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Steamboat Travel on the American Queen

The American Queen is the largest steamboat ever built, and the only one in America offering overnight accommodations. Kentucky Life host Doug Flynn went aboard in Henderson to get a taste of steamboat travel.

“I always tell people, welcome to the 1860s with WiFi,” Brent Willits, master of the American Queen. “It really is. The boat’s like a time machine.”

The lavishly outfitted, six-deck vessel is decorated in the style of America’s Victorian era. It includes a gym, a two-deck-tall saloon, and a library. The smokestacks are 100 feet high, but they are retractable so the boat can fit under bridges, said Willits.

Susan Elliott, product development manager for the American Queen, said passengers get to enjoy leisurely “river time.”

“You are surrounded by the history and the culture, and you’re seeing American from a perspective that few get to enjoy,” she said. “…You’re entertained, of course, and well fed. But the ability to sit back, relax and enjoy America as it passes by is really a treat.”

The American Queen has theme cruises. “With an itinerary such as this one where we’re traveling from Nashville to Memphis on four rivers, we’re able to really bring you the music of America,” from country to rock and blues, said Elliott.

The cuisine reflects the region. “And always with a little bit of New Orleans flair to it,” said Willits, “because our roots go back to the South, and New Orleans, and jazz, and then all the way up to Memphis and Delta blues. And so we do a little barbecue on here once in a while.”

The boat can accommodate nearly 440 guests. The weeklong trips also offer day trips to small towns along the way.

Many customers are well-traveled already, Elliott said. “They’re looking for something you can’t get from an airplane, from a car, or on the blue waters,” she said. “They’re looking for real America.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2107, which originally aired on February 13, 2016. Watch the full episode.