Queen of the Big Muddy

The steamboats are back with new owners

By: Harry Basch

New Orleans-based Delta Queen Steamboat Company returned to the Mississippi this spring, for the first time after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The company has also undergone an ownership change.

Ambassadors International Inc. acquired the line from former owners Delaware North Companies. Ambassadors, which also operates the American West Steamboat Company, will merge American West and Delta Queen into a new company, Majestic America Line, effective this fall. The new company will have its headquarters in Seattle, while its operations will be moving to St. Louis.

“We look forward to returning the incomparable American Queen to service in 2007 and operating the three Delta Queen vessels,” said David Giersdorf, president and COO of Ambassadors Cruise group.

The three boats of the Delta Queen Company, Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen and American Queen will return to New Orleans in November for a Thanksgiving Day Cruise and wait out the winter getting ready for full operation in the spring of 2007. For the remainder of the summer and fall, the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen will continue with their scheduled itineraries on the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.

As I rediscovered on the Delta Queen this spring, cruising on a steamboat is more than a cruise, it’s a journey into the history and culture of the region.

The Delta Queen, built in 1926, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Our cruise departed from Baton Rouge, La., to much fanfare. It was good to hear the vessel’s legendary steam calliope in full force, serenading passengers and everyone else within a mile. Our cruise took us first to the famous Oak Alley Plantation, where a walkway lined with magnificent 300-year-old live oak trees lead to a spectacular plantation home. Next stop up river was St. Francisville, La., where we toured the grand plantation houses of Myrtles and Rosedown. Natchez, Miss., presented more historic homes along with tours that included gospel music sung in the old plantation church and a mock slave wedding.

Vicksburg, Miss., is a mecca for Civil War buffs with tours of the Vicksburg National Military Park where a vicious battle was fought. An ironclad gunboat, USS Cairo, has been raised from its watery grave in the Yazoo River and now, 102 years later is on view beside an excellent museum of the period. The last stop on our journey was Helena, Ark., where a tour took us into the countryside for some gospel music, Delta blues and soul food.

When we weren’t busy sightseeing, our days on the river provided a relaxing respite. Big rocking chairs beckoned on the deck, offering a perfect vantage point for watching the lush green countryside sliding by.

In general, life aboard the Delta Queen is relaxed, unstructured and perfect for a quiet getaway. It allows cruisers to marvel at the legendary giant waterway that is the Big Muddy, the mighty Mississippi.


Delta Queen

Majestic America