Cruise Line History: Last call for historic Delta Queen steamboat?

Delta Queen

The 82-year-old Delta Queen, America’s best-known paddle-wheeler, will pull into Memphis, Tennessee, Thursday morning for what may be its final port call as a passenger vessel.

The historic riverboat, whose twin, the Delta King, is now a floating hotel and restaurant in Sacramento, has hit troubled waters. An exemption from safety laws that allows the Delta Queen to carry passengers on overnight trips will expire at midnight Friday, and the U.S. Congress has declined to extend it.

Even if Congress decides to act, “The vessel will not operate in 2009,” Joe Ueberroth, president and chief executive of its owner, Ambassadors International Inc. in Newport Beach, said today in a conference call with media and others. “It’s just too late to put her back in service.”

After calling on Memphis and unloading its final passengers, the Delta Queen will set sail the next day, in tandem with the American Queen, for its home port of New Orleans, with tributes scheduled at several ports along the way. From there, its future is anyone’s guess.

U.S. Sens. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have introduced a bill, a companion to H.R. 3852 introduced in the House last year by U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), to extend the Delta Queen’s safety exemption. Ueberroth and other advocates say the boat, equipped with sprinklers and fire-detection devices, is safe. But the U.S. Coast Guard says its wooden superstructure is a fire hazard. If Congress returns to session after the November election as expected, it may revisit the issue.

In any event, it’s not clear who, if anyone, would run the Delta Queen, which has plied the Mississippi and other rivers for decades under a series of owners. Ambassadors International, eager to unload what Ueberroth today called “a very bad investment,” has tried for months without success to sell its Majestic America Line, which runs the Delta Queen and several other riverboats.

Meanwhile, an informal network of steamboat fans that calls itself the Save the Delta Queen Campaign is trying to save the boat. A fan website carries updates on the effort.

— Jane Engle, assistant Los Angeles Times Travel editor

[Photo: The Delta Queen moves up the Ohio River last week after making wh


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

Leave a Reply