All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2017 unless otherwise noted.
The AMERICAN DUCHESS is the third and newest vessel in river cruise line American Queen Steamboat Company’s (AQSC) fleet, which also includes the legendary Mississippi River steamboat AMERICAN QUEEN and the grand Columbia River paddlewheeler AMERICAN EMPRESS.
The 340-by-100-foot vessel has been completely rebuilt from the hull of the 1995-built Isle of Capri casino boat BETTENDORF CAPRI. Major structural work, which included the addition of a third deck and the installation of a working paddlewheel (to augment four z-drives and two bow thrusters) was completed at the Bollinger Shipyard in Amelia, Louisiana, near New Orleans.
During a recent press gathering, Ted Sykes, AQSC’s President and COO, shared that rebuilding an existing ship versus building one from scratch cut a year off the delivery date and cut costs by 40%.
After already having delayed the ship’s cruising debut from June to August 14, inclement weather further stalled the outfitting and trials, resulting in the scrubbing of a two night press and agent preview cruise scheduled for August 11.
The ship successfully passed Coast Guard trials on on August 11 and returned to her berth at New Orleans Riverwalk to complete outfitting, with not a moment to spare.
The media was given a brief look at some of the ship’s public spaces and treated to dinner and a show on board on August 13, the night prior to the DUCHESS‘ christening on August 14.
With much last minute work still in progress, the limited tour included a look at the ship’s 18-foot-tall, 550-square-foot, dual level Loft Suites (which were still being fitted out), 550-square-foot Owner’s Suites, 450-square-foot Deluxe Suites, 240-to-330-square-foot Veranda Suites and 180-to-220-square-foot Interiors.
The DUCHESS is the first all-suite river cruise ship in American waters and is geared towards a slightly younger demographic than its siblings.
A fourth ship may join the company soon, most likely to be rebuilt from an existing casino ship’s hull and, according to John Waggoner, AQSC’s CEO and Chairman, to possibly have a more mass market appeal and price point than the line’s current upmarket fleet.
Public spaces that were accessible included the Lincoln Library (built on a mezzanine level between Main Deck (1) and Observation Deck (2).
The Lincoln Library features windows that peer down into the Grand Dining Room.
The Lobby Bar is located on Main Deck at the base of the grand staircase and features dark paneling and crystal chandeliers.
On the port side of the Lobby Bar, the Fine Arts Gallery is a passage that allows guests to enter and leave the showroom, which was still being fitted out.
Accessed via the Lobby Bar, the Grand Dining Room has 20-foot tall windows on either side flanking double deck alcoves that are reminiscent of the J.M. White Dining Room aboard the AMERICAN QUEEN, although the look is far more contemporary than the AMERICAN QUEEN’s Victoriana.
The AMERICAN DUCHESS interiors are the product of David William Kelly, who has also contributed to the interior design of Oceania Cruises’ MARINA and RIVIERA and recent refits of AMERICAN QUEEN and AMERICAN EMPRESS.
Other public spaces either not seen or not ready during the media tour included the Showroom, Baristas coffee bar, a gym, the casual River Club and Terrace eatery and the open areas on the uppermost Sun Deck.
At 1:00 PM Monday, the ship was christened by Marissa Applegate, the daughter of AQSC’s CEO and Chairman John Waggoner, who successfully smashed a bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon onto the ship’s bow railing.
The AMERICAN DUCHESS’ maiden voyage, a 23-night cruise up the Mississippi to Red Hook, Minnesota, is now underway.
Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea. With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications. Knego also runs the www.midshipcentury.com website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India. He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."