Published May/June 2006

Climb aboard the R/B River Explorer and take a leisurely look at America from its riverbanks.
By Patsy Bell Hobson

Mark Twain has been quoted as saying, “What makes a river so restful to people is that it doesn’t have any doubt. It is sure to get where it is going, and it doesn’t want to go anywhere else.”

Gliding through the water at the stately speed of 11 miles an hour, barge travel allows for a relaxing and different view of the countryside. Creating a timeless vacation, the barge arrives and departs as the river permits, according to “river time.”

And aboard the River Explorer, America’s only floating hotel barge, life can be as vivacious or as relaxed as you choose.

“Our focus is outward on the river; the heritage, towns and people who live by the river,” says Eddie Conrad, Louisiana native, founder and chief executive officer of RiverBarge Excursion Lines, Inc. “This is not a cruise. It is an excursion, a river barge vacation.”

The 198-guest R/B River Explorer offers four- to 10-day excursions to seven regions of the country’s rivers, including the Lower and Upper Mississippi River, the Cumberland River Valley, the Tennessee River, the Atchafalaya River Basin, Ohio River Valley, Illinois River and along the inland Texas-Louisiana Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. Each excursion allows guests to experience local customs and culture of nearby river towns.

Go with the flow

Enjoy a laid back atmosphere, home-style cooking, regional entertainment and land activities all for an inclusive price. There is at least one shore excursion at each stop at no additional cost.

Passengers can visit the guest pilothouse and check out navigation charts. If weather and river conditions allow, drop in on the pilot in the pilothouse. After a day or two, most guests adapt to river time, where clocks and schedules aren’t as important as the flow of the river.

This casual American river barge tour is very different from the more formal European barge cruises. Pack lightly if you like; tuxedos or formal wear is never required.

A room with a view

The vessel is actually made from two barges, the LaSalle and the DeSoto. The staterooms are situated on the La Salle and the public facilities are located on the DeSoto. The barges are propelled by a powerful towboat.

All staterooms have huge, wall-sized picture windows, where you can check out the other barges and watch the lights of little towns pass by. Fifty rooms have balconies.

Every cabin is furnished with twin beds or a super queen-size bed, a writing desk, mini-refrigerator, coffee maker, a television with VCR, radio and plenty of storage space. Another nice touch: binoculars are provided for every passenger. The bathroom has a full-size bathtub and enclosed shower, heat lamp, a night-light, hair dryer and a full-sized mirror. The barge is easily accessible, with elevators and three staterooms able to accommodate wheelchairs.

Along the way, local entertainers come on board sharing regional culture and talent.

No tuxedos required

“Sit where you want, have meals when you want and eat with whomever you please,” says Conrad.

With the open-seating policy, meals are served within a two-hour period and are served on Fiesta dinnerware with place mats. Sandwiches, desserts and yogurt are always available.

The menu offers soup, salad and two entrees every evening (one a heart-healthy or vegetarian selection), plus a third option called “the blue plate special” that characterizes the food of the region being visited.

America’s great rivers

While traveling on the barge, passengers witness the stark changes in geography and topography of the Upper Mississippi and Lower Mississippi. The Upper Mississippi above the junction with the Ohio River is confined within hard, rocky banks. The Lower Mississippi meanders through clay bottoms below its confluence with the Ohio River. At the confluence, the clear flow of the Ohio mixes with sediment-filled waters of the Mississippi to completely change the complexion and character of the river.

In May, barge excursions include The Arch and The Pyramid excursion to St. Louis and Memphis on the Upper and Lower Mississippi River. Expect regional favorites, like barbeque, on the blue plate special and a tour of Mud Island and the Mississippi River Museum in Memphis. The Cajuns and Creoles tour of the Atchafalaya River Basin and the Lower Mississippi River offers one of the most popular off-board activities, a swamp tour, in the freshwater swamps near Crown Point, La. The Delta South excursion between Memphis and New Orleans serves regional specialties like shrimp Creole or seafood gumbo.

Teachers and retired teachers travel at half price when traveling with a full fare companion. Special bargain-priced excursions are available at certain times during the year. Check the Web site for public tour dates and see the barge as it stops along America’s inland waterways.

Patsy Bell Hobson is a contributor from Liberty, Mo.

See Mud Island in Memphis (above) or take a swamp tour in Louisiana (below) while on a River Explorer excursion. Top: Memphis CVB photo

Before You Go
Other onboard amenities include a gift shop, gym, two bars and public use rooms, including a two-story entertainment venue, and game room. There is no gambling on board.

Fares range from $825 to $3,900. For more information, contact your AAA Travel agent.

View a list of offices.

By Patsy Bell Hobson

America’s river royalty–the legendary Delta Queen®, Mississippi Queen® and American Queen®–are the only authentic overnight paddle-wheelers traveling American rivers. Excursions are a blend of American history, river cuisine and lively “showboat” style entertainment.

The Great Steamboat race of the Delta Queen® and the Mississippi Queen® cruise from Baton Rouge (the 2006 port for the steamboats) to St. Louis in a sporting salute to the famous 1870 steamboat race between the Rob’tE Lee and the Natchez. The American Queen® will not cruise in 2006, as its Lower Mississippi itinerary out of New Orleans has been interrupted following Hurricane Katrina. The American Queen® will be berthed at the company’s Robin Street Wharf.

Themed steamboat cruises range from three to 12 days along America’s river ways. Fares include all onboard meals and activities, musical variety entertainment and nightly ballroom dancing.

Fares range from $795 to $8,605. Ask your AAA Travel agent about special fares for AAA members.

Delta Queen photo

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