My husband, Cliff, and I have always loved riverboats, to the extent that we tear up every time we see the end of the movie “Showboat.” How can we not?! As the song “Old Man River” is being sung in the background, Ava Gardner is tearing up as she sees the Showboat slowly leaving port. As she comes out of the shadows, she blows a kiss — and that’s when we get our hankies out. We’ve found that these wonderful riverboats are more than just a boat ride, they’re a sentimental journey back to a time gone by.
We recently celebrated our 48th anniversary and spent a couple of days at the Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill, Ky, a unique and charming historical treasure tucked away in the state’s bluegrass region. To our delight, we discovered that Shaker Village also has a 115-passenger riverboat, the Dixie Belle, which cruises on the Kentucky River Palisades, a part of the river with high limestone cliffs and steep gorges. It passes under High Bridge, the highest railroad bridge that runs over a navigable stream in the U.S., and also along the oldest rock in Kentucky. The current is swift here, and water levels can go up and down 20 to 30 feet in one day.
The 65-foot-long paddlewheeler built in Cincinnati is the only fully narrated cruise on the river and has two cruises daily from April to October. During the May 2010 floods, the Dixie Belle went for the ride of her life after being knocked loose from her moorings by a floating concrete dock. Because of some quick thinking on the part of her two captains, Bruce and Richard Herring, they were able to catch the Dixie Belle a few miles downriver before she got to the Brooklyn Bridge, where Route 68 crosses the Kentucky River. Because the locks at the dam that she went over were shut, they had to move her overland to get her back home, which was a feat in itself since, she weighs 2,800 tons. Showing only a bent railing from her wild escapade, she didn’t waste any time in getting back to cruising the river again.
For all of you that are longing to go on a paddleboat ride, we’ve listed below some of the ones available in our Heartland area. Trust me, there’s nothing quite like the sound of water hitting the paddlewheel as you float down the river on one of these magnificent vessels. Just sit back, relax and take a ride back in time…
The Harriott II is a beautiful, 19th-century riverboat docked alongside Montgomery’s RiverwalkAmphitheater on the Alabama River. She offers dinner with live entertainment and dancing.
The Arkansas Queen, now sporting a new calliope, is located at the North Shore Maritime Center in North Little Rock on the Arkansas River.
The Savannah River Queen and Georgia Queen are patriotic red, white and blue triple-decker sternwheeler riverboats offering various cruises with live entertainment and an unforgettable view of Savannah.
The Belle of the Rock paddleboat located at historical Starved Rock State Park in Utica offers a 45- to 50-minute narrated cruise on the Illinois River.
The Spirit of Peoria is an authentic paddlewheeler that offers single-day trips as well as multiple-day trips on the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, complete with live entertainment and storytelling.
The Dixie Sternwheeler is located on Lake Webster in North Webster and has daily cruises available. She was completely renovated and re-launched in 2010, and celebrated her 83rd birthday in July.
Steamboat fans will not want to miss the fascinating Howard Steamboat Museum is situated in the historic 1894 home of boat builders, the Howard family. Incorporating many design elements inspired by the ships they built, the museum celebrated 200 years of steamboating at a Steamboat Bicentennial Celebration in September 2011. The museum is on the banks of the Ohio River in Jefferson, Ind.
The Celebration Belle sternwheeler, located on the Mississippi River, offers cruises from LeClaire, Dubuque and Muscatine, Iowa, as well as Moline, Ill. The company books up to three cruises a day and logs an estimated 8,000 miles a season.
The Pearl Button Paddlewheel, docked at Pearl City Station in Muscatine on the Mississippi River, is an authentic diesel-powered sidewheeler. In 1985, it was the first sidewheeler to be commissioned by the Coast Guard in 100 years.
The Spirit of Dubuque, a genuine dual paddlewheeler located on the Mississippi River, has been sharing the history and beauty of the Dubuque area for more than 20 years.
The Twilight Riverboat sternwheeler, a replica of the Victorian steamboats of yesteryear, offers overnight cruises on the Mississippi River from Dubuque to LeClaire.
The Belle of Cincinnati, the flagship of BB Riverboats, and the River Queen are docked at the Covington Landing in Newport on the Ohio River. BB Riverboats was awarded the exclusive rights for riverboat cruises in the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn.
The Belle of Louisville, the oldest operating river-style steamboat in the world, is located on the Ohio River out of Louisville. She’s preparing to celebrate her 100th birthday in October 2014.
As mentioned above, the Dixie Belle, Shaker Village’s riverboat, cruises along the scenic Kentucky River Palisades.
The Creole Queen, an authentic paddlewheeler, offers cruises on the Mississippi River out of New Orleans.
Meanwhile, the Steamboat Natchez, a steam-powered sternwheeler, has daytime and dinner jazz cruises year-round out of the Crescent City.
The Tunica Queen, an authentic riverboat, offers cruises on the Mississippi River in the Tunica Resorts area (30 miles southwest of Memphis).
The Lake Queen sternwheeler offers cruises along the shores of Lake Taneycomo out of Branson.
The Mark Twain Riverboat sternwheeler has one-hour cruises with commentary and storytelling out of Hannibal on the Mississippi River.
The Queen of the Mississippi, built in 2012, is to be the grandest ever overnight paddlewheeler offering cruises on the Mississippi, Ohio and Cumberland Rivers.
The Showboat Branson Belle, a split sternwheeler, cruises around the scenic Ozark Mountains on Table Rock Lake out of Branson.
The Tom Sawyer paddlewheeler offers daily, narrated scenic cruises with southern cuisine on Lake of the Ozarks.
The Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher, replicas of 19th-century paddlewheel boats, are located on the Mississippi riverfront under the shadow of the Gateway Arch.
The Belle of Cincinnati and River Queen Riverboat (see listing in Kentucky for BB Riverboats).
The Valley Gem, an authentic sternwheeler, has various cruises on the Ohio and Muskingum Rivers out of Marietta.
The American Queen, docked at the Beale Street Landing in Memphis, is back in service as of April 2012 after a complete refurbishment. She offers cruises on the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers.
The General Jackson showboat offers entertainment with your meals as it cruises the Cumberland River in Nashville.
The Island Queen, known for her dance cruises, and Memphis Queen III, a true sternwheeler, offer 90-minute cruises on the Mississippi River out of Memphis.
The Southern Belle sternwheeler at Pier 2 in Chattanooga offers dinner cruises while enjoying the scenic views of the Tennessee Valley.
The Star of Knoxville has a 90-minute cruise along historical sites on the Tennessee River.
Historic Chief Waupaca Sternwheeler, docked at Clear Water Harbor, has a 90-minute narrated cruise on the Waupaca Chain O’ Lakes.
The LaCrosse Queen, an authentic paddlewheel with a split sternwheel, cruises out of LaCrosse on the Upper Mississippi River, Pools 7 and 8.
Princess Kay, the Belle of the Dells, is an authentic paddlewheeler that cruises along the scenic Upper Dells bluffs on the Wisconsin River.
See more images of active Heartland riverboats by viewing our gallery here.