Celebration River Cruises

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Celebration River Cruises operates the Celebration Belle riverboat on the Mississippi River. Based out of the Quad Cities (Illinois/Iowa), they offer a variety of cruises with live entertainment. The company has been successful in welcoming groups back, having rebooted operations this past summer.

Celebration operates a 750-passenger vessel, but they are taking cruises out with diminished capacity due to COVID-19. In the interview, Yarolem stresses that the goal was to get the boat out there and let people know they are cruising versus worrying about load factors.

“We’re doing reduced capacity for our reservations. We’re doing social distancing of tables in the dining room. We are also changing from buffet to plated meals, which have gone over very well,” said Susan Yarolem. The cruise line has secured two UV sanitizing machines and placed them on the dining deck, adding an extra layer of comfort for guests.

Additionally, because it’s a cruise with two outdoor observation decks, there’s plenty of room to move about. “What’s nice about our attraction is that we’re an inside-outside attraction. You can go outside and enjoy the cruise. There’s a ton of social distancing space – there’s plenty of space for everybody,” said Yarolem.

To get groups onboard, Celebration has relaxed its group policies. “We have thrown policy out the window,” said Yarolem. This includes relaxed deposit, final payment and guarantees to accommodate groups traveling with smaller numbers. “What we’re doing has gone over fabulously with the groups. It has really helped – people really want to travel and they can get out and enjoy themselves.”

Most groups are coming from surrounding states. Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois make up a lion’s share of group business, though the Belle did welcome a group from North Carolina that was visiting multiple riverboats en route. While most group business was already scheduled, the line reports new bookings from groups looking for closer-to-home destinations.

Celebration typically sails through October. This year, an early November cruise to Hannibal, Missouri from Burlington, Iowa will allow passengers to take in the area’s fall colors. For 2021, Celebration starts to cruise in April, holding 2020 rates.

To book group space on Celebration, call 800-297-0034, ext.204, email susan@celebrationbelle.com. For more travel industry insider interviews, subscribe to the Traveling Tribes podcast.