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Blues Cruise

American Queen books first Memphis cruise.

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Next April, the largest steamboat in the world will set sail from the Home of the Blues on its inaugural seven-day cruise to the Crescent City.

The Great American Steamboat Company moved its headquarters to Memphis last month, and the company is taking reservations for its first Memphis-to-New Orleans cruise on The American Queen.

Tim Rubancky, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the company, said they expect the cruise to draw visitors from as far away as the U.K., Germany, Australia, and New Zealand.

"Americans are enamored with their history, but overseas, there's also this infatuation with American culture," Rubancky said. "Especially things that involve Elvis and American music, whether it's rock-and-roll or Dixieland jazz, American food like barbecue, and Mark Twain."

The trip starts at $1,995 per person, which includes accommodations, regional cuisine, complimentary wine and beer with dinner, and various types of entertainment. The cruise will cater to the middle-aged and older set, but it's open to all ages.

The American Queen will create more than 300 jobs, with more than 60 percent of them available to Memphians.

"It'll be everything from reception staff and social staff, waiters and waitresses, bartenders, housekeeping, cooks, and pot washers," Rubancky said.

The company collaborated with the city of Memphis, the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce, and the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC) to fund the $30 million purchase and renovation of the steamboat and station its headquarters in the city.

The city invested $9 million and helped the company secure private investments. In return, the collaboration could have a $90 million economic impact on the Memphis area.

In September, the steamboat company settled downtown at One Commerce Square. The American Queen is stationed at the floating dock of Beale Street Landing, which is expected to be complete prior to the April trip.

RDC president Benny Lendermon said he doesn't think the steamboat company would have chosen Memphis for its headquarters without Beale Street Landing.

"It's an incredible economic development opportunity, as well as a quality-of-life opportunity for Memphis," Lendermon said. "We're a city that's very interesting to the demographics of [the steamboat's] ridership. They're older citizens who have an interest in history, have an interest in things that are authentic, and fortunately have a lot of disposable income."

Lendermon said the relationship between Beale Street Landing and The American Queen serves to remind Memphians of the significance of the Mississippi River.

"The Mississippi River is who we are, just like country music is who Nashville is," Lendermon said. "This project, this company coming here, these boats coming here, this is one major step in helping us reconnect [to the river]."

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