Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pickwick Belle plans trial runs from Decatur

Riverboat testing interest as relocation contemplated
By Jason Lankford Staff Writer The Decatur Daily

The Pickwick Belle riverboat will cruise out of Ingalls Harbor in Decatur from Aug. 13 to Sept. 10 as part of a trial run to see if there’s enough interest to permanently relocate from Florence.

Tanya Irwin, marketing director for the Pickwick Belle, said there is not a specific revenue goal that must be reached during the trial period.

“We feel that the Pickwick Belle, with the right kind of marketing and support, could have a much more successful business than what she’s had,” Irwin said. “We are pleased with the contact we have had with the (Decatur-Morgan County) Convention and Visitors Bureau, and we are glad we found people who are enthusiastic and will help us with marketing.”

Ingalls chosen
Tami Reist, president of the CVB, said Ingalls Harbor was chosen as the Decatur base over Riverwalk Marina and Rhodes Ferry Park because it has a good docking area for disembarking passengers and ample parking.

There are still some issues to be resolved, including the lack of a power supply at the harbor, Irwin said. The boat also will be less visible at Ingalls, off Alabama 20, than it would be at the other two locations near the U.S. 31 causeway.

The majority of Pickwick Belle cruises are booked by private groups, many of them motor-coach groups from outside the area, Irwin said. There already have been several advance bookings for the trial period.

Reist said the route the boat will travel has yet to be determined, but the plan is to showcase the area’s fishing locations as well as the industrialized areas of the riverfront.

The boat is about 90 feet long and 30 feet wide and is a true paddle wheeler. It has two decks, an open-air top deck, an enclosed lower deck and can accommodate 149 passengers. It ideally seats about 80 for dinner cruises.

Many uses
Irwin said the Pickwick Belle’s size makes it versatile for a wide range of affordable uses, including high school proms, wedding rehearsals and weddings, praise and worship services, school groups and educational cruises. The boat uses local caterers for meals and local theatrical ensembles for theme cruises.

During the four years the Pickwick Belle has been docked at Florence Harbor, no audio tours have been provided, but Reist is making plans to have a tour guide onboard to inform passengers about the history of Decatur and local attractions they can visit.

Director of Florence/Lauderdale Tourism Debbie Wilson said Florence would hate to lose the Pickwick Belle because of its aesthetic appeal, but the relocation of the boat is not likely to impact the area’s economy, mainly because the boat doesn’t bring in enough people to significantly increase hotel bookings.

“We certainly have no hard feelings toward Decatur,” Wilson said. “If they choose to dock in Decatur, we certainly understand, but I would hope that there could be a best-case scenario where they could logistically figure out how to share (the boat between the cities).”

Irwin said there are no issues pushing the boat from Florence; operators just want to explore how well the boat could do in another area.

Pickwick Belle
Dimensions: 90 feet long and 20 feet wide

Speed: It generally moves at 5 to 6 mph. Cruises, which are generally 10 to 12 miles round trip, last about two hours.

Seating: 149 people for normal cruises and about 80 for dinner cruises.

Cost: Rates in Decatur will range from $9.99 to $49.99 per person.

Crew: 2 captains, a hospitality director, 3 sailors, 2 chefs and 3 attendants.

Owner: Fred Tull, president of Tull Brothers Inc., a building materials contractor based in Corinth, Miss.

Schedule: Check the calendar at

Sightseeing cruises
■3-4:30 p.m. Aug. 13, Aug. 19, Aug. 20, Aug. 26, Aug. 27, Sept. 2, Sept. 3
■9:30-11 a.m. and 2-3:30 p.m. Sept. 8
■7-9 p.m. Aug. 13, Jimmy Buffet Dinner Cruise
■11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Aug. 19, Lazy Days Lunch Cruise
■7-9 p.m. Aug. 20, Dinner with the King dinner cruise
■1-3 p.m. Aug. 21, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Sept. 3, noon-2 p.m. Sept. 10, summer lunch cruises
■11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Aug. 26, Fun & Games lunch cruise
■7-9 p.m. Sept. 3, Civil War dinner cruise
Group rates are available. Concessions are offered on board. For more information, call 877-936-2355.

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