Far from the Rhine, the Nile, the Amazon and the Yangtze, the great rivers of America have also served boat passengers for centuries, and such cruises continue to be popular, primarily on the Mississippi and Columbia river systems. Replicas of 19th- century paddle wheelers still hold sway. Small-town ports masquerade as pages from an American storybook. Shorelines are all aglitter with the romance of history, reflecting the lives and times of Lewis and Clark and Mark Twain.
The premier river for extended passenger cruising in America is the Mississippi, where the American Queen Steamboat Co. sets the tone. The largest steamboat ever built, American Queen headlines the fleet, featuring staterooms for 436 guests, multiple restaurants, a theater, gym and spa, as well as a paddle wheel at the stern powered by an actual steam plant. A calliope and steam whistle complete the picture. No river operator offers more luxury or more nostalgia in a single vessel. Here Mark Twain finds an afterlife on the Mississippi in the form of an onboard impersonator who regales guests with tall tales and river lore.
Employing a total of three replica paddle wheelers, American Queen Steamboat Co. regularly plies the length of the Mississippi, from Red Wing, Minnesota, to New Orleans, including Mark Twain’s picket-fence hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. It also operates branch cruises on the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Many themed voyages focus on Mark Twain, the Antebellum South, regional music and even bourbon. The modern paddle wheelers cover it all in leisurely fashion, but at a price. A week on the Mississippi can cost as much as a week on the open seas aboard an all-suite, all-inclusive, ultra-luxurious ship.
American Queen Steamboat Co.’s rival, American Cruise Lines, operates two replica paddle wheelers of its own on the Mississippi, as well as three contemporary riverboats, including the 194-passenger American Jazz, to be launched later this year. Known for its spacious cabins and hop-on, hop-off shore excursion buses, American Cruise Lines also features special Music Cities cruises between Memphis and Nashville, serenading passengers as they churn from Graceland to the Grand Ole Opry.
The same two cruise companies that dominate the Mississippi also divided up many of the spoils of the Columbia, the river that once transported pioneers and explorers, most notably Lewis and Clark, to the far edges of the Wild West. While the ways of frontier life and the beauty of untamed nature persist today — especially in the epic scenery of the Columbia River Gorge and the antique highway etched into its steep walls — the river also boasts attractions such as massive hydroelectric dam projects, whitewater rafting on its tributaries, a booming wine industry and a craft beer empire in trendsetting Portland, Oregon.
American Cruise Lines devotes two replica paddle wheelers, the 100-passenger Queen of the West and the 150-passenger American Pride, to Columbia cruising. Voyages include gratuities, a pre-cruise hotel night and free daily shore excursions. Onboard “riverlorians” entertain with tales of explorers, trappers and Native Americans; and passengers enjoy frequent tastings of regional beers and wines.
Not to be outdone, American Queen Steamboat Co. maintains the largest, most elegant paddle wheeler on the Columbia, the 220-passenger American Empress, which welcomes guests March–November and calls on multiple ports and historic sites. Shore excursions run the gamut from the world-class wineries of Walla Walla and the surprising Rodin collection at Maryhill Museum to a jet boat ride in Hells Canyon (America’s deepest river canyon, deeper than the Grand Canyon).
When it comes to world-class river cruising, America has its own shorelines to offer.
UNCRUISING AN AMERICAN RIVER
Extended sailings on American rivers remain securely in the hands of two American operators, American Queen Steamboat Co. and American Cruise Lines. Requirements that cruise ships on American waterways be made in America and staffed by relatively expensive American workers have so far discouraged interested outside parties, including Viking, Uniworld and Century Cruises (a Chinese operator).
The one exception is the American-built, American- owned and American- staffed boutique cruise line, UnCruise Adventures. Even UnCruise confines its American river operations solely to the Columbia and Snake but, in doing so, created active alternatives to many of the more genteel features of the replica paddle wheelers dominating this riverway.
UnCruise Adventures offers two seven-night Columbia River itineraries August through November. Both employ the same replica coastal steamship, the 86-passenger S.S. Legacy, a cozy vessel laden with watersport and hiking equipment. Cruises emphasize leisure activities such as paddle boarding, kayaking, whitewater river rafting, jet boating, hiking and bicycling; but these outside endeavors are amply supplemented by tastings of local, world-class wines, both on board and at superb small wineries along the way.
I imagine that when writer Hans Christian Andersen mused, “Life itself is the most wonderful fairy tale,” he was standing at the edge of Copenhagen’s historic Tivoli Gardens, one of his favorite haunts, enlivened by the swirl of human happiness that surrounded him: children laughing; carousels spinning; games of chance played for prizes; lovers holding hands; hungry people whispering over sweets, hot drinks, beer and towering, open-faced smørrebrød, Denmark’s quintessential sandwich. That fairy tale lives on today at the second-oldest amusement park in the world, a spectacle of folly architecture, bakeries, gardens, rides, restaurants, puppet shows and joy ... and which also happens to be one of the city’s most storied places to convene for business.
Since its prestige for attracting the world elite grew in the 1960s, Greece remains the go-to destination for glittering holidays. Each step of the journey is enrobed in luxury, from culinary traditions with the highest standard of execution and name-brand, high-end shopping to first-rate wellness locales and elite accommodations, like 5-star hotels, private villas and yachts.
The restored Park Hyatt Toronto reopened its doors, bringing luxury, sophistication and glamour alongside a nod to the hotel’s Canadian heritage. Alessandro Munge of Studio Munge collaborated on the hotel’s refresh, drawing inspiration from Canada’s seasons and natural landscapes.
I recently dined at Irwin’s in Philadelphia. The restaurant is located on the rooftop of the Bok Building, a former school turned collective of small businesses, non-profits, artist workshops, a bar and restaurant. I previously visited Bok for the bar and yoga classes, and I was excited to experience the restaurant.
The Global Business Travel Association’s (GBTA) Convention 2021 will be unlike any other convention before it, as we come together in person for the first time since the business travel industry drastically changed and look forward to rebuilding and reshaping the future. GBTA Convention 2021 will bring all of us together to learn from experts and each other, in-person at Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, Nov. 17–19. The safety of our attendees is our top priority. View health and safety protocols.
The Global Business Travel Association, the world’s largest business travel and meetings trade organization, recently released a statement from GBTA CEO Suzanne Neufang regarding the Biden administration’s recent announcement that the U.S. travel ban will be relaxed in November for vaccinated travelers from 26 Schengen countries, the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Arriving early afternoon in Puerto Rico, we jumped in an Uber and took a short, 15-minute drive from the airport to La Concha. As it was Tuesday, the streets were not too busy and the hotel lobby was calm. During the weekend, the scene likely would have been more bustling. We were greeted by a staff member who requested proof of vaccination and government-issued ID, and were given a wristband to indicate we were fully vaccinated. All guests are required to be vaccinated and wear masks at all times while moving around the hotel. Hand sanitizer stations were placed around the lobby, in elevators and in each common area.
GBTA’s Convention 2021 will bring the business travel industry together for the first time in a long time. Once again, you’ll learn and connect with experts and each other, along with discussions with leading thinkers, entrepreneurs and change makers addressing the issues that matter most.
The Rittenhouse has long stood out as one of Philadelphia’s finest hotels, centrally located in one of the city’s poshest neighborhoods. Needless to say, I knew I was in for an afternoon of luxurious pampering when I hopped in my car and headed down I-95 from my suburban home to the heart of the City of Brotherly Love. As I drove through the seemingly endless roadwork on the highway, I realized just how long it had been since I’d driven this once-familiar route into the city as a result of the pandemic. Of course I was eager for the relaxation and bliss that was in my future, but it was also a welcome feeling to head back into Philadelphia for a moment of normalcy.