I was hired by this company less than a month ago. I had worked for another river boat cruise company, and that company was beyond horrible. I took the job with American Queen thinking it couldn't possibly be any worse than the job I had with the other company.
I have been pleasantly surprised and impressed with the differences in my two river boat cruise experiences. Both cruise lines travel the same route sometimes, New Orleans to Memphis. The boat I am on now is a vast improvement over the first company I worked for. First of all, they post exactly what the tip pool is for the waiters so you know what you made before you get your check. You are also allowed to keep any cash tips passengers give you on top of your share of the tip pool. The first company I worked for required you to turn in the tips to be added to the general tip pool. I haven't made a lot in tips yet because I am new and in training but some of the servers make a couple of hundred a week. Even in training I was handed over $50 in cash by two passengers which was nice.
The food on the boat is also much better for both the passengers and the workers. There is a crew meal area that is separate from the guest area and it is open a few hours for each meal service to accomodate the wide variety of workers on the boat. The curfew on my current boat is a lot later (2:00 a.m. vs. the 11:00 p.m. curfew on the first boat I worked on). This company hires you to work a 6 week rotation and then you are off for two weeks. It is 6 weeks solid, no days off. Some of the days are very long depending on the number of passengers. If the boat is full, there are two back to back dinner services so you will be in the dining room probably until at least 11:00 and reporting the next morning at 6:30 a.m.
The crew cabins are drab and depressing and I was warned that athlete's foot is rampant so it is smart to bring some flip flops and be aware. While the quarters are depressing and cramped, the reality is that you won't be doing much in the room besides sleeping and showering. You will be working or its possible you might be off the boat if you get a break. This company checks you in and out electronically and crew is required to be back on the boat by certain times that are posted by the gangway so you know that info before you disembark.
One thing that is really nice is that if you are a dining room server, there is a laundry service for your work shirts and they come back pressed and on a hanger ready to go. This saves a lot of time and you just trade out your used shirts for freshly laundered ones several times a week. The crew is pretty diverse and relatively friendly. There is a smoking area on the roof of the boat in the employee area and it is neat to be on that deck when you are off to see the landscape and the river. I like sitting out there at night and watching the night sky and seeing how the river boats communicate with each other with spot lights. To see large barges going up and down the river is to realize how vital the rivers still are to our daily lives because they are major arteries of commerse even today. I would recommend this company. I think they have a level of fairness and transparency that was completely lacking in the other company I worked for. There is also a higher standard of interaction with the guests and that can't help but be reflected positively in the tip pool.