The calliope played as we steamed out of Cincinnati on “la belle riviere”, the Ohio. We were aboard the American Queen, an authentic paddlewheeler of the type best described by Mark Twain: “as beautiful as a wedding cake, without the complications”. The passage of the boat is somewhat of an event along the river – all during our cruise, people came out of their houses along the banks to wave and take pictures as we passed.
The big red paddlewheel at the back churned, and we made our way along the river at about 8 mph towards Pittsburg. The leisurely pace added to the sense we were experiencing a slice of life as it was back in the middle of the 19th century. The ship décor is Victorian, but with modern amenities like air conditioning and cappuccino machines.
Passengers are well taken care of, with delectable cuisine from Executive Chef Regina Charboneau (make sure you try the crawfish beignet), and entertainment options ranging from talks with the “Riverlorian” to concerts by well-known entertainers. Our cruise had a ‘60’s Music theme, with performances by B.J. Thomas and the Lovin’ Spoonful.
Our first stop was Maysville, Kentucky, whose chief claim to current fame seems to be that Rosemary Clooney was born and lived here. Her nephew, George, has also returned to the town for events. I’d suggest you ask at the tourist office for Sally to take you around on a tour. She is a lifelong resident, and her enthusiasm for the town was a joy. Maysville’s heyday may have passed, but it has a rich history as an important stop on the Underground Railroad, a center for ironworks that provided much of the ornamental scrollwork used on buildings in New Orleans, and as a port for the exporting of tobacco and hemp. A local collector of miniatures (think dollhouse furniture) has her extensive and remarkable collection displayed in the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center. Even if you have no interest in dollhouses, you should go see this exhibit – it is fascinating.
Maysville was an introduction to the type of experience we would have on rest of the stops during our trip. All were places that were important settlements along the river, with decades of history and interesting stories to tell. This is an area of the country I was not familiar with, and I found myself saying “I didn’t know that” quite a lot. The lure of a cruise along the river is the opportunity to dock and step right into the life of Point Pleasant, West Virginia or Marietta, Ohio.
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