June 2009


The Delta Queen opened last Friday just as the 10-day Riverbend Music Festival began directly across the river. The Fat Cat Ferry (also owned by Delta Queen Hotel partner Harry Phillips) docks adjacent to the Delta Queen and shuttles festival-goers across the river. So, we had lots of folks coming aboard to have a drink in the Texas Lounge on their way to the concerts.

Friday and Saturday nights were wild nights in the Texas Lounge. The folks at the bar were ready to have a good time, rowdy and fun. They pushed us the edges of our repertoire with an array of very diverse requests. I think the only one we couldn’t fulfill was a request for a song by Neil Young. I admit, my Neil Young repertoire equals zero. But we’ve had them singing along and Saturday night they were even up dancing. Those of you who’ve been in the Texas Lounge are familiar with the cozy atmosphere, so it was crazy!

Laura and I ended both nights drenched in sweat and exhausted. We felt like we’d run a marathon, but we also felt really proud in a way that we had at least finished the race! With the concert-going, party crowd, this has not been the regular crowd we’re used to in the Texas Lounge. We felt like if we could survive that and keep the crowd having fun, then we might not ever be nervous again!

The festival continues through this weekend, so we’re bracing ourselves for a few more wild nights in the Texas Lounge. If you’re in the Chattanooga area, come on down. I have a feeling it’s going to be very entertaining!

Phillip and Jo Ann

Phillip and Jo Ann

True Steamboaters Jo Ann Schoen and Phillip Johnson were onboard this weekend volunteering their help. Phillip got into all kinds of mechanical maintenance projects while Jo Ann focused mainly on asthetics. Both traveled with us onboard the boat earlier this year as volunteer workers during her historic journey from New Orleans to Chattanooga from February 4 – 11.

Phillip spent a lot of his time down below in the engineering spaces, so I didn’t get a shot of him in action, but Jo Ann was easy to catch as she focused on one of her specialties – polishing brass. And the Delta Queen never has any lack of brass needed to be polished! I think if you polished all the brass on the boat, by the time you finished it would be time to start again!

IMG_0664A hearty steamboat salute to these dedicated folks who have taken time out to come and work (and I mean work!) for long hours, just simply because they love the boat and want to be a part of her preservation. I am so thankful for so many folks like Jo Ann and Phillip that love the Delta Queen so deeply.

Vince Lombardi on the Delta Queen last year.

Vince Lombardi on the Delta Queen last year.

Last week, former Delta Queen crew members lost a cherished member of our crew family. Vince Lombardi served as a housekeeper onboard and was one of those really vibrant, funny, charming people who always brightened your day. Vince passed away last week and left a huge hole in the lives of many.

Laura and I were lucky enough to work closely with Vince last season, and even in the most stressful moments, Vince always could keep us laughing. He was a joy to be around.
We all send his family our heartfelt condolences on this terrible loss. You will be in our hearts and prayers. And Vince will often be fondly held in our memories.
Our private memorial for Vince, held in the Delta Queen's pilot house.

Our private memorial for Vince, held in the Delta Queen's pilot house.

Former passengers Jo Ann Schoen and Phillip Johnson were here on the Delta Queen this weekend and we all felt it would be appropriate to have a brief memorial in Vince’s honor. We met in the Pilot House to grieve and share memories of Vince. At 3pm EST on Sunday, we rang the big bell and blew a special steam whistle salute in his honor. We wanted to share it all with you, so we recorded the ceremony and Phillip kindly edited it into the following lovely tribute:

Vince was much loved by the passengers and the crew. He will be greatly missed.
Shortly after 3pm on June 5, 2009, Jill and Eddie Wade became the first guests to check in to the Delta Queen Hotel.

Shortly after 3pm on June 5, 2009, Jill and Eddie Wade became the first guests to check in to the Delta Queen Hotel.

Well, it’s official. The Delta Queen Hotel is open! Laura and I are so excited that this day is finally here. After the April 1 opening was delayed, we arrived in Chattanooga on Apirl 8 to prepare for the planned April 15 opening. We’ve worked hard with the dedicated staff to prepare the vessel and our entertainment programming as the ownership waded through the beurocratic hassels to obtain all the necessary permits.

But now…(trumpets sound) with a certificate of occupancy from the city and liquor and beer permits, they are raring to go.

They will open the hotel in phases. So far, just the rooms in the Aft Cabin deck are available as they are still waiting on more power from the city. Other cabins and the dining room will be operational soon. The staff are so excited to be open!

More power is forthcoming to expand needed services, more guests are booked, the restaurant and mainstage shows open on June 19. Things are moving!

Laura and I did our first evening of programming including a guided vessel tour, my riverboat gambler card magic act, and then four sets in the Texas Lounge. Despite very little publicity during the soft opening, we had a nice crowd and everyone seemed to be very happy and really enjoying themselves. We are so glad to be here and to have things up and running!!!!!!!

For any previous crew out there, you remember coming out of layup. That’s where we are now. The boat used to tie up for maintenance a month or two each winter and then the first crew of the season helped get her ready for passengers. It seemed that on embarkation day at 11am we always still had cardboard on the floors, plastic over furniture, equipment in the hallways, etc. I was always filled with a panic that we would never be ready in time for the first guests to arrive. But somehow it all always magically comes together just minutes before the first guest.

Well, today is the day. The hotel opens at 3pm and this morning is still a flurry of activity. Hoses are being relaid under the dock, equipment is being put away, things are being organized, etc. But having survived many a first cruise out of layup, I know things will come together in time.

A birthday party for a queen.

A birthday party for a queen.

What a day! The birthday party celebration was a massive, crazy success. We had thought if we got 70 or 80 that would be amazing. Instead, we had a swarm. I haven’t heard the final count yet, but it had to be around 300 people. 

The cake was beautiful and featured the Delta Queen logo. Harry Phillips took a picture and I will post it as soon as he emails it to me. Jennifer Lemmon was cutting and serving the cake and she later laughed that as the crowd grew larger and larger, she cut the cake into tinier and tinier pieces until some visitors were only receiving a sliver of cake! Everyone was in good spirits though and a festive mood prevailed.

Laura dressed up as a flapper since the boat was built in the 1920s and I wore a riverboat gambler type outfit for some steamboaty fun. We set up an amplifier and microphone and we shared some history about the boat’s amazing career and performed Delta Queen songs for the crowd. I even gave a short calliope concert and played “Happy Birthday” on the mighty steam organ.

We were packed for the tour of the boat and despite the fact that we still have no air conditioning, they all were delighted as they quickly were dripping in sweat on the very hot and humid day. Despite the discomfort, they were charmed by the history and ambiance of the boat and I know many of  the hundreds of visitors will return for dinner, drinks, or even overnight stays. They will become great word-of-mouth advertisers for the hotel as it opens on Friday!

One goal for the event was to generate publicity. In addition to an advance article in the Times Free Press, today we had two local television stations attend and film, a reporter from the Times Free Press, and I did a call in interview to a talk radio station. This was a very successful day generating media coverage worth thousands of dollars.

It was a fun and exhausting day, especially in the heat. But we all joined together to wish this wonderful boat a very happy 82nd birthday.

Following is a gallery of photos from the event. Click on any picture to enlarge it.

The Delta Queen in Sacramento.

The Delta Queen in Sacramento.

Isn’t it incredible that the Delta Queen turns 82 today?! Wow! She made her first cruise from San Francisco to Sacramento on June 2, 1927 and continued in operation for more than 81 years until October 31, 2008.

Her keel was laid on May 18, 1925  and she remained on the ways ways for 7 months as her hull and superstructure were completed. She was launched at 3:40 p.m. Saturday, December 12, 1925. Her interior was finished out over the next year and a half until her debut cruise on June 2, 1927. Her final costs neared $1 million – an incredible expense in the 1920s. She is truly one of the great floating palaces.

The boat was designed as a packet boat, meaning it carried cargo on the main deck and passengers in the cabins on the upper decks. Fare and accommodation were sold separately. The fare was $1.80 one-way or $3 roundtrip. Accommodations ranged from $1 to $5. A five-course dinner was available for 75 cents.

Things were different in 1927…

• In May 1927, Charles Lindbergh made his historic first non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He flew from New York to Paris.

• Walt Disney had not yet released the first Mickey Mouse film.

• Milk cost $.58/gallon  

• In 1927, “The Jazz Singer” became the first talking movie.

• Edwin E. Perkins of Hastings invented the powdered soft drink Kool-Aid in 1927.

• The 1st Academy Awards were presented in 1927.

• The first transatlantic telephone call was made from New York City to London.

• The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 affected 700,000 people in the greatest national disaster in U.S. history at that time. 

• Kern and Hammerstein’s musical play Show Boat, based on Edna Ferber’s novel, opened on Broadway.

Things are certainly different here in 2009, except that the Delta Queen is still cherished. We have planned a birthday party for her and invited the community to enjoy cake, punch, calliope concert, music samples from our mainstage shows, historical information, and a guided tour of the boat. I’ll take some pictures and post soon.

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