Paddle Wheel Cruising Middle America

There are about a dozen different itineraries on paddle boats on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and other rivers.   Although we had enjoyed a trip on the Columbia and Snake Rivers a few years ago (see blog posts),  this is our first paddle wheel steamboat trip. IMG_1250 We started in Chattanooga Tennessee and will end in St Louis, Missouri.     We will have been on the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and traversed through Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky and Missouri. The American Queen is a real Steamboat of the Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn style.    They dont make this type of steam engine anymore.   The engine in this ship was re-cycled from a ship that had been built in the 1930’s.    If there are breakdowns … there are no spare parts available …. so they make them.  (That actually happened on the cruise before this one … more adventure!) We got a little view of Chattanooga … what a great little city!    A great river walk, the world class Tennessee Aquarium,  cliffs and caves within the city limit … we can see why it’s a top rated place to live by several groups who rate that type of thing. IMG_1254 There was a transfer bus that we could have taken from the hotel to the ship, but we chose the city electric shuttle bus that comes by every 10 minutes … for free. Our first stop was in Florence Alabama.   The Cruise Line provided a Hop On, Hop Off tour of the city.  The most interesting thing to me was a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home that was open for touring.   As a builder, and a renovator, I was impressed with his use of the space and of light … but it would be horrible from an Energy perspective.    The flat roof construction techniques had built in problems that were virtually doomed to fail and when the city IMG_1281


Lots of bridges to pass under. Some drawbridges like this one for a railway. And many that are tall enough for us to get under … but only by lowering down those smokestacks and the wheelhouse.

purchased the home after about 40 years of age, in the 90’s, it required hundreds of thousands of dollars of renovation to repair water leaks and termite damage.    I’m believing that the new construction methods and materials in use today will fair better.   Good builders should design their buildings to last at least a century.

Each day the bus takes us on a land tour.

Each day the bus takes us on a land tour.


No docks required. The pilot can stop anywhere that there are two strong tree trunks. The draft is only 6 1/2 feet of water.

Because we have been traveling on so many European rivers recently, I am constantly comparing the differences between River Cruising in Europe and Steamboating the Rivers of America and will note some of those here.    First of all, the paddle wheeler boat is totally different.    Much larger.   Actually only about double the size.    Here we have an outside room that opens out onto a walkway,  rather than what they call a French Balcony, which is just a sliding glass door.   Unlike the European ships,  the paddle-wheeler needs no docking facilities.   It simply noses in to the bank and ties up to two trees and lowers it’s gangway.

Another difference is that the crew here is all American and speak “American” English.   On the European ships, English is spoken but it is a second language for most.

I would say the food is about equal … maybe a little better on the paddle wheeler and both seem better than on the big ocean cruise ships.    But in both cases you can ruin your diet!..    Last time I was in Europe, I gained 7 pounds.  And Luelle stayed the same!   I’m really proud of her.   She and Heather are doing a diet called Totally Healthy Mamas … or something like that.    We’ll see what happens this time.

Another feature of this cruise is the “RiverLorian” who is regularly giving talks about life on the river.   He is an experienced captain and has accumulated a lot of stories over several decades.

There are also other lecturers on board.   One history professor told us about the Manifest Destiny president,  Jimmy Polk.   He was an interesting, driven, introvert.   But he doubled the size of our country in his 4 year term … with the Louisiana Purchase from Mexico and the Oregon Territory dispute settled with Britain.     Another lecturer was the head diplomat of the Cherokee Nation.   He sat at our table and gave us a good view into the Cherokee way of life, both then and now.

The pilot usually turns the boat up-river to beach the bow into the bank and the stern is slightly out into the river.

The pilot usually turns the boat up-river to beach the bow into the bank and the stern is slightly out into the river.

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