American Queen Steamboat Company has been revising riverboat itineraries due to extremely low water levels on the Mississippi River. The American Queen paddlewheeler has remained in Memphis since Aug. 8 instead of heading for Vicksburg, Miss., where passengers were scheduled to embark on Aug. 10.
The company’s motorcoaches picked up passengers spending a pre-cruise hotel night in New Orleans or Jackson, Miss., and took them to the boat in Memphis after a battlefields tour or, in the case of New Orleans passengers, the tour and a hotel night and hosted dinner in Vicksburg.
The changes are “due to the record low water levels on the Mississippi, the lowest in more than two decades,” the company wrote in a letter to passengers and travel agents. “We have been in constant communication with the Army Corps of Engineers and the most prudent course of action, and safest one for our guests, is to not proceed south of Helena, Arkansas. This is due to the fact that there have been a growing number of river closures, on a daily basis, caused by barge traffic running aground. If we were to proceed to Vicksburg, there is a substantial risk that the voyage itinerary would be interrupted if the American Queen were unable to proceed north on the river due to one of these closures.”
In Memphis, the American Queen was forced to dock at Greenbelt Park on Mud Island instead of its usual place at Beale Street Landing because the water is too shallow.
The vessel is now scheduled to operate a dinner cruise of sorts on Saturday, departing about 4 p.m. and returning to Memphis about 11 p.m., said Senior Vice President Tim Rubacky. The company booked two acts to perform — B.B. King Blue’s Band and the Memphis Suns.
The boat was scheduled to be in Helena on Sunday, but will remain in Memphis while passengers take the motorcoaches to Helena for the Civil War tours. Sightseeing in Memphis is an alternate option. Then American Queen will sail the rest of the scheduled itinerary on the Ohio and Tennessee rivers, where the water levels are fine for the cruise.
Passengers on the Aug. 10 voyage and the previous one — they got a tour in Memphis and a hotel overnight in Vicksburg — are getting a $1,000 per stateroom credit for a future cruise. “You can’t control the river and can’t fight the river, but what you can do is control the guest experience,” Rubacky said. “We are focused on keeping guests happy.”