Showing posts with label Mark Twain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mark Twain. Show all posts

Thursday, July 13, 2023

My Thoughts as I Disembark the American Queen Steamboat Cruise

It had been a wonderful trip heading north on the Mississippi River. The American Queen Steamboat experience was like no other cruise either Lynn or I had previously experienced.

We were all packed to go and it was much easier than usual because we had my van waiting at St. Louis Airport. After a leisurely breakfast, we were able to just hang shopping bags on my scooter and head out without worrying about going through security and getting on a plane.


The other thing that was nice was not having to go through a huge cruise terminal or deal with customs. We had a leisurely breakfast, walked off the boat, and got on the bus to the airport.

A big thank you to America Queen Voyages for hosting us on this adventure. Lynn and I had a great time on this cruise. Here’s a break down of more detailed opinions:

 

 

The Boat

Elegant is probably my best description for the American Queen. The boat definitely makes you feel like you are back in the 19th century and expect to see Mark Twain walking down the hallway. There are more public spaces than you’d expect on a cruise for up to 400 people so you can always find a spot where you don’t feel crowded.

The Cabins

We were in an accessible Junior Suite. I had some issues getting my scooter in and out with the lip in the doorway, but they came and put a ramp in so it made things much easier. The room itself was nothing like any other cruise I’ve been on. The furniture was antique and the room looked a bit old, but the bathroom was huge and modern. It also had a tub, which is always a big plus for me.

The Food

There are only two restaurants on the American Queen. The front porch has snacks (ice cream, cookies) all day and a small buffet breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The main dining room is where we ate almost all our meals. I’ve lost count of how many cruises I’ve been on and I’ve never had such consistently outstanding food.

We had so many over-the-top delicious dishes I couldn’t even list them. The desserts were equally fantastic. Even though Lynn and I are allergic and couldn’t take advantage, the lobster available at every dinner was a huge draw to many people.

The Entertainment

I often skip shows on cruises because they are long and don’t grab my attention. The American Queen shows were less than an hour and we really enjoyed them. There was just one we didn’t love, but that’s certainly not something to complain about. The Broadway show was the best.

The Itinerary

The low level of the Mississippi River kept us from two ports (one was changed for something else). It was still a good itinerary, giving us the opportunity to explore five states in the Midwest. How often can you do that in a week?

Embarkation

This is the one thing I have to say American Queen Voyages could do better on. Honestly, the embarkation to the ship was fine. The problem was that they had us check-in at the hotel in the morning. That was a mess. There were no ship personnel there and information was either lacking or wrong. It took hours.

We were all able to walk onto the ship with no problem, BUT once there nearly everyone had issues with reservations, rooms, excursions, etc. because no one at the hotel could help with them. A lot of things (like dinner times) could have been done on computer or the phone before we arrived, and a table of actual AQV personnel at the boat would not have slowed down embarkation very much.

Final Thoughts

Would I do this cruise again? Absolutely, though I’d rather first check out another itinerary, such as the Lower Mississippi. I especially loved the size of this boat. Having only 300 people on board made everything we did much simpler. It also makes a trip so much better when you have everything included. All drinks, food, and hop on, hop off tours were included in the cruise fare.

I was hosted by American Queen on this voyage, but opinions are my own.


Sunday, June 25, 2023

Back to Hannibal with the American Queen

The next stop for my friend Lynn and I on the American Queen Steamboat was a town I had visited before – Hannibal, Missouri. 

The last time I was in Hannibal, it was very educational and a lot of fun. I was anxious to show the town to Lynn. Hannibal was once a lumbering town and starting point of the Pony Express, but its claim to fame is as the former home of author Mark Twain.

The city displays its legacy everywhere and Tom Sawyer and Becky Thacher are celebrated throughout. It all starts at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum Complex. It was where we got off on the Hop on, Hop off bus American Queen Voyages provided at every port. 

We went through the Mark Twain Boyhood Home. I had been here before, but there is so much to learn and take in about the author and his books I felt like I learned a few things I missed the first time. There is also a lot to learn about the time period. There was a class structure as well as the ending of slavery. 


Included in this area is the Interpretive Center, Becky Thacher House, Huckleberry Finn House, J.M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office, Grant’s Drugstore, and the Tom and Huck Statue. It would take hours to go through it all and take in all the details, but we only had four hours in total in Hanibal. 

We next went down to the Hannibal History Museum and Mark Twain Museum Gallery, which I most remembered for all the historical Norman Rockwell covers of The Saturday Evening Post. There were other pieces of art depicting Twain and his work. 

Back on the bus, we passed the Trinity Episcopal Church before heading to Cave Hollow West Winery and Mark Twain Cave. I was happy to return to the winery as I had enjoyed their wine last time I was here. They have a nice outside picnic area, but it was a bit  chilly to go outside this time. 

Before we knew it, we had to head back to the boat. We were hungry and went straight to lunch, where we had a little of everything from the buffet, followed by a delicious Nutella Mousse dessert. 


Most afternoons passengers were resting, but they usually had events such as Bingo. In keeping with the theme of the day, there was a matinee show of A Conversation with Mark Twain, with Lewis Hankins.

We got dressed up for dinner. It was preceded by the Captain’s Farewell Reception. They were serving champagne and I took a glass with me to dinner. 

They were serving Prime Rib and Lynn really enjoyed it. I was equally thrilled with my Stuffed Poblano. Dessert was bread pudding and cheesecake. 

It was my last evening to enjoy the scenery and I took advantage, going around the boat and soaking in the Mississippi River before I joined Lynn for the show. 


We enjoyed our final show on the American Queen. It was “Singing in The 70s” and featured many of the TV themes of the years. We then had our last nightcap in the Engine Room Bar to the music of Jay and Will. 

In the morning, we would be heading off the boat for the last time. 


I was hosted by American Queen on this voyage, but opinions are my own. 



Friday, August 23, 2019

The Last of Hannibal

Hannibal, Missouri, turned out to be one of those destinations with endless things to do. Although I’m sure we didn’t hit it all, we did squeeze a lot more into the last day.

After a delicious complimentary breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites, I was still feeling pretty fatigued, so I sent Brittany and Amanda to check out a few places that required walking through.

They were mesmerized by Big River Train Town and Karlocks Kars and Pop Culture. Both places had families having fun and plenty of picture moments.




There were also lots more photographs for them to take at Rockcliffe Mansion, an American castle that overlooks the Mississippi River.

At the turn of the 20th century, Mark Twain himself spoke from the staircase that covers the three floors of this perfectly decorated historic building.
They told me the pictures only showed some of its beauty.
We checked out of the Holiday Inn Express & Suites and stopped at Rustic Oak for a bite to eat. I enjoyed the “All you can eat” soup, salad, and baked potato bar.





Brittany drove us to the last of our stops. Lover’s Leap is a must-see site that reminded me of a smaller version of Pictured Rocks in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

The views are fantastic from there and we were lucky to get a clear day to see them from.

From there, we went to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse. Although it was built nearly a century ago, it looks brand new.

The lighthouse was dedicated on Mark Twain’s 100th birthday, to honor the man who made this town famous.

Although I couldn’t climb the lighthouse, the handicap parking allowed me for a great view, while Brittany and Amanda went up the stairs to get more pictures.

Hannibal will remain one of the most interesting places I’ve visited in the Midwest and I look forward to going back someday soon.

Thanks to the tourism board for arranging our visit quickly, with so many great activities and restaurants.







Friday, August 16, 2019

Literature and History in Hannibal, Missouri

After a big, complimentary breakfast at the Holiday Inn & Suites in Hannibal, Missouri, Brittany, Amanda, and I got ready for a jam-packed day.

There was quite a bit to do in the city made famous by Mark Twain, who was known in his hometown under his real name, Samuel Clemens.

We had seen some of Mark Twain’s Boyhood Home & Museum the previous day and went back to visit some of the buildings we missed.

It was interesting to see Becky Thatcher’s House, the Huckleberry Finn House, and J.M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office. 

Becky and Huck Finn were popular characters in the Mark Twain series, but J.M. Clemens was the actual name of Samuel Clemens father.










One of my favorite exhibits within the Boyhood Home buildings was something I’d love for every child to see. It was called “Growing Up to Fast.”

Using the examples of Becky, Tom, Huck, and Jim, all growing up in different levels of income, it examples how their life would be at that time. It explained their ability to go to school, and if (and when) they might have to leave to go to work. 

Many children during this time in Hannibal would have to forego finishing school to help support their family.

Within the block with the recreated houses is also the Haunted House and Wax Museum. 


It’s worth a visit to look through the museum, especially the life-like replicas of the characters Mark Twain wrote about.

The Hannibal History Museum shows the industry passing through this Missouri City, as well as other famous people who lived here. Among them were “Unsinkable Molly Brown” who survived the Titanic, and performer Cliff Edwards, who is best known as the voice of Disney’s Jiminy Cricket.

We walked down to the dock to take a scenic cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat. The trip, which runs along the Mississippi River, straddling Missouri and Illinois, was very relaxing. There is narration throughout, telling you all about the area and Mark Twain.

Mark Twain Riverboat’s sightseeing cruise is an hour and they have a snack bar with some food, soft drinks, and alcoholic drinks. There is also a dinner cruise. You do not need to worry about the weather as the boats are completely enclosed. It’s also very accessible and I had no trouble taking my scooter on and off.

When we left the boat, we headed over to Mark Twain Caves and Cave Hollow West Winery. While Brittany and Amanda explored the caves, I tasted the offerings at the winery.

I was pleasantly surprised at just how good Cave Hollow West wine is. There were two wines that were so good I went home with bottles: An Innocent Broad, a slightly sweet blend of Vidal and Vignoles, and Lighthouse White, a sweeter white with citrus notes.

When they returned from the Cave, which is celebrating its 200th birthday this year, we sipped some more wine and enjoyed some snacks on the patio.

I needed some rest, so we went back to the hotel for a bit, deciding to have dinner after the show.

I was very impressed with Mark Twain Himself, a one man show in which actor Richard Garey, dressed as Mark Twain, presents an impromptu look at the author’s life through his writings. The show changes with each performance so you never know what part of his life you will be learning about.

We were more than ready for dinner at Mark Twain Brewing Company.  I nibbled on giant pretzel with beer cheese sauce while Brittany and Amanda sampled the beer.

In addition to their brews, this eatery is known for its barbecue. 

We sampled the brisket and the ribs, with smoked in house and topped with their own BBQ sauce. They were all good.
Mark Twain Ramblers Red Ale, Scotch Ale, King Arthur IPA, Chocolate Coffee Stout

For dessert, they had one of my favorites, pecan pie.  

I went back to the Holiday Inn & Suites to turn in for the night. 

Brittany and Amanda headed downtown to take the Haunted Hannibal Tour. They had fun with the combination of ghost tours and history, which ended at Hannibal’s Old Baptist Cemetery.




Thursday, August 1, 2019

Discovering Mark Twain in Hannibal, Missouri

After major spine surgery in January, I had hardly left my house. Travel in general has been cut down the last few years because of my health, but now I needed to once again take another step down.

When I felt I finally could go somewhere, I was careful to pick a place that’s very accessible and would allow me lots of rest and breaks. 

With Brittany taking pictures, and Amanda accompanying her on active activities, it was a perfect mix.

The two were very helpful to me with my medical scooter.




I thought I had all the plans in place for this first trip of the year (even though half the year was over).

Then, less than a week before we were to go, I received an email that the place had overbooked, and they couldn’t accommodate us.

It is a place I hope to visit someday so I’m not going to go into details, but I was ready to finally get out a little and I didn’t have much time to plan.

The wonderful team at Visit Missouri and their PR agency, Handl Partners, worked quickly and diligently when I asked if they had a location that might work.

They came up with the perfect one: Hannibal.





Hannibal had been on my radar for a few years, so I was very excited. It was the perfect time to go because, in 2019, the city is celebrating its bicentennial.

The drive to Hannibal, Missouri, took less than three hours in perfect weather.

Our first stop was at the Hannibal Convention & Visitors Bureau, to pick up our tickets and passes to attractions.

We hadn’t stopped for lunch and the Mark Twain Dinette was right there, so we went in for something to eat. Our eyes immediately went to the beverage menu.

For Amanda and me, it was the homemade root beer that was calling, and I had to have mine as a root beer float, with ice cream. It was as delicious as it sounded and came with free refills on the soda.

Brittany decided on something a bit more exotic, trying one of the diner’s boozy floats. She had the Coffee-Milk Stout, with vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup, topped with a fresh-baked glazed donut!
  
From there, we were going to meet Henry Sweets, Director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum at Museum Gallery.

We got a bit confused with all of the historical sites and ended up at the Interpretive Center instead.

We checked in, thinking it was the right place, and began to acquaint ourselves with the biggest star to every live in Hannibal, MarkTwain, aka Samuel Clemens.

The Interpretive Center had some very interesting exhibits to give us a preview into the family history. 

It was also in a complex of buildings that includes the Becky Thatcher House, JM Clemens Justice of the Peace Building, and other “famous from the books” spots, such as Tom Sawyer’s Fence, where he convinced his friends to pay him to whitewash.
When a guide at the center found us, she relayed the message that we needed to go to the Museum Gallery a few blocks away. We headed straight there to meet with Henry Sweets.

He told us about the importance of the Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens family to the town and all the connections they made. 

We also learned about exhibits in the Museum Gallery that were must-see. I certainly agreed as I especially loved the Norman Rockwell galleries, the Life Magazine covers featuring Twain characters, and artifacts from the Clemens family.

We checked into the new Holiday Inn Express & Suites after leaving the museum.

It’s a very comfortable and modern hotel, with an open lobby where you can use computers, buy snacks, pour yourself some coffee.

I took a nap before we left for dinner to meet Hannibal CVB Director Gail Bryant and Assistant Director Megan Rapp. They had chosen LaBinnah Bistro and it was just perfect.

LaBinnah (Hannibal spelled backwards) reminded me of a genuine Parisian bistro. I loved the paintings and the d├ęcor, and the way they managed to make it comfortable with only 28 seats.

This restaurant is family owned and was rated the “Best Bistro Under the Radar” in Missouri by MSN.com. I can’t disagree.

We started with a toast of Country Red from Missouri’s St. James Winery. Although the restaurant has a selection of wines from around the world, I wanted something from the state.

The owner brought around some Dolmas (a Greek dish, with rice inside grape leaves) for us to try. They were the best I’ve ever had.

As for the main courses, even with the elimination of seafood because of my allergy, I found half a dozen items that sounded wonderful.

I finally settled on the Queen Victoria, a pork chop in blueberry and cranberry chipotle sauce. It was tender and flavorful, with the chipotle just adding a very slight kick.

Brittany loved her salmon, in fact everyone was more than pleased with their meal. I was the most impressed with the Chicken Tikka Masala. It was served different than I’ve ever seen, with the sauce on a full chicken breast. It’s a local favorite and, after tasting it, I agreed with the accolade.

Not only were the desserts looking to good to pass up, but it was pretty difficult to even make a decision on what to get.   

We ended up with four different ones and couldn’t help sharing: Belgium Chocolaterie, handmade truffles from Belgium with fresh fruit and whipped cream, House made Baklava from a family recipe, Godiva Double Chocolate cake, rich, fudgy, and sinful, and a creamy White Chocolate-Red Raspberry Cheesecake.

Needless to say, we did not walk out of LaBinnah Bistro hungry!