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With a bourbon smash, American Duchess is named in New Orleans

American Duchess godmother Marissa Applegate smashes the Maker's Mark bourbon
A bottle of Maker's Mark was used to christen the Mississippi's newest paddlewheel riverboat, American Duchess, at festivities Monday in New Orleans.

Marissa Applegate, the daughter of American Queen Steamboat Co. founder and chairman John Waggoner, smashed the bottle as company officials, family, media and key travel partners looked on.

Waggoner compared delivering American Duchess to giving birth. About a year ago he acquired the former Isle of Capri casino boat in Bettendorf, Iowa, and removed more than a thousand slot machines, and blackjack, roulette and craps tables. Then the morning sickness set in. The vessel was too tall to fit under a bridge en route to Bollinger Shipyard in Morgan City, Louisiana, where its conversion and upgrade for cruise service would take place, so the pilot house and bridge wings had to be cut off.

'The project grew larger and larger, like a baby in the womb,' Waggoner said, relating the decisions to add double-deck loft suites—a first on the US rivers—the Lincoln Library, a River Grill specialty restaurant, an Art Walk and more.

Entrepreneurs like Waggoner talk about blood, sweat and tears.

It was mainly sweat, he said, outfitting the boat during July and August in steamy New Orleans: 'Just when you think it can't get worse, it rains.'

But, eventually, American Duchess came together with the help of what Waggoner called 'one of the hardest working teams I've ever had the pleasure to work with'—people like AQSC's vp new construction David Kelly, engineer Marvin Williams, and president and chief operating officer Ted Sykes, to name a few. Plus, Waggoner acknowledged his family, and 'biggest fan and supporter,' wife Claudette.

In turn, daughter Marissa told about her dad's start as the captain of a sport fishing boat, putting in 'insanely long hours' and his incredible, lifelong work ethic.

As part of the ceremony US Coast Guard Capt. Wayne Arguin, captain of the port, presented the riverboat's certificate of inspection—like a birth certificate, he quipped—to American Duchess Capt. Randy Kirschbaum.

American Duchess arrives at a time when the European river cruise sector is booming and, thanks to a handful of companies including AQSC, the once-dormant US river business is now thriving, too. Ted Sykes told christening ceremony guests AQSC aims to provide a world-class product that elevates cruising in America.

'Our rivers and land here are just as old as the ones in Europe and China ... and just as captivating,' he said. 'Our history is the world's history,' and it 'springs to life' on AQSC where 'We do more than just lecture about the Battle of Vicksburg. We take you to the battlefield.'

Bill Samuels Jr., whose father founded Maker's Mark, related how, 69 years ago, his dad and Felix Edward Hébert, the longest serving US representative from Louisiana, secretly substituted a bottle of bourbon for the champagne that was to christen the submarine USS Remora. That's how the first US warship came to be doused with a bottle of Kentucky bourbon.

Then, today, the first US paddlewheeler.