By Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Daily
Decatur will be one of 11 stops on a new Historic Rivers excursion cruise, with the first passengers arriving in April.
“Who needs the Queen?” joked Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention & Visitors Bureau. She was referring to the excursion riverboats Delta Queen, now permanently tied up at Chattanooga, and Mississippi Queen, which hasn’t stopped in Decatur since July 2008.
Becoming one of the destinations shows Decatur’s historic homes and downtown shopping have a positive reputation with cruise planners, she said.
Lori Boger, bureau sales manager, said the bureau didn’t have to sell the city because officials from the cruise line, American Canadian Caribbean, contacted her and said they planned to come to Decatur and needed brochures to give to passengers.
The bureau will offer the same hospitality it did for the Delta and Mississippi queens, with guided tours of the historic districts and transportation to shopping on Bank Street and Second Avenue downtown.
The only negative is the boat won’t arrive until afternoon each time, leaving just a few hours for passengers to tour Decatur, Reist said.
The 175-foot-long ship that will stop in Decatur on April 22 and May 2 is called the Niagara Prince. It has 34 passenger cabins and can accommodate 70 guests. It was built in 1994 and refurbished last year.
The cruise line planned to dock at Riverwalk Marina, but Reist said that might change because American Canadian Caribbean wasn’t aware that Decatur had a riverboat docking facility at Rhodes Ferry Park.
Vera DaSilva, marketing specialist for American Canadian Caribbean, said the Rhode Island-based cruise line has a reputation for its casual and personal experience, and 70 percent of its customers return for more voyages.
“Our whole thing is it makes you feel like you’re on a private yacht,” she said. “It’s all about getting to the places you rarely get to see.”
Capt. Luther Blount, a shipbuilder, founded the cruise line in 1966 to give the public the same yachting experiences he enjoyed with his family and friends, DaSilva said. Blount invented the bow landing system, which allows his shallow ships to sail a few feet from shore and let passengers disembark right onto the beach. He also developed the retractable pilot house, which allows his ships to sail under low bridges on rivers and canals.
Decatur will be a stop on two separate legs of a three-section trip from New Orleans to Chicago. The first leg, starting April 16, is from New Orleans to Knoxville; the second leg, starting April 29, is from Knoxville to Nashville; and the third leg, starting May 10, is from Nashville to Chicago.
First-leg passengers, who pay between $3,145 and $3,835 per room, can visit Bourbon Street, Bellingraph Gardens, Waverly Plantation, Shiloh Military Park, Lookout Mountain and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The cruise line’s description of Decatur said, “Visit the celebrated historic districts and cruise Tennessee’s Grand Canyon, carved through the Cumberland Mountains.”
This is the first time American Canadian Caribbean has scheduled an excursion on the Tennessee River, DaSilva said, and she expected it will do well based on success of previous river cruises.