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Old 10-09-2006, 11:11 AM
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Location: Paducah, KY
Posts: 289
Blog Entries: 3
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Our experience on the Natchez itself was generally good, with the exception that no passengers were being admitted on the calliope deck. This would have been the icing on the cake for me, as I love calliopes and steam whistles. We did enjoy a great cruise and a good dinner and got to tour the boiler room and engine room.

We were disappointed at the Tall Stacks committee's handling of this year's event itself. When we arrived Saturday morning, the people at the ticket counter said there would be no problem getting on the boat, since we already had purchased dinner cruise tickets. When we got to the end of the line, however, we were hassled by ticket takers who said we would also have to purchase three $25 gate passes to get on. We stood our ground and got on the Natchez with only two minutes to spare! Thumbs up for the Natchez. Thumbs down to the planners of this year's Tall Stacks. We have been to all but one of thes events and this is the only year we have ever been hassled!


Quote:
Originally Posted by BillStreit View Post
I am a repeat cruiser with both the Mississippi and American Queens, having served aboard both several years ago as a dance host. I also taught dance lessons during a couple of these trips. This was my first time strictly as a passenger and I was anxious to share this peaceful and nostalgic lifestyle with my lady friend and 84 year old father. Unfortunately, I have had enough steamboatin' experience to be able to recognize a real step backwards in the delivered product. At this stage in my own life, the cost of a trip is significant, but not the major determining factor. But whatever I pay for anything, I look to receive VALUE for my money. With all the competition for customers in the cruising marketplace, I typically expect excellence, regardless of the company or the type of cruise.

Boy, was I disappointed and apologetic to my guests after building up their expectations for this grand vacation.

Yes, the big production shows were great - the best I have ever seen on the river boats. Glenn, Brian, Suzie and Corinne were simply fabulous. No, they were better than that! I still hate canned, click-track music with fake musicians and there were more fakers now than ever before. Travis, the Riverlorian, was also above top notch. Dining room food was much better than I remember from the crew mess but a few of the meals were not served hot. There seemed to be some grumbling, bitching and complaining among wait staff that never should have been heard by passengers.

My biggest disappointment was seeing how the bean counters have cut so much from entertainment that I will probably not return for another cruise unless some of these issues are remedied. One of my biggest reasons for riverboatin' is that I am a real dixieland fan. I remember so much great, hot dixieland jazz from past voyages, that I NEVER would have expected this to be one of the things the costs cutters would eliminate. There is simply no way any band can play dixieland without a trumpet or trombone. This is like an orchestra with no strings! How ridiculous and how sad. What can it cost for 2 musicians, compared to the real drop in perceived product delivery to the passengers. For those of us who know better and remember the 6 piece band, 4 guys just won't cut it, ESPECIALLY when they charge me as much as they do for passage. What IDIOT made this decision? How much do they have to save on salaries to be able to lose even 4-5 passengers/voyage who won't accept this lowered standard? Doesn't anybody up in the ivory tower have the sense to realize cause and effect relationships between excellent entertainment and passenger dollars? Duhhh.....

I was also saddened to see the quality of paddlewheel lounge entertainment changes. I love ragtime piano and banjo music, but most of what we were fed was guitar. I know that Paul prefers guitar to banjo, but that's NOT what I go on a riverboat to hear! In by-gone years there was so much more energy and excitement in the P/W lounge, including great, funny banter back and forth between piano and banjo players. That's gone now. Ambience has also changed. The musicians' area is cluttered and messy, the girl on the swing is gone (supposedly the Coast Guard said she could fall down and go boom) but one little item that was a big deal to me in the past was seeing the lighted, authentic paddlewheel churning its way up the river at night out those big windows, which unfortunately also looked like they had not been cleaned for 2 years. Nobody even bothered to turn on the paddlewheel lights for the first 3 nights of this cruise. I asked 5 different people from bartenders to guitar player to bar manager to hotel manager and nobody could get anything done about finding the light switch or was able to locate the mysterious person who could flick that switch! They all made noises like they cared, but NOBODY got that simple little switch turned on. It was only after asking the captain himself at a repeaters' party before there was a light on the wheel on night 4.

I don't think a passenger should have to be the one to ask and persist in following up on something that should be as elementary and simple as adding water to the boilers.

Other not-so-pleasant surprises included filthy floors in the movie theater, watching porters drag tables and chairs across the dance floor (instead of lifting them) and scratching the dickens out of that beautiful wood, no more birds in the pursers' lobby, no greeting on boarding (formerly a barbershop quartet or banjo player, dance hosts, etc), spiders and spider webs all over the decks and balconies (don't they own a pressure washer or does NOBODY in management have eyes or standards), chipped paint on rocking chairs, really UGLY stenciling job on the elevator doors and sides of the staircase- who ever ordered this gross travesty against the "olden days" decorating theme, and too much more.

I have so much love and nostalgia for the boats, the rivers and the river music, that I truly fear for the demise of this national treasure - our steamboats. It was only a few years ago that one could not even book a cruise on any of the 3 Queens less than 8 months out. Now ever without the AQ capacity, they can't fill the MQ. How sad!

In my past life I have worked primarily as a business management consultant. It does not seem too strange to me that business owners would carefully survey their own EXISTING customers to see what they do and do not like about the product and then LISTEN TO THEM !!!!! I commented years ago that the customer satisfaction survey is not specific enough to elicit any MEANINGFUL feedback and is intended primarily to convince executives that they are doing a great job because most people will simply check Excellent or Very Good, either because they are not discerning enough or because they do not want to hurt someone's feelings. Why is there a separate line item to evaluate the riverlorian and tour manager, but not the different forms of entertainment. Why can't we have a line to evaluate the cruise director? I thought the "kids" were outstanding but the rest of the night-time shows were mediocre at best, but there is only one line to comment on evening entertainment.

Too many businesses go belly up because arrogant higher-ups think they know everything but never go to the staff who are closest to the customer to seek feedback from them. The attitude seems to be - I'm an owner or manager, so I don't have to listen to any customer or direct-line service staff. I know everything. Right up 'til the time we go broke, then let's wonder what went wrong while we were asleep at the switch.

Before new owners think about TV sets in cabins, they had better fix what brings REPEAT passengers back on these boats. I don't know about others, but I want EXCELLENT service, cleanliness everywhere and top-notch entertainment. I can get it on every other cruise line for a better price, so these riverboats have to have something truly special to get my cruising dollar. Anybody else still young enough to handle a 4 ft. wave will be thinking the same thing.

Although I missed the dixieland band, I must say that Nate's quartet provided the best DANCE music I have ever experienced on any of these boats. As a good ballroom dancer and former instructor, I do know good dance music and these guys really provided it. Good tempos for each different kind of dance, short enough individual numbers, instead of 12 minute marathons with jazz riffs and solos. The dixieland bands (Tom Hook) played great jazz but did not know when they were playing a concert or amusing themselves and when they were playing for dancers.

Nate's group played good dance music but they could all have used an infusion of energy. I never saw such lack of enthusiasm from any band. It looked like they were just going through the motions. Maybe that's a result from the demoralizing treatment they have received from the new entertainment agent company, which has likely sucked the life out of these poor guys. No heads bobbing, no body movement, no eye-contact with passengers while they played. They just looked tired and bored to death.

The boat could use a GOOD cruise director with personality, humor and energy. The night that Glenn was emcee for Phil's show, we could all sense a phenomenal difference.

At the risk of sticking my neck out, I think one of the big problems that needs to get resolved by new ownership is something that manages to kill excellence in other businesses too and that is UNIONS. It seemed that too many people, particularly the musicians, were more concerned about how LITTLE they could do, rather than how much. There is no way that union labor can meld with excellence in service delivery. I don't know how management can fix this problem, but unless they can sweep all unions off those boats and get excited, efficiency-oriented staff in each and every personnel slot, their product is doomed to go down the drain. Foreign flagged vessels without U.S. workers and unions offer far, far superior products and have much happier crews, which result in much happier passengers.

The company brochure says there is entertainment in the lounge until "the wee hours of the morning". In actuality, music in the paddlewheel lounge does not start until 9:30pm and ends PROMPTLY at 11:30 with a nice break in between. The popcorn machine gets emptied out at 11:05 because the bartender wants to get out as soon as possible too. Damn the customer, just take care of the workers, so they can get off as early as they can. Although there have been a few cuts in number of musicians, the ones who remain certainly can't complain about being overworked and are more concerned about what the union says you can't do to them, than they are in service delivery to the customer. Well, when you don't please the customer, he doesn't shop as often, spend as much money, then look what happens to the workers - duhhh! Does anybody notice what we are learning about American vs Japanese automobiles? Too many rules to cut back what the worker CAN'T do eventually impacts the perceived quality by the customer, who then stops buying that product.

I believe the new ownership has a LONG way to go to win back the formerly loyal repeat customer, who is the backbone of this business. When I worked on the QE2, we typically had around 80% of our passengers as repeaters, not newbies. I think there were about 300 guests on the MQ this week and about 120 were repeaters. Hmmmmm....

Those who have no experience with the Queens from the good old days 5 years ago don't know what they are missing. Most of the new passengers probably enjoyed themselves and many will likely return for another shot at this riverboat experience. But I would bet a lot of money that repeaters are not repeating enough and that all the new TVs in cabins will not keep this company afloat if some much deeper changes do not happen.

When I worked on the boats before, I knew the crew grumbled and was not really happy. What I saw last week was a lot worse. Although they are professional enough to smile around the passengers, there is an attitude problem festering, likely stemming from management issues that need to be fixed a lot more than the aging paint job does.

I hope and trust that somebody who can make big decisions will read comments like mine and will try to save this product because the boats won't steam on the rivers if the passengers do not come. The problem is not PRICE, it is perceived VALUE. Let's all keep our fingers crossed that this latest change in new owners will FINALLY get smart enough to look at what they are selling and whether the paying public is willing to pay enough to buy it, so our historic steamboats can keep on steaming.
Bill Streit
Brandon, FL
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