Back aboard, we lounge on the ship’s breezy, shaded Front Porch of America, outfitted with rockers, tables and porch swings. We munch on chocolate snacks so ornate that calling them cookies feels a little like calling the American Queen, which has six Carpenter Gothic decks running its 418 filigreed feet, a johnboat. Then our attention turns to the powerful towboats shepherding barges along the river. Their deckhands stare as we churn by, characters that would have warmed Twain’s heart.
Time grows short as we steam past bluffs below St. Louis. I haunt the upper Promenade and Sun decks, eyes peeled for wildlife. My patience pays off when I spot a grazing doe, swooping hawks and great blue herons, ungainly except in motion—a bit like a riverboat. Wild turkeys strut, smug as if Ben Franklin had made them the national bird after all. A bald eagle appears, its ebony plumage and snowy white head unmistakable against the green hillsides on the shore.
Tomorrow, the nation celebrates Independence Day, and the American Queen will tie up in the shadow of the Gateway Arch to enjoy an air show and fireworks—all up close, high-speed pop and sizzle. I wonder, though, if the quiet, slow unrolling of these seven days and 400 Old Man River miles of hills, forests and flowing water haven’t been the best show of all.
For more information, call (888) 749-5280 or visit americanqueensteamboatcompany.com. Fares for the seven-night all-inclusive Memphis-to-St. Louis start at $2,145. The company also offers cruises on the Upper Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The cruise line arranges special offers on train fares and one-way car rentals for customers returning to the embarkation point to retrieve their vehicles.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® May/June 2013. Prices, dates and other details are subject to change, so please check specifics before making travel plans.)