Over the years groups have understandably found a certain peace and sense of relaxation on the water
Whether it’s the sound of a sternwheeler’s paddle caressing the water, the soft purr of the ship’s engine or the scenic shoreline vistas, experiences on water are memorable. Combine those elements with cruises featuring a chef-inspired dinner and tour planners have a longstanding, winning combination. Here are six favorite dinner cruises in the South.
Belle of Louisville
It’s only fitting to begin any conversation of dinner cruises with the Belle of Louisville, a grand old lady indeed. A cruise on the 103-year-old paddlewheeler provides a glimpse into a time when America’s rivers were an important method of transporting people and goods. A National Historic Landmark, the Belle has the honor of being the most traveled steamboat in American history. Groups are invited to visit the original engine room to experience a piece of the past.
For lunch and dinner/sightseeing cruises, the Belle offers a buffet featuring multiple salads, specialty entrees, sides and desserts. Tea, lemonade, water and coffee are included, while sodas and adult beverages can be purchased from the bar or concessions stand. Dining capacity is 180 guests. The Belle is heated and air-conditioned. For groups of 20 or more, prices for both the lunch/sightseeing and dinner/sightseeing cruises are inclusive.(belloflouisville.org)
Spirit of Norfolk
In 2016 the Spirit of Norfolk completed a $1.2-million renovation. In addition to a more contemporary decor, additional seating options are now available. Panoramic windows on all levels ensure guests will
not miss a view. The sleek Spirit of Norfolk departs from downtown Norfolk and continues along the historic Elizabeth River waterfront, passing by Nauticus and the USS Wisconsin, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s East Coast headquarters, Hampton Roads Harbor, Portsmouth Marine Terminal and many more points of interest. The highlight is the remarkable skyline view of mighty ships from the U.S. Navy’s Atlantic Fleet.
The seasonally inspired buffet for lunch, dinner and brunch provides an array of delightful offerings, all prepared fresh onboard. The typical dinner menu features five salads, four vegetable and pasta offerings, four entrees and five dessert options. On themed cruises, such as the popular gospel cruise, specialty menus are offered. Enter-tainment on every cruise features a variety of musical styles. (spiritcruises.com/norfolk)
Barefoot Princess Riverboat
North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
Sailing from Barefoot Landing in the heart of one of the country’s most popular group travel destinations, the Barefoot Princess Riverboat shows that good things often come in small packages. The 130-passenger, three-deck riverboat has two climate-controlled decks, while the top deck is open-air and ideal for viewing luxurious homes and native wildlife along the Intracoastal Waterway. The first deck is handicap-accessible. Groups of 20+ enjoy tiered pricing, a step-on welcome greeting and special acknowledgement onboard.
Groups take in the sights while listening to relaxing music and enjoying a delicious buffet meal prepared onboard. The menu changes by season. Tea, water and coffee are included with dinner. Alcoholic beverages and soft drinks can be purchased at the bar. Ideal for large groups and private charters, the Princess offers a variety of menu options. (mbriverboat.com)
On historic River Street in Savannah, the River Street Riverboat Company has been doing business since 1991. Joining the Savannah River Queen as her grand sister, the new Georgia Queen is a majestic, 1800s-style paddlewheel riverboat. Built in 1995 as a floating casino, the riverboat underwent a$4-million makeover converting her to a dinner cruise vessel. The 1,000-passenger Georgia Queen features three grand ball-rooms, each with a seating capacity of 250 passengers. An elevator servicing the first and third decks, along with boarding ramps, makes the boat handicap-accessible. Harking back to a time when stylishness and impeccable service were expected, she is decorated in traditional red, white and blue.
The two-hour Entertainment Dinner Cruise on the Savannah River features a buffet dinner with options to fit every appetite. Savannah-style shrimp and grits is a favorite, while a top sirloin beef carving station, fresh fish and a special chicken complete the entrees. Fresh salads, vegetables and starches, and memorable desserts round out the menu. The Saturday Dinner Entertainment Cruise promises an evening to remember, while the Monday Gospel Dinner Cruise features Southern gospel and Southern dining specialties.(savannahriverboat.com)
Showboat Branson Belle
In a destination that has made its mark in packaged group travel with extensive entertainment, it’s only fitting that one special option is the floating palace Showboat Branson Belle. Sailing on Table Rock Lake, the 700-passenger Belle is a delightful combination of scenic views, music and comedy, and a freshly prepared, three-course meal. Group rates and packages are available for parties of 10 or more. The experience can be further enhanced with an upgrade to a Premium Dining Package.
As you might expect, the entertainment is remarkable. Just one show isn’t enough for the Belle. “Celebrate” is a popular variety show that combines music, dance and comedy. Host, comedian and magician Christopher James is joined by Branson star Cassandre Faimon-Haygood and Rhythm – The Fastest Feet West of the Mississippi. Accompanying the show and prepared fresh in the galley, the meal includes hearty portions of chicken and pot roast, vegetables and mashed potatoes, a hot dinner roll, salad and ice cream cake for dessert.
“Country on the Lake” is the Belle’s newest show package. Talented vocalists backed by a live band perform classic rock and today’s country favorites. BBQ chicken and slow-smoked pulled pork come with a salad, fresh-baked roll, loaded mashed potatoes with cheese and bacon, grilled corn with roasted peppers and Silver Dollar City apple cinnamon ice cream pie.(silverdollarcity.com/showboat-branson.aspx)
New Orleans, Louisiana
She’s the ninth steamer in a proud history to bear the name Natchez. Her predecessor, Natchez VII, was a participant in the famous steamboat race with the Robert E. Lee. Steamboats have been part of the mighty Mississippi’s history from the pre-Civil War plantation era to the Gay Nineties and into the 20th and 21st centuries. A New Orleans icon, the Steamboat Natchez paddlewheeler is 26 tons of white oak, her steam whistle is a treasured antique and her 32-note steam calliope was custom-crafted. Groups of 10 or more receive special rates.
The two-hour Dinner Jazz Cruise features views of the city and live jazz by the Grammy-nominated Dukes of Dixieland. Dinner is prepared onboard and the menu says New Orleans flavor. Served family style, the tossed salad features iceberg lettuce, tomato, praline bacon and Steen’s cane syrup vinaigrette and is joined by
La Louisiane dinner rolls and blackened fish Lafitte. Entrees and vegetables include pork loin served with peach Jezebel sauce, steamboat round, rotini pasta primavera, red beans and rice, sweet and golden Brabant potatoes, Southern-style green beans and Creole creamed spinach. White chocolate bread pudding and Chef’s Specialty Dessert complete the meal.(steamboatnatchez.com)