A firsthand look at the new American Countess paddlewheeler – Travel Weekly


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ONBOARD THE AMERICAN COUNTESS -- When American Queen Steamboat Co. founder John Waggoner had bottles of bourbon engraved with the planned christening date of his company's newest paddlewheeler, the American Countess, the idea, he said, was to gift guests with a fun collector's item.At the time, he had no idea just how much drama those bottles would come to commemorate.Delayed just a few days shy of a year from that planned April 4, 2020, ceremony by the pandemic, the christening was once again nearly scuttled by last-minute confusion over whether the cruise met CDC requirements for sailing with no more than 250 people on board.The wrinkle was ironed out quickly, and on March 21 the company was finally able to pull off its long-delayed christening and launch. When guests finally boarded, those etched bottles of Old Forester 1870 were proudly displayed in each cabin -- albeit with a new cardboard sign hanging over the neck noting the updated sailing date.

"Today, we finally -- and I don't say that lightly -- we finally get to celebrate the inaugural cruise of this extraordinary vessel," Waggoner's daughter and American Countess godmother Angie Hack told a crowd of 100 guests gathered for the christening and preview cruise from New Orleans to Memphis.Hack choked up as she told of her father's, "Papa John's," vision for the American Countess, which was built from a casino boat that was stripped to its shell, cut in half, lengthened by 60 feet and then "transformed into this world-class vessel."Some four years in the making, the boat is the fourth in the company's fleet, and the last paddlewheeler on the immediate development horizon for the domestic market.The American Countess has a variety of indoor and outdoor lounge areas. Photo Credit: TW photo by Jeri ClausingLike the company's other ships, the American Countess is an authentic paddlewheeler, but one that Waggoner calls the "most modern, cool" one plying the Mississippi.Indeed, with its sleek decor and abundance of public spaces decorated in earth tones with hints of blue, the ship has been transformed into what feels like a contemporary boutique hotel.When the American Queen Steamboat Co. launched its first ships on the Mississippi this month, it was among the first to sail since the pandemic under new health and safety protocols. Continue ReadingThe main deck has a large open bar and lounge with 80-foot panoramic windows, a baby grand piano and couches and tables for lounging and socializing. Behind the lounge is a theater for nightly entertainment. And to the aft is the main dining room, which also has floor-to-ceiling windows.Toward the front is a small fitness center and snack area where guests can help themselves to coffee, popcorn and ice cream.The second deck has a card room with backgammon and chess tables and board games. There's also a library with comfortable chairs, a couch, cushioned bench seating along the windows, plenty of books and an electric-log fireplace. Outside along the bow are deck areas with wooden rocking chairs.The third-deck River Grill restaurant overlooks the boat's large, red paddles. And up top, on Deck 4, a sun deck runs the full length of the vessel.The ship has four categories among its 123 cabins. The largest, at 226 square feet, are on the second deck and have a sitting area that includes a dark wood and white marble-topped desk, small sofas, luxurious beds, 40-square-foot private decks and large bathrooms with roomy showers.Outside-facing cabins on the third deck are slightly smaller, with patios that open onto a walk-around deck.Unlike the company's other ships, which include a range of suites and special staterooms, the American Countess cabins were designed to be more uniform because the boat was originally envisioned as a product for the group market. But Waggoner said he may ultimately decide to knock down a few walls to create a few suites and owner's staterooms for guests looking for a bit more space and luxury.Nonetheless, Waggoner said, he's confident guests will be pleased."We listened to our returning guests' feedback on what they would like to see in a new riverboat and created a contemporary American masterpiece that guests are eager to experience," he said. 
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