Wow! What an unreal two months I’ve just had! I just got back from a two pronged trip: a month and a half shooting 14 cities along the Cote D’Azure in Southern France, and then flying back to the States to shoot a 14 day journey up the Mississippi River on the largest paddle wheeler in the world! (back to back!) I literally went from sipping rose wine in a French street cafe in Nice, to drinking Bud Light in a Hooters in St. Louis over 3 days. Culture shock! Ha! …And don’t get me wrong, both were fabulous!
I’ll be getting into the France trip in another blog post. This post is about my first hand experiences traveling from St. Louis northbound up the Mississippi River all the way to Minnesota aboard the largest paddlewheel in the world, the stunning American Queen. This boat was unreal; it was literally ripped right out of the pages of a Mark Twain novel. The decor was all richly decorated 1850’s style, the food was Southern ‘Mom’s cooking’ comfort food, and it just oozed that small town Americana charm that we all know and love.
I was contracted out by The American Steamboat Company to shoot a series of videos for them covering all facets of their paddle wheel experience: dining, accommodations, entertainment, philosophy, and shore excursions. As an added bonus I made them a trailer and shot a ship review with my colleague, Ralph Grizzle, The Avid Cruiser. (www.avidcruiser.com) We spent the first couple days just enjoying the ship and getting a feel for the pace of life onboard. After our crazy France trip, it was a much needed break.
The ship itself is furnished like a decadent Mark Twain inspired Titanic. Each room is filled with rich wooded furniture, crown mouldings, old book shelves and crystal chandelieres. Oh, and let’s not forget the taxidermied animals! (we are in the South!) They really did an amazing job capturing the era!
Of course, the biggest attraction is the paddle wheel itself. They have a fully functional paddle wheel that propels the boat up the river. (Not for show, this thing is the real deal!) The paddlewheel is a sight to see and kicks up a ton of water! At night, it’s illuminated by giant spot lights that casts massive shadows down the water which adds to the effect. This is about as authentic as it gets!
Night paddling was one of the highlights for me. Despite the incredibly windy and narrow river that is the Mississippi, the boat doesn’t stop, even when it’s pitch dark. They have massive spot lights on the top of the boat that they beam the riverbanks with. It’s really a sight to see at night. I would sit on what they call ‘The Front Porch of America’, in my rocking chair, green tea in hand and just watch the strobing lights beam the river banks as we glided up the river. Very cool.
I’ve cruised A LOT in my life. I truly love this industry. I worked for Princess Cruise Lines for 1 year spending 6 months visiting almost every major port in the Caribbean, and then another 6 months traveling around the Mediterranean and even some of Scandinavia. Ocean cruises are fantastic, but the running theme with them is… ocean. You look out over the side of the ship and you see nothing most of the time. Don’t get me wrong, this can be fantastic. I’ve done an Atlantic crossing and to look out at the massive expanse of nothing, literally in the middle of the ocean, is magical and haunting all at the same time. The stark difference with river cruising is that when you look out over the side of the boat there’s ALWAYS something to look at! The Mississippi, though a long river, isn’t particularly wide. I laughed when they made us do life jacket drills at the beginning of the journey– if the boat sank you’re never more than 100ft off shore! Ha! I’d jump in and swim! (fingers crossed, no alligators!)
So how did the shooting go? Really well! I brought along my trusty Sony EX1 and my Canon T3i, tripod, Glidecam 4000HD, and a host of other support gear and was off to the races. I shot most of the footage the first week and edited everything onboard the second. (a full 8 videos; roughly 26 minutes of edited video!) When I left the ship the entire project was complete; a great feeling.
The Mississippi is a beautiful river and we came at arguably the best time of the year to explore it. Autumn was upon us and the ‘fall colours’ were out in full force. The river banks were painted in bright reds, yellows, and oranges as all the trees changed colours. It was quite a sight and something that I, living in BC (evergreen country), never get to see in this magnitude.
The food was also really a treat. I’ll be honest I walked onto the ship not expecting a lot: Southern cuisine to me is stereotypically deep fried chicken and grits. Ok, sure, that WAS onboard but there was so much more. Every night we were treated to a 5 course meal with complimentary wine and beer! Damn! I had everything from hearty salads, warm mashed potatoes, savoury steaks, creole prawns, pork roast, fritters, to even escargot! (surprisingly not bad if you can get over the texture!) Of course, while in the heartland of America it was also important to wash it all down with some warm apple pie! Yum!
I thought it was also worth mentioning– Southern hospitality. It exists! I’ve always heard of this sort of thing but always thought it was a just an old stereotype that people were hanging onto. Nope. I met some of the nicest, warmest, and and friendliest people I’ve encountered on all my worldly travels while paddling up the Mississippi. People smile at you in the streets, ask how your day is going, and just generally try to make conversation… consistently! It was awesome! I wish more places around the world took this as an example. People are just soo friendly down there!
My journey up the Mississippi was a fantastic experience. The American Queen is a beautiful boat with all the amenities you would expect from an ocean liner, but with a small town Americana feel. The boat was stunning, the staff and crew were all really friendly, and I can’t wait to get back out there and experience the Southern end of the Mississippi in the future! Thanks American Queen for having me out! Enjoy the video below! Thanks for watching!
Special thanks to Ralph Grizzle for supplying me several of the photos used in this blog!