The historic paddlewheel steamboat DELTA QUEEN may have received a glimmer of hope that could result in an eventual return to active cruise service on America’s waterways. A group that has been trying for years to purchase the steamer finally succeeded in their efforts, buying the vintage boat from a holding company of Xanterra Parks & Resorts on February 17, 2015. They will still have many obstacles to overcome before putting the DELTA QUEEN back in service, including gaining a reprieve from the U.S. government, but this is welcome news after having the paddlewheeler languish for years in a stationary role in Chattanooga, Tennessee. If successful, the DELTA QUEEN could be cruising again as early as sometime next year. Immediate plans call for the steamboat to depart in March for New Orleans where it will be restored to operational condition.
The legendary Delta Queen began service as an overnight passenger vessel in 1927, carrying passengers, cargo and automobiles between Sacramento, Calif. and San Francisco, Calif. After a period of service in the U.S. Navy on San Francisco Bay during World War II, the vessel was sold as war surplus to Captain Tom Greene, owner of the Greene Line Steamers of Cincinnati, Ohio. From 1946 to 2008, the Delta Queen operated as an overnight cruise vessel along many of the prominent river and waterways running through America’s heartland, including the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Cumberland and Arkansas Rivers. Later on, the vessel operated as a dockside hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn. from 2009 until 2014.
“My partners and I are thrilled to be taking this critical first step toward the preservation and restoration of this important piece of American and river history,” said Cornel Martin, President and CEO of Delta Queen Steamboat Company. “We look forward to the day when the Delta Queen will once again be able to ply America’s waterways and allow passengers to relive the experiences of Mark Twain and his unique cast of river characters from the decks of a true 1927 steamboat.”
The Delta Queen is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is classified as a National Historic Landmark. The steamboat has also recently been designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a National Treasure.
“Our goal is to have the Delta Queen return to cruising America’s waterways in 2016 following extensive mechanical and hotel renovations,” said Martin. The refurbishment may cost up to $7 million including replacing the vintage boiler, redoing the electrical and generator panels and upgrading the hotel facilities and historic, wooden interiors and superstructure.
Xanterra Cruise, LLC, a division of Xanterra Parks & Resorts, purchased the assets of river cruise operator Majestic America Line, which included the DELTA QUEEN. They also currently own the six ships of Windstar Cruises, two of which will be reentering service this May. The DELTA QUEEN has been idle since November 2008, when Congress failed to renew the boat’s Safety Of Life At Sea exemption for passenger vessels with wooden structures. The motivation was mainly political, rather than actual safety concerns, as exemptions had routinely been granted for the previous 40 years. A true national treasure, and for a period of time the historic tradition of any steamboats on American rivers, had vanished from the scene. Former fleetmate, AMERICAN QUEEN returned to cruising in 2012. River cruises are among the fastest growing travel trends worldwide. Perhaps the time is right for our elected representatives in Washington, D.C. to finally put politics aside and allow the DELTA QUEEN to return to cruising on the rivers of America, where she belongs. Cornel Martin and the owners group are calling the new company DQSC, LLC (dba The Delta Queen Steamboat Company) a Delaware limited liability company.
Special thanks to Christopher Kyte and Martin Cox.
All images in this post are © Shawn Dake 2007.
Shawn J. Dake, freelance travel writer and regular contributor to MaritimeMatters, worked in tourism and cruise industry for over 35 years. A native of Southern California, his first job was as a tour guide aboard the Queen Mary. A frequent lecturer on ship-related topics he has appeared on TV programs. Owner of Oceans Away Cruises & Travel agency, he served as President of the local Chapter of Steamship Historical Society of America. With a love of the sea, he is a veteran of 115 cruises.
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