American Queen Voyages (AQV) launched six new recipes as part of its partnership with America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) during a sailing on American Queen in late October and Travel Market Report was there. In addition to the chance to try out the new recipes, guests of the Culinary Experiential Voyage were able to attend interactive cooking demonstrations and informal Q&A sessions with AQV Culinary Ambassador Chef Regina Charboneau and ATK executive editorial director and co-host Bridget Lancaster. The ship sailed the Lower Mississippi River from New Orleans to Memphis.
The gastronomy focus that was so prevalent during this sailing will continue in 2024 with more Culinary Experiential Voyages with ATK. There will also be Regina & Friends voyages where Charboneau "partners with a notable chef to create a unique experience," said Angela Composto, vice president, marketing for AQV. Next year will include Tristan Epps, executive chef of Red Rooster Overtown in Miami.
Cuisine, or more specifically, regional cuisine is very much a part of every AQV voyage. The new collaborative "6 Recipes, 6 Rivers" includes such choices as Louisiana-Style Cornbread Dressing for the Lower Mississippi, Soy-Glazed Salmon with Shiitake Mushrooms and Bok Choy for the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and Fisherman’s Pie for the Alaska Inside Passage. Dinner menus provide historical and cultural background, along with Charboneau’s reasons for choosing the featured recipe.
In addition to the six new recipes, the cruise line has "gone through a redesign of our menus across all four ships," said Composto. She added that this "allows us to take our guests on a culinary journey through each region they are visiting. The daily menus are inspired by the ports we visit, creating a well-rounded experience our guests have come to know and love."
Culinary cruises combine both the regional cuisine with Charboneau’s own personal touch.
"I genuinely want our guests to experience a true sense of place," she said. "Menu items with local ingredients and local flavor are essential and it is something that sets us apart. I want them to leave knowing a little more about cooking and entertaining than when they arrived. I love spending time with our guests and crew."
With Charboneau’s innate warmth, the culinary demonstrations and Q&As held almost daily on board felt more like friends and family gathered around her kitchen table than demos in the ship’s Grand Saloon theater. Select guests are invited to join her at the demo station, and samples of the dishes are distributed to all audience members. "Cooking demonstrations on board feel very intimate to me and I feel it is where I connect with our guests," said Charboneau. "The questions are not just about the immediate demo. They share their experiences and stories as well."
In addition to the cooking demonstrations, Charboneau and Lancaster could be seen chatting with guests throughout the cruise. A gift of the 1,200-plus-page "The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, 2001-2024" was placed in every stateroom, as well as an apron, and individual recipe cards of the new recipes and some of Charboneau’s favorite recipes. The two chefs did a book signing as well.
The American Queen Voyages guest
The average guest on AQV is 65-plus, well-traveled, and affluent, according to Composto. Upwards of 50% of AQV’s guests are repeat, she added.
The first ATK Cruise, however, attracted new guests to the cruise line. "What was so fantastic to see with our sold-out America’s Test Kitchen cruise, the first of its kind under our partnership, is that we saw over 90% of our guests were new to our brand on this particular voyage, which means we welcomed new members to AQV," said Composto.
New and repeat guests of the voyage were able to enjoy a choice of dining venues for their three meals including the more formal J.M. White Dining Room or a buffet option at the Front Porch Cafe. In addition, snacks were available at the Front Porch Cafe in-between meals. The all-inclusive onboard experience also included wines, beers, and spirits and non-alcoholic beverages.
Sailing on the 417-guest American Queen is reminiscent of the past, with its working paddle wheel and traditional décor. Beyond the culinary focus, the sailing also included nightly shows in the theater, a singer on piano in the Captain’s Bar, and a duo playing requests (with dance floor) from 9:30 p.m. in the Engine Room Bar.
While in port, Hop-On, Hop-Off motorcoaches transported guests throughout visiting towns. There was also the chance to purchase additional excursions to select attractions and experiences. An included pre-cruise stay in New Orleans and options to add-on a post-cruise stay in Memphis offered guests more opportunities to taste the cuisine of the region.