Inaugural voyage includes stop in Prairie du Chien

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Captain Joe McKey (left) presented a commemorative plate to Chamber CEO Bob Moses, recognizing Prairie du Chien’s participation in the maiden voyage as a port community. (Photos by Correne Martin)

Community representatives invited aboard and attending an inaugural call celebration on the American Duchess Wednesday were (from left) Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Moses and McGregor citizens Don Hattery, Robert Myers, Corky and Med Bickel, and American Queen Steamboat Company Vice President of Marine Operations Gary Frommelt.

An American Duchess staff member leads a tour of the paddlewheeler’s lower deck, overlooking the port of Prairie du Chien’s Lawler Park.

This artwalk hallway on the American Duchess features high ceilings and dozens of Claude Monet paintings.

By Correne Martin

The exquisite American Duchess docked in Prairie du Chien Wednesday, Sept. 6, for its inaugural port at the oldest community on the Upper Mississippi. Visitors from all over the world experienced the rich history lining the streets of the historical city that many locals tend to take for granted, as community members and passers-by marveled over the grand paddlewheeler from a distance.

The American Duchess river cruise vessel was created from a 1995 hull and completely reconstructed to become one of the most luxurious, all-suite paddlewheelers on the country’s rivers. It’s maiden voyage began in August, with a christening ceremony Aug. 14 on the New Orleans riverfront.

The Duchess is a smaller sister to the beloved American Queen, purchased by the American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC) as an existing casino boat, the Isle of Capri. It was rebuilt, to include the additions of a third deck and a working paddlewheel. According to the AQSC, like the American Queen, American Duchess will sail on the Mississippi between Red Bank, Minn. and New Orleans. It also will cruise on the Ohio, Tennessee and Illinois rivers, with fares starting at $2,999 per person, and carry up to 166 passengers.

While in Prairie du Chien, the Duchess was at full capacity, a staff member said.

During its daylong port in Prairie du Chien, a celebratory ceremony was held in the boat’s Show Lounge, to recognize the contributions and partnerships the AQSC has with the port communities along its voyages. A commemorative plate in recognition of the Duchess’ inaugural call was presented to the city of Prairie du Chien by Gary Frommelt, AQSC vice president of marine operations and northeast Iowa native (now living in Indiana). Bob Moses, Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce CEO, accepted the piece on behalf of the community.

A small group of McGregor community members were present for the ceremony, including Don Hattery, Robert Myers and Corky and Med Bickel.

Following the presentation, a tour of the vessel offered the boarders a glimpse inside the two-level loft suites and a stroll through the upscale amenities, including the artwalk of Claude Monet paintings, a spacious library, a two-story bar area, grandiose staircases, a gift shop, a fitness center, entertainment hall, and a restaurant with soaring windows looking out over the river. In the Grand Dining Room, a luncheon was held for the local guests. The world-class chef, from New Orleans, greeted the guests kindly, as did all staff encountered. The complementary cuisine aboard was just as pleasant on the eyes as it was on the stomach.

The boat’s captain, Joe McKey, took a moment during the luncheon to meet the local guests as well. He said he had only been on the boat four days and was working with his team to ensure all the “bugs” are worked out, especially in the Upper Mississippi, where there are a lot of locks. A native of Baton Rouge, McKey said he worked on tow boats for 27 years, mainly on the lower Mississippi, before coming to AQSC. With this company, he commands both the American Duchess and the American Queen on a two-week rotational basis with other captains, all but a few weeks of the year.

“I’ve met people from all over the world. I’ve got people who are like, ‘If you ever come to Hong Kong, here’s my card,’” McKey stated.

Prairie du Chien, Marquette and McGregor are fortunate to have such a coveted location along the Mississippi River, according to Moses. Here, global visitors are captivated by the history and the stories hidden in these river communities, and of course the beauty of the water.

McKey added, “How can you not love this.”


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