Ohio River Excursion

Barging through America’s Heartland on the R/B River Explorer

By: Judy M. Zimmerman

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The R/B River Explorer travels through
the Ohio River Valley.
Cruises on the Mississippi River have become synonymous with the legendary paddlewheel steamships. But a different mode of traveling that great river has become available, and it’s definitely worth exploring: luxury barging.

The R/B River Explorer is the first and only hotel barge traveling on the Mississippi and other American inland waterways. It offers river trips of four to 10 days in length throughout 12 states in the Midwest and South. Many journeys retrace the steps of American explorers.

The entire operation of RiverBarge Excursion Lines is the dream of its CEO, Eddie Conrad. A Louisiana native and veteran of the commercial towboat industry, Conrad had a big hand in the design of everything on the barge.

Last fall, on an eight-day, 410-mile voyage from Cincinnati through the Ohio River Valley and back, Conrad set the pace for his passengers to have a whole lot of fun.

“We hope you will act like a good house guest who becomes part of the family and makes yourself at home. You can even go to dinner in your shorts, but there’s one meal you must dress for and that’s breakfast. Don’t come as you are; at least put on a robe and fluffy slippers,” said Conrad.

The LaSalle Barge houses 48 spacious staterooms, while all the well-designed public areas are located in the adjoining DeSoto Barge. A powerful tugboat, Miss Nari, pushes the two hotel barges, which are connected by a covered walkway.

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A mural at the Union Terminal in Cincinnati
depicts pioneers along the Ohio River.
An immense window fills an entire wall of each identical stateroom, offering a view of the charming scenery as the gentle current rocks the barge. All the appointments are carefully selected, from the bird’s-eye maple cabinets to a full-size tub and shower with top-quality hardware. Other thoughtful little touches in the staterooms include a mini-refrigerator, coffee maker, binoculars, spacious storage and great reading lights.

Guests and crew quickly established a family-type atmosphere. Breakfast and lunch are offered buffet style, and supper is served a la carte with regional specialties served in an open single seating. Before and after supper, the Crevasse Bar is a popular gathering place where guests can learn about the 1927 break in the levee in Cajun Country from the beautiful mural behind the bar.

The handsome decor of the common areas extends from the lobby’s plush furniture to a New Orleans-style fountain courtyard to the Sprague, a cabaret-size theater where local musicians, storytellers and historians entertain each evening. Some nights, guests can watch a film.

In the Governor Galvez Room, guests can help themselves to books, games and videos. Other recreational facilities include an exercise room, jogging track, shuffleboard and whirlpool tubs. The best place to monitor the river’s winding course is the Guest Pilot House, an observation room at the front of the barge. Each bend of the river and each town along the way on our tri-state journey brought a surprise.

At the first port, Ripley, Ohio, there was a tour of the tobacco museum with free time in the afternoon to enjoy the quaint shops, all within walking distance of the barge. Evening brought a candlelight visit to the Rankin House, an important stop for hundreds of slaves on the Underground Railroad.

The next morning, we arrived at Point Pleasant, W. Va., to tour a river museum and the West Virginia State Farm Museum.

Afterward, passengers visited the Point Pleasant Battle Monument, the site of a battle that many consider to be the first of the Revolutionary War.

The following day’s activities included a short hike and lunch

overlooking the New River Gorge. Passengers boarded a train for the Beckley Coal Mine, stopping for shopping at Tamarack, a complex that houses West Virginia crafts, books, music and food. In Charleston, a city tour included a visit to the capitol building ranked among the nation’s most significant 20th-century classical architecture. At Augusta, Ky., the final stop, barge passengers enjoyed a tour of the Rosemary Clooney Museum.

“We have come to know the people who live along the rivers so well that we consider them family and friends,” said Conrad. “We’ve joined them at their supper tables, danced in their back yards, learned about their cultures. Now we want you to experience America in places off the beaten track, little villages as well as big cities. You will appreciate how the river helped them grow and prosper and, what part they played in America’s history.”


RiverBarge Excursion Lines will offer four, 8-day round trips from Cincinnati in the fall 2008. Fares range from $2,630 per person, double occupancy; $2,805 for the Platinum upper deck with balcony. The price includes all scheduled shore activities, taxes and port charges.