The first ship from French America Line, Louisiane is designed to be more European than the riverboats currently sailing in the U.S., as well as more upscale.
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The ship itself has a rich history. Built in 2000, it was originally known as the Columbia Queen. She sailed the Columbia, Snake and Willamette Rivers for Delta Queen, Great American River Journeys and Majestic America before being sold to French America in 2015.
The Louisiane's smaller size means it can navigate not just the Mississippi and the Ohio, but smaller waterways such as the Red River, the Tennessee River, the Cumberland River and the Intracoastal Waterways. The first voyage is set for August 2016, and five-to-10-day itineraries are planned.
Before its launch, French America is giving the 218-foot-long riverboat a multimillion-dollar stem -to-stern makeover, building on its assets, including spacious public areas and high ceilings. The French-inspired details throughout the riverboat include luxurious fabrics and trims, elegant woodwork, crystal chandeliers and richly upholstered furniture.
The ship offers 75 cabins at seven different category offerings. The two largest cabins, the Richelieu Suites, are 267 square feet, with panoramic windows and a veranda that opens onto a wraparound promenade. That promenade leads to 27 Veranda cabins with private balconies and 13 cabins with French balconies. There are 20 inside cabins. All of the beds, with the exception of the Richelieu Suite and Panorama stateroom beds, convert from queens to twins. The Richelieu and Panorama feature queen beds with two-poster headboards.
The suites and staterooms feature wood walls with upholstered panels to add softness. Each deck's accommodations have a different color palette reflected in decor and fabrics. Starting from the lowest deck: the Joliet Deck is red, Champlain Deck is green and the Marquette Deck is blue. The two Richelieu Suites are done in stand-alone colors and fabrics.
All cabins offer pillow-top mattresses, ensuite iPads with e-books and daily programs, flat-screen TVs with satellite service, free Wi-Fi, direct dial phones, individual climate controls and in-cabin safes. There is an eight-option "pillow menu" from which guests can choose from selections including down, memory foam or buckwheat options. Private bathrooms with showers are stocked with Hermes toiletries in the Richelieu Suites; the other staterooms have L'Occitane amenities.
Passengers are welcomed onboard with House of Laduree Parisian macarons and they will find pieces of Vosges Haut-Chocolate on their beds after nightly turndown. Bottled Natura brand water -- both sparking and still -- are replenished in cabin daily. There is complimentary 24-hour room service.
Meals are served open seating and guests can dine in one of two onboard restaurants.
The Orleans Room, the main dining room, offers tableside service at breakfast, lunch and dinner and serves as an evening cabaret space. This elegant room has 13-foot ceilings, crystal chandeliers and plush seating. The Veranda is meant to evoke a Parisian bistro cafe, with a black and white tile floor, chalkboard menu with daily specials and indoor and outdoor seating. The dining area is open for breakfast lunch, dinner and afternoon tea.
Cuisine focuses on French and regional specialties with each menu evolving to reflect the popular dishes offered in areas where the Louisiane is sailing. There is also a healthy option menu with offerings of less than 400 calories. Beer, wine, house spirits, soft drinks, loose-leaf teas and artisanal coffees are complimentary throughout the voyage.
There are three lounges. The French Quarter Lounge, overlooking the bow of the Joliet Deck, features soft jazz nightly. The Great River Lounge is forward on the Marquette Deck and will host cultural and historic talks during the day and private receptions and movies in the evening. The Bar Royale, which adjoins the main dining room, has curved sofas and intimate tables for pre or post-meal drinks or conversation.
The ship has a library. There is no onboard boutique, but guests can shop for French America Line-branded apparel and other specialty items on the in-room iPads.
Most excursions -- called Traveler Collection -- are included with the fare. For an additional fee, passengers can take more in-depth "Curator Collection" excursions. There will also be onboard talks and entertainment. This ship has an expert "Illuminator" on board, someone who knows details about each stop on the itinerary. Bicycles with helmets are available for guests to use in all ports.
The French America Line expects the Louisiane will attract financially comfortable passengers aged 50+, with an interest in food and history. Travelers from Europe and Australia have expressed early interest in the ship; Americans are expected to make up the rest of the passengers.