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Queens of the River

Steamboat company changes course
to provide weeklong trips


The move means fewer Madison stops,
but more for Louisville

Ben Fronczek
Staff Writer


(September 2001) Madison, In – Frequently during each summer, an historical image of American culture cruises the Ohio River – steamboats making their way between Pittsburgh and New Orleans. Companies such as the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. Inc. are “reinventing the wheel” – or the “paddlewheel” as it were – to enhance this historical experience.

Steamboats

Over the years, this revitalization of early American river travel has had many economic effects on the towns along the river where the steamboats stop. But because of recent changes in the cruise schedules, several towns, including Madison, will see fewer visits in 2002.
Compared to 11 stops in Madison this year by its three steamboats, the American Queen, the Delta Queen and the Mississippi Queen, next year’s schedule lists only three stops. The American Queen, the largest of the three, will not stop at all in Madison. The Delta Queen will stop twice and the Mississippi only once to bring passengers to visit historic Madison for a few hours.
Conversely, Louisville, Ky., will graduate to being more than just “stops” by these steamboats. Now passengers will board and have their final docking in Louisville, which could involve guests spending one or two nights in the city. Mayor Dave Armstrong sees the increased presence of the steamboats as a way of attracting more people to Louisville’s waterfront and bringing more than 8,000 people to town, a number that would double from years past.
In 2002, there are 16 cruises scheduled between Louisville and Pittsburgh. Eight will begin and end in each city. The Delta Queen will increase its number of stops in Louisville but will start and stop in Cincinnati, Memphis, Nashville, Tenn., and Chattanooga, Tenn. The American Queen, meanwhile, will mostly conduct its tours along the Mississippi River between St. Louis and St. Paul, Minn.
The change in scheduling has occurred to enhance a seven-night vacation experience that would cater towards younger passengers, according to Delta Queen Steamboat. Co. public relations officials. The company is finding it is more conducive for the younger, pre-retirement age groups to get away for a week or less. In the past, many of the cruises have lasted as long as 14 days.
“All stopping points are determined by the home office and made two years in advance,” said Jamie Kilb, tourism director for the Mississippi Queen. “They’re looking for history and good tour opportunities.”
Madison has long been a favorite stop for passengers, company officials said.
After the boat docks on Madison’s riverfront, the passenger are greeted by tourism officials and volunteers who offer them brochures, town maps and information on shopping, dining and history. The Madison Trolley and tour buses take them to the town’s Main Street, where many shops open earlier than usual to accommodate the guests.
“We have approached many of the merchants about opening earlier,” said Susie Hamner, marketing director of the Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Most of them are trying to open at about 8 in the morning, and that seems to be working well.”
The Delta Queen Steamboat Co. usually has its boats dock in smaller river towns on weekdays from 7 a.m. to noon. But Hamner said that one of the Delta Queen’s 2002 visits will occur on a Sunday next year. At Kilb’s request, Hamner has sent her a listing of church service times in the Madison area for interested passengers.
Madison has carried on its strong hospitality tradition since the mid-1980s. Early efforts were spearheaded by the late Dotti Reindollar and Elbert Hinds. The two often dressed up in 1800s attire to greet the boats. Such greetings often included walking tours of museums and combos playing Dixieland music.
“We realize there are a number of towns that would like to get these boats in,” said Hinds. “We can’t take the fact they stop here for granted, so we want to do special things to thank them. They always bring quality visitors to Madison who are well seasoned travelers that love river towns and love Madison.”
To this day, docents, walking tours and music are still a strong part of greeting put on by Madison volunteers. Carolyn Clark, Sharon Steinhardt and Hal and Yvonne Davis are among those active in greeting guests.
The hospitality that passengers aboard the three boats receive does not just occur in the places they visit.
All three steamboats have unique activities and amenities to keep their guests entertained around the clock. The largest and newest boat, the American Queen, has six decks of amenities, including a two-story dining room, both a grand saloon and a theatre, a beauty salon, an athletic club and swimming pool, outdoor sun decks and 222 cabin staterooms. The second-largest boat, the Mississippi Queen, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and features a dining room and grand saloon, on-deck kite flying, dancing classes and trivia contests.
“On a scale of one to 10, its a 15,” said Carl Czirr of Cincinnati. “There is always something going on – enough that there is always something to do.”
Czirr and his wife, Bonnie, were visiting Madison aboard the Mississippi Queen during an August stop. They had taken a bus to Nashville, Tenn., where the Mississippi Queen began their particular voyage. They would eventually finish their cruise back home in Cincinnati.
“We do a lot of theme cruises – Civil War cruises, Big Band cruises. Most of our themes are all-American,” said hotel manager Bob Barnett. Other themes include 1950s, Cajun culture, and Fall Foliage.
Many of the themes are complemented by entertainment on the cruise. These might include a 1950s hit revue or a Mark Twain theme along the Mississippi River. “It’s letting people experience America,” added Barnett.
“It is a lot more laid back and relaxing than some other cruises we’ve done,” said Cincinnati resident Bob Jacobs, who was aboard the boat in August with his wife, Marie. “I do a lot of business travel in the river area, and it’s nice to see the river from a different perspective.”
The oldest of the three boats is the Delta Queen, which over the past century has been graced by the presence of presidents and other dignitaries. The Delta Queen presents an ambiance similar to a Victorian home with brass and Tiffany-style stained glass windows.
The Delta Queen Steamboat Co., better known as American Classic Voyages Co., was formed in 1890 after the paddlewheel steamboat’s presence in America. Its corporate offices are based in New Orleans.
The company offers many cruise options of varying lengths and luxury. A seven-day cruise ranges between $940 and $4,015 (per person, based on double occupancy), depending on the level of luxury. The 2001 cruise schedule offered trips from three nights to 11 nights.
The fares do not include port charges or hotel stays before or after a cruise.
Cruises include showboat style entertainment, meals, snacks, private baths, lectures, classes, movies, concerts and other activities.
All three steamboats have proven enjoyable for those traveling on them and those who get to witness their docking. Some come from out of town just to see them dock.
“Their passengers have always enjoyed Madison,” said Madison Area CVB executive director Linda Lytle. “Their decision (to make fewer stops) is one made by their marketing department. There is not much we can do about it. They will be here for three regular visits, and we will do everything we can to make them enjoyable.”

• The last steamboat visit in Madison this year will be the Mississippi Queen on Oct. 7. It arrives at 8 a.m.

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