When the Delta Queen was in trouble, the media responded. Here's just a few examples of the many articles that came out in the nation's newspapers and websites to support the Delta Queen.
Coast Guard, fans battle over famed Delta Queen
Posted on Aug 27, 2007 by Bill Lambrecht
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
WASHINGTON—In a campaign that stretches to the rivers of Europe, steamboat enthusiasts are lobbying to save the famed Delta Queen after Congress refused to renew a fire-safety exemption that has let it operate for nearly four decades.The elegant, multi-deck paddle wheeler has plied the Mississippi and other rivers for 81 years, recalling a slower-moving era of opulence and romance with rivers.
The elegant, multi-deck paddle wheeler has plied the Mississippi and other rivers for 81 years, recalling a slower-moving era of opulence and romance with rivers. Since 1970, the Delta Queen has toured on overnight trips only through an exemption from Coast Guard regulations for vessels built primarily of wood.
But this summer, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee refused to renew the Delta Queen's 10-year exemption when it sent a catch-all Coast Guard bill to the floor.
The committee's chairman, Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., is adamant; he asserts that Congress has given no other ship such an exemption.
"I can't imagine the number of lives that could be lost if a fire started on the Delta Queen when everyone is asleep," he said.
"Congress would never exempt a particular 747 aircraft from FAA safety standards and we should not exempt a passenger vessel carrying hundreds of sleeping people from Coast Guard safety standards."
Losing the exemption would prevent the Delta Queen from running overnight cruises after November 2008. The multi-day cruises on a ship rich with mahogany and teak, adorned with stained glass and antiques and featuring fine dining and deluxe linens, are what appeal to well-heeled travelers.
Bookings on a seven-night cruise from St. Louis to Nashville next year are advertised at between $2,300 and $3,600 per person for staterooms.
The committee action was an early step in the congressional process. But Seattle-based Majestic America Line, the ship's owner since last year, surprised Delta Queen fans by seemingly giving up and announcing a farewell celebration for the Delta Queen next year. The boat's fate has not been spelled out.
The developments have riled Delta Queen devotees as well as fans of steamboats and river culture in general. In an Internet campaign this month, they are attempting to persuade Congress to let the last overnight sternwheel steamboat to continue.
Whatever happens, the Delta Queen has survived long enough and with such a storied past that it is recognized as a National Historical Landmark.
The 240-foot long Queen was built in Scotland in 1926 along with its twin, the Delta King, which fell on hard times itself prior to being converted to a hotel and restaurant along the Sacramento River. In their early years in California, the King and Queen were World War II military vessels ferrying naval reservists and wounded soldiers.
After it was bought in 1946, the Queen made a 5,261-mile journey through the Panama Canal to New Orleans, before starting service on midwestern rivers that continues to this day.
In 1963, the Greek ship Lakonia caught fire on a Christmas cruise in the Canary Island, taking 125 lives. Two years later, 90 people perished when the Yarmouth Castle, a multi-wooden deck boat built the same year as Delta Queen, caught fire on a cruise from Miami to Nassau.
The tragedies prompted the 1965 Safety of Life at Sea treaty and a new resolve by the Coast Guard to enforce safety rules that required overnight passenger ships to be built with non-flammable materials.
The Delta Queen would have been relegated to day cruises soon after if powerful Rep. Edward Garmatz, D-Md., chairman of the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, had gotten his way.
In a letter to House members in 1970 with his hand-drawn skulls-and-crossbones, Garmatz wrote: "I hope the Delta Queen never burns. But if it does, the blood will be on Congress, not on the expert agencies which told us to stop the operation."
The Coast Guard didn't support the exemption then and doesn't now, reiterating in a statement earlier this month that the exemption would pose "an unacceptable risk." The statement added that the Delta Queen could still make sightseeing runs and voyages without overnight guests.
The vessel is subject to frequent inspections. For instance, records show the Coast Guard found improper wiring "creating a possible fire hazard" during an inspection in February in New Orleans. It was later fixed.
Majestic America Line, argues that training, sprinklers and various fire and smoke detection devices provide ample protection for passengers. The company insists that it lobbied vigorously to retain the exemption and didn't declare the cause lost until Oberstar and his Senate counterpart, Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation, each said no.
"We'd be ecstatic if someone were to carry the torch at this point," chief counsel for Ambassadors International, Majestic's parent company Joseph McCarthy said.
Thus far, efforts by Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-Mo., and others who have backed the exemption have fallen short.
Meanwhile, a Save the Delta Queen Internet campaign organized from Germany is picking up steam.
Franz Neumeier, who started the campaign, isn't optimistic. "It doesn't look good at the moment," said Neumeier, 38, who edits two computer magazines in Munich. He spoke while cruising the Ohio River on another steamboat, the American Queen.
Long-time Delta Queen fans like Beau Hampton, who has played Dixieland drums on many cruises, says he sees no valid issue based on his work on 50 vessels.
"It's a joke. If a fire breaks out, you just pull over to the side of the river. It's not like we're gonna sink or anything," he said. Others, like Arizona's Nori Muster, see more at stake than cruising in their lifelong attachment to the Delta Queen.
"Boats are my deities," said Muster. "They are symbols of something good about America. They represent innocence and progress, and they tell us a lot about human folly.
DELTA QUEEN'S STORIED PAST
• Built in 1926 from parts made in Scotland and shipped to California.
• Began service in 1927.
• Ferried naval reservists and wounded soldiers during WWII.
• Sold in 1946 and traveled through the Panama Canal to New Orleans, where it began cruising Midwestern rivers.
• Began landing in St. Louis in 1954.
• Has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
Is piecemeal Majestic sale demise of U.S. riverboats?
By Michelle Baran, Travel Weekly, May 12, 2008
When Ambassadors International put the Majestic America Line up for sale on April 29, it didn't come as a huge surprise, given the fleet's ongoing series of mishaps. But the conditions and timing of the sale raised a few eyebrows.
Instead of selling the entire company, Ambassadors is parcelling out the assets of Majestic, which means that interested parties can bid for some or all of the fleet's seven vessels. Additionally, Ambassadors is not taking bookings for Majestic's 2009 season.
Though Ambassadors said last week it was looking to make the sale sooner rather than later, with no reservations on the books for next year a new owner will have to hustle to keep at least some of the line's seven vessels operating beyond 2008.
"They, in and of themselves, have not positioned these ships for gainful employment in the future, in the way they're selling them off," said Rod McLeod, who served from 1999 to 2001 as president and COO of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co.'s parent, American Classic Voyages. "From a marketing standpoint, if there was such a thing as marketing malpractice, I've never seen anybody do this."
River cruising, McLeod said, "is a business of products and brands. The ships by themselves are just boats."
The Majestic fleet consists of seven vessels ranging in age and condition from the Delta Queen, a steam paddlewheeler with a wooden superstructure built in 1926, to the Contessa, a 48-passenger, catamaran-style vessel built in 1982. The Delta Queen sails up and down the Mississippi River; before it was laid up last year, the Contessa sailed Inside Passage cruises through Alaska.
During Ambassadors' first-quarter earnings call last week, the president and CEO, Joe Ueberroth, said: "There are a lot of interested parties—some who want to operate [the vessels] traditionally like we have, but there are some who look at them for other uses, and foreign buyers could offer them on [other] rivers. We even see some interest as floating hotels."
Ueberroth attributed the timing of the sale to the number of unsolicited offers it was receiving for Majestic's assets, which made Ambassadors decide to make the auction public.
Majestic's three main markets are the Mississippi River through the Midwest and the South (Delta Queen, American Queen, Mississippi Queen), the Columbia River in the Northwest (Queen of the West, Empress of the North and Columbia Queen) and Alaska (Empress of the North and Contessa). There are a few other entities on America's waterways, including RiverBarge Excursions and Cruise West. But since its inception in 2006, when Ambassadors separately acquired the American West Steamboat Co. and the Delta Queen Steamboat Co., Majestic has represented the largest number of U.S. river vessels under one brand.
For that reason, whatever happens to the seven vessels in question—the Delta Queen, American Queen, Mississippi Queen, Empress of the North, Queen of the West, Columbia Queen and Contessa—could determine the future of the American river cruising market.
"These boats, especially the authentic paddlewheelers of Delta Queen, will probably stay in American waters in some capacity, [even] if sold off individually," predicted Bruce Nierenberg, who served as president of the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. when it was owned by Delaware North Cos. from 2002 until the sale to Ambassadors in 2006. "They were designed for our geography and are best suited to U.S. operations. I believe that they will continue to be on the travel scene in one capacity or another."
As long as Majestic has been in operation, the fleet has been suffering setbacks. For one, the Delta Queen has been embroiled in a congressional battle over whether the ship should be granted another exemption to the Safety of Life at Sea Treaty, which prohibits it from operating overnight cruises because its wooden substructure is deemed a fire hazard.
On April 24, the House defeated a motion by Rep. Steve Chabot to allow the Delta Queen to continue operating for the next 10 years. Nevertheless, Delta Queen supporters like Nori Muster continue with a "Save the Delta Queen" campaign.
"The boat wants to keep running," said Muster, who's sailed the Delta Queen a handful of times over the years and whose father also fought to keep the vessel going. Muster isn't satisfied with seeing the Delta Queen become a floating hotel or museum. "The main thing that we care about is that the Delta Queen can continue to run on the rivers," she said.
Majestic, meanwhile, has been marketing the 2008 season as the ship's farewell tour. The Contessa and the Mississippi Queen are laid up due to lack of financial resources. The Contessa was operating at a loss, and the Mississippi Queen requires serious investment to be able to operate again.
The Queen of the West is currently out of service following a fire in the engine room on April 13. Ueberroth said it was expected to return to service in the coming weeks.
That leaves only the Delta Queen, American Queen, Columbia Queen and Empress of the North (which ran aground last year, and went into drydock early) operating.
Beyond the fleet, there were other setbacks, namely in the way Majestic marketed and sold the product.
"We have learned the hard way that our product is not about trumpeter swans or high thread counts," Ueberroth said during the earnings call. "But instead it is about a great heritage, small American towns and its people, Mark Twain and that underlying seduction or pull to the river."
In essence, Ambassadors tried to make Majestic an upscale river and coastal cruising experience. But American river cruising is really something much simpler.
"These aren't luxury vessels," said McLeod. "These are destination ships. You go to be a part of the historical, cultural, destination travel experience. It's not about fancy logos, fine food. They boosted their pricing, and that didn't work."
In an interview after the earnings call, Ueberroth reiterated that his advice to future owner(s) would be to "understand the history of this product, listen to your customer and really embrace its tradition."
Despite the company's failure to create a viable American river cruising brand, there appears to be a customer base enthusiastic enough about the experience to potentially keep it alive.
"People love the product," Ueberroth said. "Once we get passengers on the boats, the repeat passenger base is very strong. The ratings are very high."
Indeed, while the story of Majestic America Line reads like a litany of disasters, many in the industry still believe in the market's potential.
"I truly believe that on the Columbia River and on the Mississippi [the business] can be resurrected," said Larry Dessler, executive director of the Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance.
However, no one appears to be similarly convinced about the viability of the Majestic model in Alaska, where Empress of the North and Contessa face harsher environmental conditions and competition from larger, ocean-going vessels and small cruise ship companies.
"We're just one option for vacations," Ueberroth said. "In a challenging economy, that's a very competitive marketplace."
What ultimately happens to the seven Majestic ships depends entirely on the buyers, who will write the next chapter in American river cruising.
"It will either be bought as a group of ships and reintroduced as an operating entity or sold off in parts regionally, probably a Delta Queen part and a Pacific Northwest/Columbia River part," Nierenberg hypothesized. "I also believe that there is still time to get the approvals for the Delta Queen to stay in service. That could be a real positive for the new owners. There is still a great deal of love out there for the Delta Queen products, and with the maturing of the baby boomers and them living longer, I feel that there is still great opportunity for someone to make the combined entity successful."
As for Ambassadors, Ueberroth said the company in its post-Majestic incarnation would focus on its luxury yacht brand, Windstar Cruises, as well as its marine and travel-and-events divisions.
U.S. RIVER CRUISING: A SNAPSHOT
1926: Delta Queen constructed.
1968: The Safety of Life at Sea act is passed, which prevents boats with wooden superstructures from operating overnight cruises. The company lobbies for a temporary exemption to the law for the Delta Queen.
1975: Mississippi Queen christened.
1975: American West Steamboat Co. founded; launches Queen of the West. American Queen launched.
2001: Delta Queen parent American Classic Voyages files for bankruptcy.
2002: Delta Queen, Mississippi Queen and American Queen are sold at auction to Delaware North Cos.
2003: Empress of the North debuts at American West; A deal by American West to acquire the Columbia Queen falls through.
2004: Columbia Queen acquired by a newly formed company called American Rivers Cruise Line; later renamed Great American River Journeys.
2006: January: Ambassadors agrees to acquire American West Steamboat Co. from Oregon Rail Holdings April: Ambassadors agrees to buy the Delta Queen Steamboat Co. May: Columbia Queen mortgage bought by Ambassadors after Great American Journeys ceases operations. June: Ambassadors unveils the Majestic America brand.
2007: Congress refuses to grant the Delta Queen an exemption to SOLAS; Majestic announces the ship's "farewell season."
2008: April: Ambassadors announces that the Majestic America assets are for sale.
Delta Queen might just keep rolling along
By Gene Sloan, USA TODAY
November 1, 2007
Delta Queen: Paddlewheeler rollin' on the Mississippi River for 81 years.
A few months ago it looked like the end was near for the Delta Queen, the nation's most famous paddlewheeler.
But the 81-year-old Mississippi River icon may yet win a reprieve. A grass-roots campaign to get Congress to extend the boat's exemption from a government safety rule is gaining steam.
"We all want the same thing: the Delta Queen to continue operating as an overnight passenger boat," says Nori Muster, a steamboat fan who runs steamboats.com, one of several sites organizing "Save the Queen" signature drives. "The Delta Queen is safe."
More than 100 cities and towns, mostly in Middle America, already have passed resolutions calling on Congress to extend the boat's long-standing exemption to a 1966 U.S. Coast Guard fire safety rule. The rule forbids wooden structures on vessels that carry more than 50 passengers on overnight trips.
Along with Tiffany stained-glass windows and crystal chandeliers, the 174-passenger Delta Queen is famous for its confectionlike wooden superstructure, which includes historic teak handrails and rare ironwood floors.
"It would be a tragedy if we allowed this National Historic Landmark to go by the wayside" because of such a rule, says Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, who represents the Cincinnati area. "It would be a great loss not only to the communities along the rivers but to the nation."
Chabot has introduced legislation that would extend the Delta Queen's exemption from the rule for another 10 years. Already, Chabot has a dozen co-sponsors for the bill, both Republicans and Democrats—a rare showing of bipartisanship that he says "speaks to our better chances of getting this done."
Still, it could be a tough battle. While Congress has granted the exemption more than half a dozen times over the past four decades, the powerful chairman of the Transportation Committee, Rep. Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., is against another extension. Committee spokeswoman Mary Kerr says Oberstar considers the boat a fire hazard.
It's a position that riles fans.
"There's just no common sense in grounding a boat that's been operating without an incident for 81 years," says John Lewis, the mayor of Bridgeport, Ala., a riverfront town petitioning Congress to save the Delta Queen.
Even if there were a fire, Lewis notes, the boat is never more than a few feet away from a riverbank and rescue—a big difference from ships at sea. And, unlike at hotels made of wood, vacationers staying in Delta Queen rooms must undergo a safety drill before sailing. A night watchman patrols the boat, he adds.
"The Delta Queen is as American as grandma's apple pie," he says. "It's part of our heritage."
Game nearly over for pair of queens
By Jay Clarke / McClatchy-Tribune
Oct. 14, 2007 Updated Aug. 21, 2013
The Delta Queen, built in 1926, will make its final voyages in 2008, barring an Act of Congress.
Built in 1926, the Delta Queen is the last operational steam-powered overnight stern-wheeler in America. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the paddle wheeler is being retired because its superstructure is made of wood, no longer legal for vessels that sail overnight, and the exemption it had obtained from Congress for decades was not forthcoming this year.
What will happen to the Delta Queen after November 2008 has not yet been determined. Its owner, Majestic America Line, says it is exploring options. There's still a chance - admittedly slim - that Congress could renew the boat's exemption before its November 2008 expiration, and some groups are clamoring for that. One is www.save-the-delta-queen.org, organized by a German steamboat enthusiast.
On the other hand, the QE2's future is settled. Sold for $100 million, it will become a hotel permanently docked in Dubai, and many past passengers view that as a good thing . . . [long section about the QE2's last crossing] . . .
The Delta Queen, too, evokes emotional responses from its admirers.
"It has warmth and charm, almost like a person," recalled Patty Young, who directed public relations for the Delta Queen line for 13 years until 1998. "The first time I went onboard, I started crying. The captain asked me what was wrong, and I said I felt I had just gotten a hug. He just smiled."
Nori J. Muster, daughter of Bill Muster, president of the line in the 1960s and into the 1970s, took summer vacations on the Delta Queen during her teen years and fell in love with the boat. "It was so much fun," she recalled.
She hopes the ship will have a dignified afterlife, like the boat's twin, the Delta King. An exact clone of the Delta Queen, the King is a hotel/restaurant in Sacramento, whose river both ships plied in their early years.
For years, the Delta Queen sailed on the Mississippi and its tributaries, giving its guests a unique view of heartland America. Middle America flows by in slow motion as the boat wends its way past small river villages little changed from steamboating's romantic age. Guests watch in admiration as single tugboats push as many as 30 linked barges up and down the waterway. Once in a while one sees a fisherman in a skiff, angling for catfish.
Ohioan Danny Back, who with his wife, Sue, has sailed on the paddleboat five times, loves the steamboat feel and sound, and its homespun itineraries. "It's always a treat to arrive at a town where the boat has not been before," he said. Back particularly remembers going on a "trampin' trip" from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh, when the Delta Queen stopped at seven little towns on the way. "The mayor would meet us, kids were out of school and little celebrations were held."
Life aboard is leisurely, with little formal entertainment. A "riverlorian" - river historian - gives talks on the history of the region through which the ship is traveling. Meals feature regional specialties like crawfish and fried dill pickles. An 1897 steam calliope makes itself heard every now and then. Snack items may include corn dogs, root-beer floats and cheese fries.
As befits a Queen, the ship's décor is rich in art and antiques, with hardwood paneling, brass fittings, overstuffed furniture and Tiffany-style stained-glass windows. All of which have been enjoyed by such diverse guests as Britain's Princess Margaret, Marilyn Monroe, Errol Flynn, Arlo Guthrie, Chief Justice Earl Warren and three presidents - Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter, who spent a much-reported week aboard the ship campaigning in 1979.
Those are all memories for Nori Muster, daughter of the man who saved the ship in the 1960s, and they make the Delta Queen's coming retirement especially painful for her.
"My father once told me that boats die and that it can be as sad as losing a person," she said. "His words ring in my ears now."
THE DELTA QUEEN
Length: 285 feet
Width: 60 feet
Gross tonnage: 3,360
Paddle wheel: 19 feet wide, 28 feet in diameter
Speed: 10 knots cruising, 16 knots maximum
Passenger capacity: 174
Itineraries: Cruises of various durations on Mississippi River and tributaries.
Information: Majestic America Line, 800-434-1232, www.majesticamericaline.com.
1926: Fabricated on River Clyde in Scotland, shipped to California for final assembly.
1927: Starts service on Sacramento River traveling between Sacramento and San Francisco.
1940: U.S. Navy leases ship, uses it as troop barracks.
1947: Sold by government for $46,250 to Greene Line (now Delta Queen Steamboat Co.).
1947: Towed 5,378 miles to New Orleans, sails to Pittsburgh for extensive renovation.
1948: First passenger sailing, on Ohio River.
1963: First steamboat race between Delta Queen and Belle of Louisville.
1966: Congress passes Safety at Sea law outlawing overnight cruises on boats made of wood, but Delta Queen gets two-year exemption; continues operating under exemptions to present.
1970: Listed on National Register of Historic Places.
1989: Designated a national historic landmark.
2004: Inducted into National Maritime Hall of Fame.
2007: Fails to get exemption renewed.
2008: Final voyage departs Oct. 31; Memphis, Tenn., to New Orleans. From $2,299.