In 2008 when the historic steamboat Delta Queen discontinued Mississippi River tours, communities up and down the river not only lost a piece of cultural history, they also lost an important tourism asset.
Thus, the state’s Mississippi River communities, still reeling from the recent flood, are all smiles with the announcement this month that the American Queen, a more modern, larger steamboat, is planning to dock in Vicksburg and begin tours next spring.
“It is huge — there has been much discussion about the return of the Queen to the river,”said Bill Seratt, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We had thousands of people arriving on (the Delta Queen), touring our museums, historical homes, restaurants. So, we’re excited.”
At press time, the boat’s owner, The Great American Steamboat Company, was establishing its new headquarters in Memphis. The company’s website (www.greatamericansteamboat.com) offers no information, not even a phone number. Repeated attempts to reach the company were unsuccessful.
But, Regina Charboneau said the American Queen is definitely coming back to the river. A native of Natchez, it was announced just last week that Charboneau had been named the American Queen’s chef de cuisine.
Charboneau said the company was in transition, and that is why officials have been impossible to reach. She added that her first organizational meeting with company officials was to be held in Memphis last Thursday.
She said the company is planning to post details, including costs, of river tours next month.
According to an Associated Press article, tours will begin next April.
Charboneau said she hopes the boat will make as many as 30 stops in Natchez annually, and Great American Steamboat Company chief executive Jeffrey Krida said in a prior statement that some of the tours would make Vicksburg an overnight destination.
When the American Queen docks in Vicksburg, it will mark the end of a long journey for the boat, which the “Guinness World Book of Records”lists as the largest steam-powered paddle-wheel riverboat ever constructed.
The American Queen was built at the McDermott Shipyard in Louisiana at a cost of $65 million. It was launched, christened and made its maiden voyage in 1995.
The paddle-wheeler is 418 feet long, offers more than 200 staterooms and can accommodate more than 400 guests. (By comparison, the old Delta Queen, now a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn., is less than 300 feet long and could hold less than 200 passengers.)
While a true steamboat, the size of the ship requires a secondary, diesel-electric propulsion system.
Originally owned by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, the American Queen plied the Mississippi River and its tributaries until 2001 when the Delta Queen Steamboat Company declared bankruptcy in 2001. In 2003, Delaware North Companies Inc., bought the steamboat that was operated by Majestic America Line until 2008 when the company discontinued service.
Custody of the American Queen subsequently went to the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), and the boat was mothballed in Beaumont, Texas.
The Great American Steamboat Company signed a contract under MARAD’s Title XI program for a reported $15.5 million.
Officials in Natchez and Vicksburg, which offers National Park Service-licensed guides, said they were anxious to work out the tour schedules, coordinating onshore tours.
“We can’t wait,” Seratt said.