“I’ve never seen a ship this big here. I couldn’t imagine they can fill it,” one curious bystander said as he peered up at American Duchess, an elegant paddle wheeler moored to the grassy banks of Levee Park in Red Wing, Minnesota.
I had the opportunity to tour the riverboat when it was experiencing a “turn day,” meaning passengers from the prior cruise had disembarked, and crew members were preparing to welcome a new group of travelers to cruise down the Mississippi.
American Duchess is a majestic paddle wheeler offered by American Queen Voyages. She was created from a 1995 hull and completely reconstructed in 2017 to become one of the most luxurious river cruising vessels in the United States. The ship is billed as the first all-suite paddle wheeler on U.S. rivers.
Come along and I’ll take you on a tour of this magnificent vessel.
My first impression of the ship is that it has a distinctly modern feel. It does not feel excessively Victorian-era as some might expect on a paddle wheeler. The furniture looks very up to date and comfortable, color tones are in line with popular palettes of today, suites are spacious, and lots of windows throughout the ship ensure that the river gets plenty of attention.
DECK 1 – MAIN DECK
Entering via the forward portion of the ship, there is a spacious two-level lobby with sofas and chairs, bright chandeliers, and a grand staircase with wrought-iron railings that leads up to Deck 2. A small business center with two computers for passengers to check internet is off to the side, and desks for the shore excursion manager and the purser are here, along with the gift shop.
From the front lobby, you can walk into the Show Lounge, the main theater on the ship, where the evening production shows are held. A diverse lineup of guest historians also takes the stage here, so passengers can learn more about the cities and river towns through which they are cruising.
On one exterior side of the Show Lounge, a passageway called the Art Walk awaits those who wish to curl up with a book in one of its window seats.
On the other side of the Show Lounge, you’ll find the Grand Lobby & Bar. The day I toured, dozens of champagne flutes sat on the bar, ready to welcome guests for the first day of their cruise.
Grand Lobby & Bar
This is a nice place to mingle and relax prior to heading into your final stop on the Main Deck, The Grand Dining Room.
The Grand Dining Room
The Grand Dining Room has a formal atmosphere, similar to what you might encounter in a fine dining restaurant on land. It features windows on two sides, white tablecloths and place settings with a beautiful tribute to paddlewheel cruising.
The menu for that evening’s dinner was already on display, featuring starters such as Yellowfin Tuna Tartar or a French Market Olive Salad; soups and salads such as Split Green Pea and Smoked Ham or Hand-Tossed Caesar Salad; and Entrees of Espresso-Crusted Beef Tenderloin or Crispy Mississippi Catfish, to name a few. The Grand Dining Room is open for traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The restaurant is open seating, meaning you may dine at any time during its open hours, with whomever you wish.
DECK 2 – OBSERVATION DECK
There are two major public venues on Deck 2. One is The River Club & Terrace.
This is where you can satisfy your taste buds with a full casual dining breakfast or lunch. In the evening, this space offers reservation-only seating and a menu different from The Grand Dining Room.
Toward the back of The River Club & Terrace, you’ll find an observation deck with a bar.
The other public venue on Deck 2 that I found intriguing is the Lincoln Library. Several round tables are in place, ideal for card players. Other furniture groupings with leather sofas and armchairs look welcoming for anyone who wants to read for a bit. The ship brings on local newspapers or major dailies when available in ports, and there is a shelf with games. There’s also a small lending library for taking a book or leaving a book. A drum set in the corner appeared at the ready for some light evening entertainment. The Lincoln Library is also a nice space for private parties or gatherings.
A couple of other points of interest on Deck 2 include Perks and the Fitness Center. Perks is a serve-yourself snack area, offering pastries, a popcorn machine, coffee and juice, and soft serve ice cream, which is apparently a big hit.
The fitness center includes two treadmills, an elliptical and an exercise bike, along with a small area for doing free weights.
There are five cabin types on American Duchess, with two of those offering accessible cabins (Interior Staterooms and Verandah Suites).
Here are the categories along with their square footage:
- Interior Staterooms (180 sq feet) – ADA staterooms 200 sq ft
- Veranda Suites (240 sq ft) – ADA suites 330 sq ft
- 2 Deluxe Suites (450 sq ft)
- 3 Owners Suites (550 sq ft)
- 4 Loft Suites (550 sq ft)
These cabins, situated on Decks 2 and 3, offer:
- Queen Bed or Two Single Beds
- Full Bathroom with Shower
- Writing Desk with Chair
- Keurig® Coffee Maker and Mini Refrigerator
- In-room Safe
- Flat-screen TV
Veranda Suites with Private Balcony
Veranda Suites, also on Decks 2 and 3, offer everything the Inside Staterooms provide, plus a lounge area with sofa, and a sliding glass door to the private balcony, which features two chairs and a small table.
Deluxe Suites with Private Balcony
The two-room Deluxe Suites feature a lounge area with half bath, a full-size sofa-bed and a small desk area. The bedroom includes a full marble bath with tub/shower combination, plentiful closet space and sliding doors to your private balcony.
Owner’s Suite with Private Balcony
Nestled in a prime location with sprawling views of the river, the two-room Owner’s Suites feature glass doors accessible from both the bedroom and lounge areas. The seating area includes a full-size sofa-bed, cocktail tables and a desk. These lavish suites, which also include a full marble bath plus half bath, can accommodate up to four guests. In addition to the gracious accommodations, Owner’s Suite guests are well attended to by a personal river butler.
Loft Suite with Private Balcony
The suites with the biggest wow factor are the Loft Suites. The lower level features a full bathroom, small dining area, a lounge section furnished with a full-size sofa-bed and desk area, along with sliding doors to the private balcony. Up the stairs, you’ll find a sleeping area and a second full bathroom, made of marble. A large picture window in front of the staircase affords river views from both levels. In fact, the windows are so tall, guests receive a remote control to operate the drapes. Butler services are also provided for Loft Suite guests.
MORE OUTDOOR SPACES
Of course, every riverboat needs ample space for guests to soak in the views. Rocking chairs peer forward along the river, while the top-level sun deck features a variety of seating arrangements plus a walking track.
While your U.S. river cruise may place an emphasis on the fascinating tales from our country’s past, as a ship, American Duchess is steaming full-speed ahead with all of the contemporary comforts you’d find in a new, upscale hotel.