|Phyllis Dale, co-owner, Great Escapes Travel, Winter Park, is shown at left with Susan Shultz, director of sales for American Cruise Lines. // All photos by American Cruise Lines|
Over the weekend, Phyllis Dale, co-owner, Great Escapes Travel (www.phyllisdale.com) of Winter Park, FL a top producer for river cruising, boarded the new Queen of the Mississippi in New Orleans for a quick look.
A Virtuoso agency owner, Dale had a small group of clients sailing onboard the sternwheeler’s pre-inaugural cruise from New Orleans. She couldn’t wait to get her first look at the new 150-passenger river vessel, and eagerly shared her first impressions with Travel Agent.
Back on the Mississippi
“After the taxi let us off, we could hear the calliope playing,” says Dale, who called the embarkation process “so organized. You’d have thought [the river boat] had been on the river for a year. It was wonderful.”
Dale has six clients each on the next two Queen of the Mississippi cruises including a booking from one couple who flew in from Switzerland. One of her clients is on the river boat on four back-to-back cruises; “he’ll be on for 28 days.”
She also has another group of 21 coming onboard in Memphis, as well as 130 on the christening cruise from Nashville.
It’s been a rewarding effort for Dale, who spent many years trying to convince cruise officials to bring Mississippi River cruises back for agents to sell. Dale even proactively journeyed to Guilford, CT, American Cruise Lines’ home office several years back to talk to Charles Robertson, American Cruise Lines' (www.americancruiselines.com) chairman and CEO.
Now, her dream is a reality. American Cruise Lines has launched the new Queen of the Mississippi and, separately, American Queen Steamboat Company (www.americanqueensteamboatcompany.com) has re-launched the 450-passenger American Queen, which previously sailed for Delta Queen Steamboat Company and Majestic America Line.
Agents can read our initial impressions of American Queen from an early May sailing on the ship at www.travelagentcentral.com/river-cruises/grand-lady-impressions-american-queen-35111. That ship now has completed several months of cruising on heartland rivers. Clients enjoy included shore excursions and Regina Charboneau cuisine.
Dale says one big draw of that boat is its stellar entertainment in a large lounge that's reminiscent of the 1800s era showboats.
As for Queen of the Mississippi, Deborah Burst, a New Orleans travel writer, was onboard last week for a pre-inaugural event and you’ll find photos and her consumer story here: www.southerncruising.com/NewsRelease.aspx?NewsId=554.
Dale has sold many cruises on both lines this year. This month, though, she’ll play a special role as godmother. She christens Queen of the Mississippi on Aug. 25 in Nashville, TN.
The river enthusiast estimates she has at least 500 bookings for U.S. river cruises of all types this year. Guests typically stay seven nights onboard.
“I’m very excited that we’ve got two boats back on the river, because it was such a loss when the steamboats went out,” says Dale, a former entertainer onboard Delta Queen Steamboat Company and a retailer who has sold river cruises for many years.
She believes U.S. river cruising as a whole is doing well. For example, she cites the popularity of Queen of the West, operated by American Cruise Lines in the Pacific Northwest.
“I was out there with a group in June, it’s my fifth time sailing on the Columbia River and that [river operation] is doing very well. And now river cruising is back on the Mississippi and her tributaries.”
Lunch onboard Queen of the Mississippi on embarkation day in New Orleans was wonderful, Dale says. She says the line utilizes local culinary products and specializes in regional cuisine, depending on the sailing itineraries. “The gumbo was better than any I’ve ever had, and there was also a wonderful seafood salad,” she notes.
Queen of the Mississippi’s décor also impressed Dale, who says “Mr. Robertson personally went to Royal Street in New Orleans and bought some beautiful pieces and furniture.” She likes the Victorian style couches and upholstered chairs as well as the window treatments.
She also praised the white and wicker-like look in the Sky Lounge. Dale tells Travel Agent that Robertson also commissioned an artist from New Orleans to paint much of the artwork in that and other lounges. Also, she quips about one extremely fun element – “a rocking pig” – in one onboard lounge.
Another pleasant surprise that Dale hadn’t expected was the “lovely [stateroom] balconies all have a square table, almost like a small dining table, not those short little round tables” that clients see on may lines. So Dale says clients can have room service, enjoy breakfast al fresco, or sit out and play cards, while watching the scenery and sites.
Service onboard the ship is quite good from Dale’s brief onboard visit and client comments. At the cruise line’s training center in Guilford, CT, all service crew members train with bedroom and dining room mock-ups.
She also says from her brief time onboard, as well as the experience of her clients now sailing, “the food is all consistent, as the executive chef at Guilford handles all the boats [that American Cruise Lines operates],” she stresses.
“I am very happy that everything is coordinated,” she says about Queen of the Mississippi. “They know what they’re doing. They’ve got it together.”
Whatever ship that's preferable for your clients, as both Mississippi River cruise products have different perks and onboard products, Dale strongly promotes the overall aura of a Mississippi River voyage: “You could drive along the river, but seeing the shorelines from the river is an entirely different and highly rewarding experience.”
For travel agencies, Dale says having the products to sell once again is welcome news. Why? “Unfortunately, people are really sick of the airlines and the way they’re being treated," she emphasizes. "So they’re happy they can travel in the U.S. on the rivers.”