Boats, buses and attractions: American Queen blends land and river tours

by Brittany Anas

A main perk for cruise ship passengers is getting to enjoy a destination from both sea and land. Once the boat docks, travelers can sample a city on their own terms with a hop-on, hop-off bus experience or opt for shore excursions.

But, a problem with that traditional model? There can be a lack of consistency throughout the trip. While a tour may run smoothly in one city, the contracted tour operator in the next might be lackluster.

“There should be no change in level of service whether you’re on board or on land,” says James Palmeri, vice president of product development for the American Queen Steamboat Company.

Palmeri has an impressive background in the travel and transportation industries. He got his start in the school bus business, has been a professional race car driver, racing as an amateur and then on the professional series, and coordinated busing logistics during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Now, he’s got experience in designing shore excursions for cruise ship passengers, too.

Palmeri and Robert Buesing teamed up as business partners with a company called Shore Excursions of America to improve the land experiences for guests on the American Queen ships. The affiliation allows guests to have a seamless experience, exploring river cities along their cruise routes with dedicated shore excursions.

American Queen Steamboat Company offers cruises along the Upper and Lower Mississippi River, the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, and the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Once at port, travelers can choose-their own adventures and board a custom bus that was designed to resemble the riverboats.

Excursions run the gamut from exploring the back bayous of swamps in Louisiana during a swamp tour, zip lining in Oregon or visiting historical Civil War sites.

But, in addition to the shore excursions, Palmeri and his partners wanted to create a hop-on, hop-off experience that was better tailored for river cruise customers.

He didn’t want to “nickel and dime” his travelers, so admission to local attractions in port cities is covered in the cruise costs. Passengers get a card that allows them to gain access into local attractions such as museums.

Travelers also get a local guide rather than hearing pre-recorded information as they move through a new city. Palmeri says that helps guests get a pulse of the town they are visiting.

Again, to make sure guides were consistent across cities and meet standards, an idea was borrowed from Sorrento, where tour guides are licensed by their city. Shore Excursions of America came up with its own training program and curriculum for its guides.

“We can’t have the same guides in each city, but we can have the same set of protocols,” Palmeri says.

These range from safety standards, like making sure guides sit safely in a front seat; tips on how to be a good narrator, like annunciating well; and avoiding contentious topics like politics.

Also, Palmeri says, the company makes sure its buses are a good fit for the cities. For example, a double-decker bus with an open roof isn’t going to work well in cooler cities or small southern destinations where the streets are quaint.

“You’ve heard of trains, planes and automobiles,” Palmeri says. “We’re boats, buses and local attractions.”


Shore excursions offer tour destination promise

Authenticity is the common thread among shore excursions offered by Shore Excursions of America to guests booking cruises through the American Queen Steamboat Company:

  • Redemption and Rehabilitation at Angola Prison: Guests on this tour go behind the gates of Angola Prison, a maximum security penitentiary in Louisiana that once earned the notorious reputation as America’s most dangerous prison. It’s been said Stephen King based his book The Green Mile on Angola’s Death Row. This tour includes a question-and-answer with inmates.
  • The Elvis Experience: This Elvis-centric excursion in Memphis includes a trip to the Graceland Mansion, visiting Elvis Presley’s Memphis Entertainment Complex and, of course, a walk down Beale Street, which is lined with live music venues.
  • Inside Regina’s Kitchen with Celebrity Chef Regina Charboneau: During this tour in Natchez, Mississippi, guests are treated to a biscuit-making demonstration by Regina Charboneau, the former culinary director of the American Queen and a cookbook author. This tour includes a homemade pot pie at Regina’s dining room table and exclusive recipes to take home.


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