Delta Queen Readies for Last Season

April 21, 2008
The venerable old Delta Queen (built in 1926) begins its 2008 river cruise season this month -- likely to be its last as a passenger vessel.

No question, the boat is a historic icon, the recipient of multiple awards and honors: registered historic treasure of the Department of the Interior, registered historic treasure of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, National Historic Landmark and a member of the National Maritime Hall of Fame. Those are the river-going equivalents of a Tony, an Oscar, an Emmy and a Grammy.

The problem is, actually, all this "history." The boat, an original paddlewheeler which carries 174 passengers, has been sailing for 42 years under an exemption (to modern fire safety laws) granted by Congress; nine times, the exemption has passed and Delta Queen's old wooden superstructure (the actual hull is steel) has been allowed to continue its routes up and down the Mississippi, Cumberland, Ohio and other rivers in America's heartland. But unless something happens this year -- and soon -- it looks as though its exempted status will fade away and the boat will no longer be allowed to sail with overnight guests on American waterways.

As a result, a blowout farewell season has been planned by Majestic America Line, Delta Queen's owner. Starting in St. Francisville, Louisiana, next week and moving through cities large and small (for example, Pittsburgh; Nashville; Cape Giradeau, Missouri; and Alton, Illinois), the celebrations will include a presentation to each city, tributes to the communities that Delta Queen visits, a medley of music by the Delta Queen band and a calliope concert as the boat leaves.

The boat's final stop will be in New Orleans, its homeport, during the first week in November.

Delta Queen has contributed to the history of the American Midwest for over nine decades; the loss of this icon along the inland rivers will be significant. There is a possibility that Congress will grant another exemption before November -- when the current one runs out -- and there is a possibility that you can help. Stay tuned for more information.

--by Jana Jones, Cruise Critic contributor