Cruise ship American Duchess makes first stop ever at Nottoway Plantation

The American Duchess, a Mississippi River cruise ship, made its first ever stop at Nottoway Plantation Sunday morning.

The great American author Mark Twain was inspired by the Mississippi River and after having worked aboard several steamships, based many of his works on those experiences. 

After witnessing Sunday's inaugural stop at Nottoway Plantation by the American Duchess, it would be easy to imagine why traveling aboard one of those magnificent steamships.

The ship's owner and operator, the American Queen Steamboat Company, welcomed members of the media and elected officials in Iberville Parish for a tour of the glamorous vessel Sunday. Company officials and the management of Nottoway Plantation were pleased with the turnout.

"We're thrilled to have all these honored guests here," said Jerry Seabrook, vice president of operations for the steamboat company. 

"Thank you, Mr. Castaldi (Neil Castaldi, the president and CEO of Nottoway Plantation) for bringing everyone here for the inguaral stop of the American Duchess at Nottoway a boat just as great as her name," he continued.

"We appreciate being allowed to participate in the community and we hope our economic contribution is beneficial to Nottoway and to the community," Seabrook said.

 "Nottoway has been extremely good to us," he continued, referring to a long relationship the company has had with the huge plantation near White Castle as a regular stop for another of its boats, the American Queen. "We've become great friends."

 "We are truly grateful," Seabrook told Castaldi. "Our Christmas events have been very successful and a lot of fun here at Nottoway. Actually, the whole experience on the Mississippi River has been very good for us."

 For Seabrook, an self-proclaimed Yankee, said, "It's been a great experience to spend the time I have on the river because I've learned enormous amounts about the culture of the South. I love the food."

 "I can say all kinds of good things about being here," he said. "I hope you feel good about us being here."

 "On behalf of the crew here on the American Duchess, welcome aboard," said the Duchess' captain, Joe McKey. "That you for coming and s you can see she's beautiful."

 "The crew works very hard on her every day and we worked hard in the shipyard to bring her to what she is today," he continued. "They completely gutted her -- she was just an empty box and we converted that box into what you see today."

 "I want to thank you all for being a part of this, our inaugural visit to White Castle," McKey said. "Thank you for the continued great relationship we have had with you. We do appreciate it and hop it will continue for many, many more years to come."

After the presentation of a commemorative plate to Castaldi, the Nottoway CEO took over the mic.

"It's a pleasure," he told the American Duchess employees. "We've been working with these guys for three years with the American Queen."

"It's always been my job to impress you and to exceed your expectations and that response continues to be there, for whatever you need," Castaldi continued. "I feel right at home with you guys and I hope you feel the same."

He then introduced Nicola Volpe, whom he described as a "hotel manager extraordinaire," and the tour director for Sunday's ceremony.

Volpe, who joked he'd been employed in the cruise ship industry for 40 years, told the group the Duchess operated with 84 crew members and had 164 guests at the time of the stop at Nottoway.

The tour began in the ship's theater where live entertainment was provided nightly, then said the Duchess had two restaurants, including one where "you can watch the world go by while you eat lunch or dinner."

While walking down one of the corridors -- this one line with beautiful paintings, including a Monet, Volpe said -- he joked, "We stole some art from an art gallery."

A four-deck vessel, the Duchess' Deck 1 is its main deck, its Deck 2 is an observation deck, Deck 3 is considered its cabin deck, although there are also rooms on Deck 2, and the top deck, Deck 4, is its sun deck.

It offers a variety of choices of room choices, and will make regular trips up and down the Mississippi River. Volpe said the trip from New Orleans to Memphis or from Memphis to New Orleans was expected to be one of the Duchess' most popularly requested cruise.