By Paul Huggins
long-sought item on tourism officials’ wish list could be cruising into Decatur within a couple months if they can arrange for a way to share the Pickwick Belle riverboat.
Decatur sold out both its lunch and dinner cruises when the Cincinnati Belle stopped in Decatur for one day last month. That success got Pickwick Belle’s marketing director, Tanya Irwin, thinking she could book more cruises on her riverboat, if it has a regular presence in Decatur.
“We’re going to meet in early January to discuss how a sharing operation could benefit each other. We want to come up with something where both (cities) most benefit so it will be a long-term relationship,” she said.
Tami Reist, president of the Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said she was optimistic a business agreement could be worked out, and had no doubts Decatur would support the venture.
“Just seeing it docked where people drive by and see it every day will generate interest,” she said, adding it would gain a lot of corporate meeting clients.
The Pickwick Belle is privately owned and has operated out of Florence since October 2007.
It’s about 90 feet long and 30 feet wide and is a true paddle wheeler. It has two decks, an open-air top deck and enclosed lower deck. It can accommodate 149 passengers and ideally seats about 80 for dinner cruises.
Irwin said the Pickwick Belle’s size makes it versatile for a wide range of affordable uses.
“We’ve had high school proms, we’ve had wedding rehearsals and weddings aboard the Belle, praise and worship services aboard the boat, school groups for educational cruises,” she said.
“The size of it, the way it’s set up, we can do a wedding cruise at 4 in the afternoon and be ready for a Jimmy Buffet-themed cruise, or like a pirate theme cruise at 7,” she added.
The Pickwick Belle uses local caterers for meals and local theatrical ensembles for theme cruises.
“It’s fun for the local people when they have special events, or corporate parties or church outings. But most of our customers come from outside our home port. Church groups and senior travel groups are our largest customer base.”
Reist said the riverboat could be moored at Riverwalk Marina or the special platform the city built at Rhodes Ferry Park. Ideally, the visitors bureau wants to have a permanent riverboat dock with ticket office/gift shop as well as parking on the west side of Ingalls Harbor.
The riverboat cruises year round, but Irwin said it would take some time off this winter for maintenance. The schedule shows a private Christmas party and Sweet 16 birthday party booked for December and Valentine’s Day dinner cruise in February. Weekly cruises return in late March, April and May. Thirty-six cruises are already set.
Prices range from $7 for educational cruises for school groups to $30 for lunch cruises to $69 for dinner theme cruises. Daily sightseeing cruises range from $10 to $19 depending on age.