October 2 2012
Chattanooga Riverboats include river cruises into the Tennessee River Gorge and the riverboat hotel Delta Queen.
Tina Turner would have a heyday in downtown Chattanooga. Not only can you can hitch a ride on a river boat queen, you can cruise a gorge on a hydrofoil-assisted catamaran and even sleep in a fully restored 1920’s steamboat.
Take that, Tina.
The reason for all this water merriment is the Tennessee River Gorge, one of the most biologically diverse areas of the country. Over 200 bird species call the gorge home, nesting in the 27,000 acres of virtually undisturbed forest. And one of the best ways to see this wonder of nature is by riverboat. Conveniently, there are three options for rolling on the river.
The Tennessee Aquarium built their River Gorge Explorer from the ground up, working with architects, engineers and even the Coast Guard to design a boat that could reach the gorge in half the time as traditional boats. Reaching speeds up to 56 mph, passengers spend most of the travel time in the climate controlled cabin, watching the land zip by through oversized windows. But, when it reaches its destination, people are encouraged to ooo and aaa at the scenery from the observation deck. An aquarium naturalist ensures you don’t miss a thing, pointing out wildlife and history along the way.
For those looking for an onboard dinner, consider Blue Moon Cruises, which offers a plethora of cruising options. Eco tours take you into the canyon, relaying stories along the way of the Native Americans who called the gorge home some 10,000 years ago as well as early pioneers who braved rapids, shoals and whirlpools while settling the city. Evening tours are two-and-a-half hours long and allow album-worthy shots of the sun setting on the river. Or take a Lock-Thru cruise – a five-hour trip that takes you upriver through the Chickamauga Locks (includes a 30-minute bus ride back to town). All cruises include a meal, usually a BBQ buffet.
Finally there’s the Southern Belle, designed to mimic the luxury riverboats that cruised Chattanooga’s waterways in the 1800s. This triple decker riverboat holds up to 500-passengers, and cruising options abound. Short sightseeing excursions are perfect for a downtown river view (1 ½ hours) while longer journeys venture up the Tennessee River Gorge (only available in October and November as Fall Leaf Cruises). But the most popular options are the dinner cruises, which include a live band, Bingo and door prizes. Dinner cruises run almost every day of the week (barring any special events – check the calendar for details).
After all that cruising you need a place to lay your weary head. Why not keep the maritime tradition afloat by booking a room on the Delta Queen. Sadly, her big wheel’s no longer turnin’, but she was converted into a floating hotel in 2008.
Logging over two million miles, this grand dame deserves a little rest. Built in the 1920s, the Delta Queen started her service in San Francisco but has been used as a Naval ship during WWII and navigated the Mighty Mississippi as a passenger steamer on and off for 50 years. She’s entertained Presidents, foreign dignitaries and celebrities, and now stands docked on Chattanooga’s North Shore for your enjoyment.
No matter how you choose to navigate a Chattanooga riverboat vacation, chances are you’ll be singing its praises for years to come.