Final Curtain Call

My career as a “singing sailor” began in 2007 when I joined the American Queen for rehearsals with 4 other teams of performers.  We were each getting ready to ‘join’ our boats for the year – I was slated to be on the Columbia Queen for the season.  I knew nothing about emergency drills, life jackets, coast guard training and key words like “starboard” and “port.” I had to learn it all in addition to the singing and dancing material before me.  It began my passion for being and working on the water, and gave me an entirely new appreciation of the river town that I called home: Pittsburgh.

It has been an exhilarating career that has taken me around the globe, where I have had the opportunity to meet amazing people, many now that I call friends.  This is both passengers and crew alike – for those of you who live or travel on the water, you understand what I mean.

To say that I have been blessed is truly an understatement – in the beginning all I wanted to do was get paid to sing and dance.  It didn’t matter if that lead me to a resort, theme park, or dinner theatre.  When the riverboat opportunity first came to me, I had no idea that it was going to change me and my life so very much.

This past year and a half I have spent back where it all began, working on the American Queen as an Ensemble member, and then at the beginning of this season being promoted to Cruise Director – something I have aspired to be since I first started working on boats, but had never been given the opportunity to do.  It was a wonderful learning and growing experience for me and one that I’ll never forget.  The challenges with that position were none like I had ever imagined, everyday greeting me with something new to tackle.  I almost felt like I was back in the Political Ring organizing again!  Once again, I have had the opportunity to make even more amazing friendships, and even reconnecting with some that I had started out with on the Columbia Queen.

As with any performing job, there is always a final curtain call and I had mine on the AQ last week.  Although bittersweet and a little sad, I knew it wasn’t a forever goodbye, because for us “river rats” we always find our way back home.  Although I had spent the entire season so far working in my role as a Cruise Director, I have also been preparing for my greatest journey yet – Motherhood.

The love and support that has been extended to me by my fellow crew members as I continued to work (belly bigger and all) was exactly why I love the boats so much.  I send all that love right back to each and every one of you, and I can’t wait to see you again on the water soon.

Layup and Cruise Directors Debut

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Look Ma! I’m on TV!
One of the onboard enhancements this season on the American Queen is AQTV – our own onboard TV station and the Entertainment Team has its own spotlight! We have the opportunity to give our guests in depth information about all of the days activities and entertainment offerings. I’m very excited to be back this season and not just because we have AQTV but because I’m ON AQTV! Starting tomorrow for our very first day of our first cruise I will be serving as one of the 3 Cruise Directors working on rotation this season.
We are ready to lock and load early tomorrow morning when we greet over 350 guests for the beginning of the 2013 season. Anchors Aweigh!

Now that’s a Big nudge, thanks Buffalo Gal!

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Not long after I wrote my last post about the Tug and the sand bar near Oak Alley, we had to call on the assistance of yet another Tug…called Buffalo Gal. It seemed that the poor AQ had some maintenance issues that we had repaired not long before yet a larger problem emerged, a stress fracture in our beautiful Paddlewheel. After closer inspection it was determined that we would no longer be able to use the steam driven wheel which is our primary source of power. So here comes the Buffalo Gal to our rescue! Other than changing one port and the added noise in the hold (my crew cabin is on the port side where the Tug is pushing from) there isn’t anything real noticeable. The engineers have already begin the tedious task of removing the bucketboards (thats for all you trivia players out there!) and have chained the frame in place. This has definitely been a very exciting end to our inaugural season, and hopefully over our layup period next month they will begin the work to replace our beautiful wheel to her original glory!

A little nudge is all we need

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How many times do I need to say it…seriously now, the Mississippi River is at record low levels on the guages. Just a few days ago in Oak Alley, the river dropped during our time at the landing. We released the lines and picked up the stage at our departure time, and as the Captain began to gently maneuver the boat away from the rivers edge we got caught up on a sand bar just beneath the water. Just hours before we glided over it unnoticed but that drop in the river level over that time was just enough to get us caught up. He tried for a bit of time to work us off of it unsuccessfully before calling out on the radio for a hand. It took about an hour for the nearest available Tug to come to our aid, and they were happy with our gift of AQ hats from the gift shop. They tied up along our starboard side and literally 3 minutes later we were off the sand bar and they were off of us!

Backwards Paddlewheel

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Ok…so maybe the wheel isn’t backwards, but it does turn backwards! Here is the Yazoo Diversion Canal that the American Queen steams in forward to the Vicksburg, Mississippi landing but then has to literally back out to the Mississippi River. This ‘backwards’ journey takes about 30 minutes!
This is the view looking back once we’ve backed in to the Mississippi and begin moving forward once again! We make this trip traveling both directions on the River, keeping our River Pilot on his toes!

Steamer in a Cruise Ship Shadow

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When I worked out on the “blue seas” it was not uncommon to be docked alongside a large cruise liner, dwarfing our 216 passenger ship. Humbling in some ways, but mostly making me thankful that I wasn’t entertaining thousands but just a few hundred instead. Out here on the Mississippi we rarely see passenger boats – most commonly tugs and barges. However, when we are in New Orleans we have the distinct experience of docking with the big ones, just like I was used to on the ocean. It’s very different for most of my crew, many of whom this is their first experience on a boat or ship of any kind at all! It’s a great reminder of why I love the small boats and ships, where I can make personal connections with our guests and see them all throughout the week too.

Nowhere USA!!!

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Ok, so saying that we are “nowhere” isn’t really a fair statement. Of course we are “somewhere!” It just so happens that where the AQ stage has landed opens up to a parking lot connected to a road. We are literally just tied up to a tree at a boat landing.

We were scheduled to dock across the river in St Francisville, Louisiana but the river is unfortunately just too low there. Now how many times have I said THAT this season! This poor river is thirsty! So here we are at this “somewhere” which my handy maps app shows to be the town of New Roads.

As part of the cruise experience we’ve got “steam coaches” (they really do run on gasoline but thinking too deeply about this takes the fun out of it) that follow the AQ up and down the river. They are part of the guests fare to ride these buses as hop on hop off rides through the local towns we visit. Pretty smart I think – especially on a day like today when we’re across the river from where we are supposed to be! No worries, our guests still got the same experience and still got to visit St Francisville. Sad to say though…the crew had to stay aboard :(

Steamers and Eagles!

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I’ve mentioned in the past how the local residents from the river towns will come to the river bank to greet the American Queen as she comes into the bank to land. This was our first and only stop in Wabasha, MN for the entire season, and I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people along the river bank just to see us. When I look at this picture, with the National Eagle Center behind me and a bald eagle sighting soaring alongside the boat earlier, I can see why so many people walked down to see us. It truly was a gorgeous day and a beautiful sight! Even the daily paper announced our arrival today with the words “Welcome American Queen!” at the top. We were the towns celebrities for the day and it was a great place to visit!

Fall Colors

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I feel like all of a sudden, the seasons have changed! We had a few days of true “fall” weather – and trust me, I remember because it is my favorite time of year! Now it just feels like winter with fall colors on the trees! This unseasonably cold weather is especially challenging for our crew that works outdoors for hours at a time and for the rest of us who have to go on main deck “above the water line” to make a phone call! So don’t be fooled…the sunshine in LaCrosse has some chilly air all around it!

P.S. I have more pictures on Instagram! Look for me: singingsailor

Steamboatin’ Triplets

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When we see murals in river towns – especially when they are depicting scenes of the river – they are usually, well…along the river! However in Red Wing, MN this mural was tucked in town, against the parking lot for Red Wing boots, and instead of having a rubber soled specialty painted along side, it was the beautiful Mississippi Queen!

The Mississippi Queen was the second of three boats (the American Queen being the third in 1995) that complimented the Delta Queen Steamboat Company. All three of these functioning ‘steamers’ have been visiting these ports for years, bringing a rich tradition and history of riverboat cruising with them.

The Delta Queen is now a ‘floating hotel’ in Chattanooga, TN check out this website to see her today. Unlike the DQ, unfortunately, the Mississippi Queen is a only a memory like in photographs and paintings such as this. There is a pretty good story and description of the Mississippi Queen’s final journey as a boat here where you can see some pictures of her as well. With all this Paddlewheel history, I’m sure you can see why traveling on the American Queen is so special to people today!