EAST LIVERPOOL - The American Queen made its way through the area Tuesday evening - the first of what will be four trips this month via our portion of the Ohio River.
Now part of the American Queen Steamboat Company, the American Queen was en route to Pittsburgh, the end of a 7-day trek from Louisville, Ky., that included stops in Madison, Cincinnati, Maysville, Point Pleasant, Marietta and Wheeling.
It was scheduled for a 4-day excursion beginning Wednesday from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati with stops at Point Pleasant and Maysville. Area residents most likely saw the royal vessel make its way south sometime yesterday.
The American Queen made its way north on the Ohio River on Tuesday and was captured through the camera lens of area resident Debbie Seevers, who snapped these shots from a location in the Lantern Heights neighborhood off Shadyside Avenue. Seevers said the vessel — the largest of its kind — made its way through the local waters around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday as it headed toward Pittsburgh. She said a friend in the Stratton area let her know when the Queen was making its way through the New Cumberland Locks and Dam, that way Seevers could get to the perfect spot to capture the moment. (Photos courtesy of Debbie Seevers)
The American Queen is said to be the largest river steamboat ever constructed. It is listed at 418 feet in length and 109.5 feet in height. With a crew of 160, the American Queen can accommodate 436 passengers.
With the relaunching of the vessel in April, steamboat travel has returned to the Ohio and Mississippi rivers for the first time since 2008.
The American Queen and its sister boats, the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen, carried passengers up and down the Mississippi for decades, continuing a tradition that began in the early 19th century, when steamboats replaced keelboats as the main source of transportation and commerce on the river.
But long-distance, city-to-city riverboat travel along the Mississippi stopped four years ago, when the company that owned the American Queen ceased operations. The boat was later bought for $15.5 million by the Great American Steamboat Company and underwent a $6 million refurbishment. The company, now known as the American Queen Steamboat Company, is banking on the expectation that passengers from around the world will be drawn to these nostalgic trips.
Large port cities such as New Orleans, Memphis and St. Louis, along with smaller stops like Natchez and Vicksburg in Mississippi, are also hopeful that the boat will bring tourists to sightsee, shop and spend money during port calls or before they board.
But this is not a trip for cruisers on a budget. Depending on the trip length and type of cabin, rates range from $995 a person to more than $8,000 for the most luxurious accommodations, though the price covers meals, snacks, coffee, soda, beer and wine with dinner, some shore excursions in larger ports, and one night at a land hotel.
Most passengers on the recent trip to Pittsburgh exited the ship at Heritage Port on Tuesday morning in Wheeling, where they had the opportunity to be shuttled to one of three company tour buses.
The buses stopped at five points of interest throughout the city, including the Wheeling Artisan Center, Centre Market, West Virginia Independence Hall, the Eckhart House in North Wheeling and the Capitol Theatre.
Tim Birch, supervisor of operations for the city of Wheeling, said passengers aboard the ship were given the opportunity to take small tours of the stops in the city or they could take advantage of a shuttle that ran to Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack.
The six-level steamboat has something for everyone -passengers may enjoy tea time in the ladies' parlor, rousing musical shows in the Grand Saloon, lessons on river history, and four-course meals in an antebellum-style dining room.
American Queen's decor includes deep burgundy carpets, regal staircases and ornate chandeliers. Some staterooms have loveseats with curved armrests or stained glass windows covered by heavy curtains. In the Grand Saloon, the dark wooden dance floor, theater-style balconies and large stage host games like bingo during the day and nightly shows featuring Big Band music or a Mark Twain look-alike spinning tales of life on the Mississippi.
The main dining room has high ceilings, circular stained glass windows, chandeliers and gold drapes. The Mark Twain Gallery has mahogany-colored cabinets, antique-style couches and chairs and intricately-designed lamps. A Chart Room is manned by a "Riverlorian" who can answer questions about the Mississippi River and Southern history.
According to an official with the Wheeling Convention and Visitors Bureau, the American Queen will be docked at Wheeling's Heritage Port from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 26 and July 28.
Other local voyages listed on its 2012 schedule include Cincinnati to Pittsburgh (July 22-27) and Pittsburgh to Louisville (July 27 to Aug. 3).