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Whatever Floats Your Boatno - it's not a hairpiece, just a bad haircut                                   back to TTN home page
by Joe Harkins - Apr 07, 99

    Rivers are a romantic, meaningful and pervasive metaphor in our daily lives. We all have an intuitive grasp of their significance, real and symbolic. Spirituals sing of "crossing over Jordan." "Shall we gather at the river?" is about redemption and salvation. "Cry me a river" is only one of many similar laments for lost love.

    Few of the world's great cities, even those along an ocean, lack a river as the streaming source of prosperity. To much of India, the Ganges is the Mother of Life while the rhythms of the Nile were the heartbeat of Ancient Egypt. In his journals Julius Caesar gave us "crossing the Rubicon" to describe a commitment from which retreat is impossible. And of course, Mark Twain extended Life On The Mississippi, his account of piloting a river boat, into a glorious literary career.

    Ironically, neither of the two excellent web sites that celebrate the era of the great American riverboat is based where you might expect. Germany is the source of Steamboatin' - The Legend of the Grand Old South and Mesa, AZ, which is definitely up a creek without a paddlewheeler, is the home of comprehensive Steamboats.com.

    Despite the importance of rivers as paths of commerce and travel in the early history of North America, few opportunities to experience their pleasures remain here today. There are day-trips and dinner cruises and an occasional floating casino but only two notable overnight river cruise lines operate in this country.

    The grand dame of American river cruising is The Delta Queen the oldest operating overnight sternwheeler of a class that once included more than ten thousand boats. First launched in 1927 and regularly upgraded since then, she retains her original décor and appointments. Two modern sister-ships honor the original design. Last minute specials, listed on the site, are updated via a free email newsletter.

    A recent upstart, The R/B River Explorer went into service only this past fall but already has made a big splash. The floating hotel is constructed upon the unified frame of two huge barges and propelled by a modern, high powered tug. While the design forgoes the distinctive paddle wheel, the combination results in a quiet, stable and safe platform with large interior spaces.

    The all inclusive pricing, unique to cruising, covers accommodations, meals, entertainment, activities and shore excursions, port charges, taxes and tips to the crew. In a phone interview a spokesperson pointed out there is limited availability but noted that the Current Special "second person discount" is still valid at press time.

    No cruise ships are native to South America's Amazon and Orinoco Rivers. Some that visit are described in the archives of Porthole Magazine.

    China's Yangtze River is in the process of being tamed by the controversial Three Gorges dam project but the river is flooded with ships on 3 to 5 night itineraries. Sunshine Travel lists what appears to be more than one hundred. Canada's Elite Tours quotes prices in Canadian Dollars and says its is "the only Yangtze cruise that is staffed with Western Cruise Directors." Cosmos Tours offers a Yangtze tour as part of its ambitious 17-day China Dynasty itinerary.

    Europe's oldest and largest waterways operator, KD River Cruises, operates 400 journeys through Germany, Austria, Holland, Switzerland, Slovakia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and France. Emerald Cruise's runs down the lower Danube probably will be suspended until the bombing ends there, but their extended tours in peaceful waterways of other countries continue.

    US-based Cruise Russia says they’ve avoided the proletarian shortcomings of the former Soviet Union but their site only offers one exterior photo of their newest ship. Addressing those same issues, highly respected cruise operator Swan-Hellenic says their chartered vessel "Sergey Yesenin is different. She's the smallest vessel available to western visitors with just 90 passengers" but candidly admits service is still not "five star".

    International Cruises and Tours promises the Volga River aboard a luxury ship and is fulsome in its photos and cabin layouts. However, a footnote warns that ship " . . . may or may not be used."

    Yeah, sure. Here's my watch and wallet, too. Is that the gangplank over there?

-30-


Additional resources: (because of limited space in newspapers that carry the column, most of the following material could not be printed.)

Captain Cook Tours  The Murray Princess is a modern recreation of a paddlewheel steamboat. It plies the world's fifth largest river in Australia.

Nile Exploration Owner-operator of three river cruise ships on the Nile River itself and above the Aswan Dam on Lake Nasser. The ships certainly look impressively luxurious and the crew to passenger ratio is one-to-one.

Echo des Mers   A small (20 cabins - 44 pax) river vessel featuring cozy 5 to 8-day adventure cruises and eco-tours along the St. Lawrence River, from Tadoussac to Blanc-Sablon.

Amazon River Tour These are not "cruise ships" as the term is generally understood. But, since they  are overnight river journeys, I'm displaying the link for those with adventure in their hearts and ants in their pants (Brazilian fire ants, I assume.) Joking aside, they appear to be fascinating upriver journeys into exotic areas that few tourists ever see.

Seaview PSA News and information about passenger ships that travel the great oceans and waterways of the world.

Value World Tours  A California-based resource for river cruises in Russia, Ukraine, China, Yugoslavia (not likely to happen until hostilities end) and Australia.

The Yangtze River and Three Gorges Dam: Here's a look at what may or may not be an ecological disaster in the making. To be fair, similar dire predictions about Hoover Dam and the Nile's Aswan did not happen. Also, the Chinese government says that riverboats will be able to traverse the dam via a system of locks.  Critics say that promise should be taken with a grain of silt.

World Rivers Review Article

World Rivers Review Book Excerpt

Christine Sun's Yangtze Photos & Maps

Three Gorges Probe

The Three Gorges Museum

Embassy of the P R C - The Official Position


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