N.O. passenger vessel operators regroup

New Orleans-area passenger vessel operators suffered a severe blow at the hands of Katrina. Big Easy operators who rely heavily on the tourist trade have had to juggle schedules and search for charters to stay afloat.


One of the city’s dinner-excursion vessels, New Orleans Steamboat’s 1,600-passenger Natchez, returned to the city from Baton Rouge, La., in early October, said company president Gordon Stevens.


The vessel was open for dockside lunches, dinners and bar business at its home at the Toulouse Street Wharf. The Natchez was then scheduled to leave New Orleans later in the month for a hurricane relief fundraising trip starting in Cincinnati. She was due back in New Orleans just before Thanksgiving. Stevens hopes the trip will be a good way to hold on to his crews.


He said he’s “very optimistic about the city’s future. Every day more and more places are opening.”


The company’s 600-passenger John James Audubon was due in Natchez, Miss., for three daily cruises during a balloon festival in October. Both boats were moved out of harm’s way upriver near Baton Rouge before the storm.


In mid-October, New Orleans Paddlewheels Inc.’s 1,000-passenger Creole Queen and 600-passenger Cajun Queen were still tied up in New Orleans. “We’re waiting on any kind of business that comes our way. We would consider all options,” said Capt. Al Christian, master on the Creole Queen.


Overnight passenger vessel operators are also making adjustments.


RiverBarge Excursion Lines Inc. will return its 196-passenger River Explorer excursion barge to New Orleans after Thanksgiving, as scheduled, said Larry Conrad, director of sales and marketing. 


However, they’ve canceled an early December sailing from New Orleans but still plan to make scheduled Christmas and New Year’s cruises. The barge is now doing foliage trips on the Ohio River before it heads to Galveston for its regular Texas excursions.


Delta Queen Steamboat Co. chartered the 436-passenger American Queen to energy interests in the Gulf area, president Bruce Nierenberg said. He would not say who chartered the vessel.


Its two other vessels, the Mississippi Queen and Delta Queen, will run through November and then be laid up until spring, when all three will start cruises again, he said. They’ll also be available for charter.     — Dale K. DuPont 


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