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The American Queen Steamboat Company, whose steamboats roams the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and other American rivers, is offering a special for those who book by Dec. 31. Book early, pay-in-full and save up to $600 per stateroom ($300 per person) on any of its 2014 American Queen or American Empress voyages 7 days or longer. It's website said the offer is valid only through Dec. 21 when I visited, but if you click on the "view details" link, you'll see that the deadline is actually Dec. 31. For example, a 9-day trip from St. Louis to Minneapolis, July 15-23, in an outside stateroom with a veranda (category C) costs $4,099 per person; the sale price is $3,899. In both cases, a $109 port charge is additional. I traveled on the American Queen steamboat in the Upper Mississippi and enjoyed the trip tremendously. Read about it here.
In a close-to-home example of the cruise industry's recent rough seas, Sun Country Vacations is offering deals on Alaskan cruises that have not yet sold out. Prices for a 7-night cruise on the Star Princess, departing June 22 from Seattle to Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay National Park, Ketchikan and Victoria begin at $1009 (based on double occupancy), including airfare from MSP. There's more: A Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas 7-nighter from $1139 (departing July 12 & 26); Holland America Oosterdam 7-night Alaskan cruise for $1145 (departing June 16, 23 and 30); and a similar cruise on the Norwegain Pearl starting at $1199 (departing June 30).
Deals sometimes seem tailor-made for Minnesotans. The latest in that category comes from American Cruise Line, which sails the Queen of the Mississippi. This summer, the company is offering a $1,000 saving per stateroom on seven-night Upper Mississippi sailings. The deal is good on 10 sailings in June, July and August. Itineraries include cruises traveling between St. Paul and St. Louis; Memphis and St. Louis; and St. Louis and Cincinnati. Amenities on the paddlewheeler include a putting green, a calliope and some of the largest staterooms on the river, with 150 rooms on four decks. Rates start at $3,695 per person double after discount, plus $250 port charges. Book the deal no later than April 19 at 1-800-814-6880.
I always wondered about a cruise line that sells rooms for almost less than it costs to feed a person in a week. But now is not the time to dump on Carnival Cruises. The company is doing its best to right itself in troubled waters. Its most notorious mishap — when the Carnival Triumph lost power and stranded passengers in squalid conditions for five days — was followed last week by the Carnival Dream stuck in St. Maarten with engine trouble and the Carnival Elation hampered by steering problems. These mishaps prompted the company to review its fleet. One result: It is canceling 10 sailings on the Carnival Triumph and two European sailings on the Carnival Sunshine. Such hopeful, perky names. I only hope that any future ship will be called Carnival Miracle. That may be just what the cruise line needs.
As we left Dubuque, Iowa, at 1:00 p.m. yesterday, calliope music rang out on the river. At each departure and every lock, the Riverlorian, Travis Vasconcelos, cranks up the festive, high-pitched music. Usually, he plays tunes from the early era of steamboat travel, but from time to time, he confessed to me earlier, he throws in "Material Girl" by Madonna or a medley from Phantom of the Opera (which once garnered him tickets to a Phantom show playing two blocks from the boat).
The Calliope -- a set of steam-powered whistles played on a keyboard -- was first introduced in 1855 by an inventor in Worcester, Mass. His idea was to replace church bells with what he called “the American patented steam piano,” a new way to summon worshipers to church. Worshipers preferred the stately bell to the goofy calliope, and so the inventor's instrument eventually wound up in a barn.
But the inventor’s brother, who plied a boat on the Hudson River, decided it would be just the sound to announce his arrival in various ports, and so the unusual musical instrument was dusted off and placed aboard. Other boats raced to find their own calliopes and the instrument's use on boats, particularly on the Hudson, grew.
In 1870, P.T. Barnum of circus fame heard the instrument, and put one on a wagon at the end of his circus parade, welcoming people to the big top. He decided that the patented steam piano wasn't a name befitting the circus, so he christened his a calliope, after a muse of Greek mythology.
By the early 1900s, though, the music was best known on the river, where it became what Vasconcelos called “the calling card of showboats.”
It is a sweet sound -- but loud. To take the photograph of the pipes, I donned ear plugs. But not before I heard a Mississippian ask Vasconcelos in her sweetest Southern drawl, “Will you play ‘Dixie’ for me? You played ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy," so it only seems fair.”
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