louis to St. Paul. And, those are only some of the itineraries you can choose.

In the Northwest you can cruise the Columbia, Snake and Willamette Rivers. Here, the focus of many of the itineraries is the Lewis and Clark expedition. These cruises depart from beautiful Portland, Ore. A sample seven-night vacation leaves Portland on the Columbia River and visits The Dalles, Hood River, Columbia River Gorge, Pendleton, Clarkston, Lewiston, the Snake River, and Astoria, then returns to Portland. You can also select an itinerary of four or five nights if you prefer.

The primitive nature enthusiast will especially enjoy Alaska. In these smaller boats you get up close to the wildlife and glaciers. There are more than 400 species of animals, including whales, porpoises, moose, bears, and sea lions to name a few. The larger ships cannot get as close to the shore and glaciers as these vessels. The onboard naturalists will add a lot to your experience. One seven-night cruise departs Juneau and visits Skagway, Peril, Neva and Olga Straits, Sitka, Petersburg, LeConte Glacier, Stikine River, Wrangell, Dawes Glacier and North and South Sawyer Glaciers, returning to Alaska's capital, Juneau.

How much? The boats are American and crewed by Americans. These river and coastal cruises are not cheap, but are reasonably priced, considering what they are and what they offer. As they say, you get what you pay for.

I recommend you visit the Web site at www.MajesticAmericaLine.com and/or call for one of the best travel brochures in the business by dialing 1-800-434-1232. Your travel professional can also give you brochures, answer your questions and assist with your air and cruise reservations. Enjoy this unique experience!

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