MARIETTA - A new 150-passenger sternwheeler is scheduled to make at least two stops in Marietta during the fall of 2012.
The Queen of the Mississippi from American Cruise Lines, currently under construction in Salisbury, Md., is slated to make port in the Pioneer City during cruises between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in September and October 2012.
"I'm very happy to hear they're bringing a boat back to Marietta," said Councilman Harley Noland, operator of the local Trolley Tours business and former proprietor of the Levee House Cafe.
It's been three years since the historic Delta Queen paid its last visit to the Ohio River levee before the sternwheeler was taken out of service. The Delta Queen is now a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Two other sternwheelers that once made stops in Marietta-The Mississippi Queen and American Queen- have also been taken out of passenger service since 2008.
"The queens brought a lot of business for the trolley, museums and other attractions but meals were usually part of the cruise package, so many passengers would eat dinner on board the boat," Noland said.
"But people would also drive from miles around just to see the sternwheelers when they heard the queens were coming to town," he added. "And those folks would eat at local restaurants, so it does generate business."
Noland said passengers from the sternwheelers would often say they planned to return for a longer stay in Marietta.
David Hearing, manager of the Levee House Cafe, located adjacent to the landing at the Ohio River levee on Ohio Street, said although it's a year away, the news of a sternwheeler coming to Marietta again was welcome.
"It will be great for local businesses and good news for Marietta," he said. "I hope the demand for the cruises will stay strong in the future."
Britt Rabinovici, spokeswoman for American Cruise Lines, said the company has had a great response from the public since announcing the Queen of the Mississippi project last fall and rooms on the five-deck vessel are already filling up.
"We've been booking passengers since last year, although the boat is still under construction in Maryland," she said. "The hull was completed and just launched into the river at Salisbury this month and they're starting to work on the decks."
Rabinovici said the project, being constructed by Chesapeake Shipbuilding, is nine weeks ahead of schedule and the sternwheeler's maiden cruise is scheduled from New Orleans in August of next year.
"American Cruise Lines wanted to bring cruises back to the U.S. rivers," she said. "There's a growing trend for river cruising in this country and it's really big in Europe."
She said the Queen of the Mississippi will travel on the Mississippi, Ohio and Cumberland rivers on 7-, 10-, and 14-day cruises as far as St. Paul, Minn., on the Mississippi, and Pittsburgh, Pa., on the Ohio.
The sternwheeler will include huge staterooms, private balconies and all the amenities of a modern cruise boat, but the design inside and out will maintain the appearance of classic Mississippi river boats.
"Cruising will be mainly during the night hours so passengers will have more time during the days to explore and shop in various port communities along the way," Rabinovici said.
Marietta- Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Jeri Knowlton said she was excited to learn Marietta will be a stop for the sternwheeler.
"I can't wait to see it," she said. "I moved to this area in recent years and have never experienced the excitement of a passenger sternwheeler coming to town."
Knowlton noted during travel shows in and around Ohio people continue to ask if the Delta Queen and other sternwheelers still visit the Pioneer City.
"A third of the questions we get are about the queens or the Becky Thatcher," she said.
The Becky Thatcher sternwheeler, which served as a restaurant and dinner theater and was moored along the Muskingum River in Marietta for 30 years, sank in the Ohio River at Neville Island north of Pittsburgh in 2010 after leaving Marietta shortly before.
American Cruise Lines operates a fleet of small ships and offers cruises along the inland waterways and rivers of the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, the Mississippi River system and East Coast of the U.S. from New England to Florida.