The Steamboats Delta Queen and Delta King (Part Two: Tour)
(Please note: These photos have been thumb-nailed so the page will load faster. To see the full-size version of each photo, simply click on it. Most are very high-resolution photos taken by yours truly. Occasionally you will see a few links. These links will open in a new tab or window and will either feature another website or a photo. The links for Southern Belle and Belle of Cincinnati riverboats will take you to a photo in a new window or tab.)
If anyone has a chance to visit Tennessee, USA, there are a few places I would suggest not to miss. In Memphis is Beale Street and Graceland. Nashville has the Grand Ole Opry and Music Row. Neyland Stadium and the Sunsphere are in Knoxville. In Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg you will find Dollywood and the Great Smokey Mountains, home of country music legend Dolly Parton. NASCAR races and Appalachian Caverns are in Bristol. One area you should not miss is Chattanooga. If you come to Tennessee, plan to devote quite a bit of time here in this place designated “Scenic City” and “River City” by the people who love it here.
Have you ever taken a vacation with the intent on visiting not just a destination, but a historic time as well? I would especially like to recommend a specific hotel for your needs. Step through that time portal and book a reservation to stay aboard The Delta Queen Hotel. Located in a spot known as Coolidge Landing along the Tennessee River in the heart of Chattanooga’s downtown, The Delta Queen Hotel is not just any hotel. This is a classic and authentic steamboat that has been painstakingly preserved and maintained in its original form. From her bright red stern paddlewheel, her completely intact wheelhouse, her steam calliope, to her magnificent grand staircase, you’ll feel the history surrounding you as you walk through this beautiful and historic riverboat. Come with me on a photo tour of this grand queen of the river and imagine yourself a passenger on a voyage through time. As we cross the gangway onto the Delta Queen, say goodbye for a while to the modern world. We’re about to enter a land of antiquity.
Approaching the riverboat, you will see it is the centerpiece of a thriving city park system. You are surrounded by Coolidge Park and all it has to offer. There are walking trails and historical artifacts from the Civil War nearby. A large blue-roofed pavilion houses a vintage hand-carved indoor carousel. Adjacent to this pavilion is an interactive fountain that lights up at night and is surrounded by spraying sculptures of animals that children are encouraged to play on. For thrill-seekers, there is a rock climbing wall up one of Walnut Street Bridge’s supports. There is also an expansive grassy area where citizens play frisbee or simply sit on a blanket, picnicking in a beautiful setting. For the health-conscious, there is a circular sidewalk for jogging and a stage area that is utilized in various ways throughout the year. Walking down the concrete ramps toward the boat, you will see an outdoor bar. This is a beautiful spot to have a few beers in the evening with family or friends. (As the park is emptying at night and this outdoor bar closes, you can move into the boat to the Texas Lounge for your final nightcap.)
To start our tour, I decided it was best to start from a stateroom located on the very top deck of the Delta Queen called The Sun Deck. This is the uppermost deck aboard the riverboat with all of the main entrances to each stateroom on this level facing outward to the river. This deck has an unobstructed, open and uncovered promenade. President Jimmy Carter and family stayed on this deck in 1979. Toward the bow we find the wheelhouse, which is the nerve center of an American riverboat. Here the captain of Delta Queen would telegraph commands to the engine room, and steer the boat on a true course. Delta Queen’s wheelhouse is decorated forward by a large gold painted carved wooden eagle. Standing at the base of the entrance to the wheelhouse, look up. Very visible is the funnel of the river diva, which is functional as well as visually authentic. Like many of the larger, truly antique riverboats, the funnel aboard the Delta Queen folds down to allow passage under low bridges along the inland waterways she has called home. The cabins directly beneath the collapsible funnel and bridge of the Delta Queen are the largest staterooms aboard the riverboat. For many years, the room on the starboard side really was the quarters of Captain Greene and all other commanders of this riverboat queen. The room was enlarged and copied on the other side of the boat to provide the optimum experience for top spenders on a river tour. All the way aft, we find the console for the Delta Queen’s calliope which was installed in February of 1960. I have heard many stories of people hearing the Queen’s calliope for miles around as they ran to see the riverboat from their homes along the rivers. The notes would echo off of the hilltops, calling children of all ages to gawk at a river legend. Nothing is quite so American as watching the stars and stripes fluttering in the breeze just behind you on board a riverboat while an artist plays the steam calliope. If you would like to see and hear the calliope aboardDelta Queen, please click HERE.
Out here on the promenade, let’s go down one deck. Now we are on the Texas Deck, which features an unobstructed promenade that is covered except for a large portion at the bow. Here you will find the best area for viewing one of my favorite features of the Delta Queen, which is her bright-red paddle wheel directly at the stern. Along this promenade you will also find the cradles which once held the lifeboats on board. As we walk forward, we notice the teak doors of more of the vintage and original staterooms. The staterooms aboard the Delta Queen are very quaint and cozy. Some people might call them just plain small, but there’s a charm to these spaces that you won’t find in a conventional hotel. These rooms are full of rich wood and antique fixtures which are completely authentic.
Next we head all the way forward. This open-air ‘patio’ is my favorite place aboard. The ship’s bell, which is older than the riverboat herself, is located against the forward railing next to the vertical support for the gangway. Here I like to sit and sip a drink and take in the sights and sounds of the Tennessee River. Watch the Southern Belle begin her afternoon or evening river tour, watch the cars crossing the Market Street bridge, the pedestrians on the Walnut Street bridge, or people playing in Coolidge Park. Here is where the peacefulness of a real riverboat becomes apparent. The hustle and bustle all around you seems so distant. For a moment, forget about it all. Notice the water, the boat itself, the drink in your hand, and the other guests taking in the serenity. This is what life on a riverboat is really all about. Here is where we take this tour indoors as well. The last stop on the Texas Deck is the Texas Lounge, which is a lively bar with a great view of the river. Order drinks from the bartender or food from the server and prepare to engage in small talk. I have spent several evenings just listening to some of the guests talk about Delta Queen and touring the rivers aboard her.
Directly behind the bar is a plaque surrounded by patriotic bunting which commemorates the Delta Queen’s designation as a National Historic Landmark, which was awarded in 1989. Turning all the way around, we are now about to descend the centerpiece of this grand river dame. From a sculpted ceiling hangs a beautiful traditional crystal chandelier which lights an exquisitely curved wooden paneled well. This is the grand staircase. The teak balustrades and scrolled brass detailing helped earn her nickname “The Millionaire’s Steamboat” when Delta Queen was originally built. This staircase leads down to the Cabin Deck.
If I were to decide to spend a decent amount of money on a local vacation spot, a stateroom on the Cabin Deck of the Delta Queen would be one of my first choices. On this deck, staterooms have not only a door that opens out to the promenade, but a door that opens indoors to the Betty Blake Library. This is one of the most intimate passenger spaces aboard ship. Since I have yet to be an actual patron of The Delta Queen Hotel, I have no photos of this space to share with you. However, I have seen numerous photos taken by other guests. This is an area of the riverboat that is best experienced in person. The vintage furniture and artwork are absolutely amazing. When you learn the story of the space’s namesake Betty Blake, you will understand completely what makes this room so special. (I am hoping to photo tour the area very soon.) Also on the Cabin Deck is the ‘lobby’ of The Delta Queen Hotel which is called The Cabin Deck Lounge. Against the entrance to The Betty Blake Library from the Cabin Deck Lounge is a wooden pedestal supporting a fantastic hand-crafted model of this great steamer. Here is where you will also find the purser’s desk, which doubles as the front desk of the hotel. You will also find the Delta Queen’s gift shop here, in a space that was once reserved for the riverboat’s barber shoppe. Moving forward, we find a public space absolutely filled with rich teak and oak woods. Here in this lounge, we find coffee at any time of the day. We will also find a staircase center forward, which leads down to the ‘Main Deck’ and the gangway to board the Delta Queen.
Before we head down to the Main Deck, let’s step outside onto the Cabin Deck’s promenade. This is another promenade that is completely unobstructed all the way around the riverboat. Aboard a riverboat, the promenade is where most passengers spend their time. Some might choose to catch some sun and a few chapters of a book from Lounge or Betty Blake Library. Some would choose the promenade to stay in shape with a brisk walk around the decks on each level. I would likely choose to spend time in my second favorite outdoor spot on board Delta Queen. Here on the Cabin Deck promenade all the way forward is an observation area filled with whitewashed rocking chairs set up against the forward railing. Here is where passengers can watch the river ahead as Delta Queen steams to her next port destination. Listen to the passengers talk amongst each other while the calliope plays merrily in the background from the Sun Deck. Challenge a partner in a quiet game of checkers. Simply relax and let the river take you away from the stresses of your day.
Let’s head back inside to the Cabin Deck Lounge. If we turn around toward the center of the boat and take the stairway that faces aft, we will find ourselves in The Orleans Room. This is the entertainment center of our venerable leading lady. Located on the ‘Main Deck’, this is where breakfast is served every morning and where various live entertainment performs during special occasions. This room reminds me of photos of the Grand Salon aboard turn-of-the-century ocean liners. This room spans the entire width and is where special catered events can be hosted. The Orleans Room is perfect for a birthday or anniversary party or an elegant wedding reception. The aft portion of The Orleans Room is set up as a stage, complete with fringed velvet curtains and a baby grand piano. I imagine that during her heyday as a river rambler, this space aboard the Delta Queen was the social center of the riverboat.
Beyond the stage area on the Main Deck is the galley and engine rooms that are generally off-limits to everyone but the riverboat crew, except for special occasions. One such special occasion will be the “Rally on the River” on November 4, 2010. This is a charity event intended to raise awareness to the special plight of the oldest overnight classic river steamboat left in America. The event will feature full tours of the Delta Queen given by prior crew members and passengers and will include many of the spaces normally not open to the public. Later in the day will mark the special arrival of Chattanooga’s very own tourist riverboat built in the late 1980s, The Southern Belle and a special guest appearance by the beautiful Belle of Cincinnati riverboat. The three riverboats will then be stars in a calliope concert called “The Great Steam Up”, which will be my highlight of the day. Following the rousing concert will be a special dinner aboard Delta Queen to introduce their new head chef, followed by drinks and dancing aboard Belle of Cincinnati. Come down to the river and enjoy the festivities! Let’s help raise the money to keep Delta Queen in Chattanooga.
Upon learning about the ‘Rally on the River’ event I was determined to attend. Alas, I was scheduled to work the day of the event, despite my request for time off. (This is understandable considering just two days prior to the event was my return from a week’s sabbatical.) Not to be put off by a schedule, I headed to the riverfront before the festivities on the day of the event, hoping to at least capture some photographs of our beautiful downtown and the arrival of the riverboat Belle of Cincinnati. I was not disappointed. By the time I had arrived, Belle of Cincinnati was already in position and lashed alongside our feature Grand Dame Delta Queen. I spent the next several hours on foot. I parked at Coolidge Park and trekked on foot around the entire featured area which was quite the work out, searching for the perfect photo opportunities. I would like to share some of the photos with my readers. If you would like to see these photos, scroll to the top of the blog and choose from my pages the tab labelled Rally On The River. Happy steaming!
To learn more about why Delta Queen is so special, please take a look at THIS BLOG. You will even see some very rare photos I have not seen anywhere else!