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A different (optimistic) view

 
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Old 01-31-2009, 02:17 AM
 
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Southern California
Posts: 11
Default A different (optimistic) view

Hello from a former lurker. Carmen thought my positive viewpoint on the DQ was valid and worth sharing. Here's the first of three installments. One favor I'd like to ask. Could you please "hold your fire" and read all three installments before blasting me? After all, this way you can take better aim!

Background: I own a tandem bicycle factory and found this site while researching the advisability of chartering the Delta Queen for a week-long Memphis-to-New Orleans bicycle tour in order to promote the "tandem lifestyle." (An alternative to the Harley lifestyle, tandeming couples are a bit lighter and considerably more fit). After our first charter event sold out, I chartered the DQ for an encore tour. These highly successful Delta Queen "tandem cruises" occurred in April 2006 and April 2007.

My Delta Queen charters were negotiated with executives from Delaware North. On the week of my first charter the Delta Queen Steamboat Company was sold to Majestic America Lines. While planning the encore charter I dealt with a transition team made up of exec's from both corporations. After the second DQ charter I worked closely with Majestic America on prospective charters on the Columbia River. We were in the midst of ironing out the final details when Majestic America decided to exit the river cruise business.

From my 3 years of working with various executives of two companies that owned her, I obtained a Delta Queen viewpoint that is somewhat different from what I have read on this forum. Although I am a rank beginner compared to most of you, I have now logged four sternwheeler cruises (2 scouting plus 2 charters) on 2 vessels (3x Delta Queen plus 1x Queen of the West). I've also taken guided inspection tours of the AQ, MQ and CQ.

As opposed to a normal cruise, my bicycle-centric charters required a half dozen landing spots that were entirely new to the DQ (including Angola Penitentiary and the former Carville leprosy colony). In our post-9/11 world every new landing spot required a special permit from the Coast Guard.

Some points of interest.

There will always be a certain tension between the DQ vs. USCG. Because the Coast Guard doesn't want to be blamed when the DQ "inevitably" suffers a disaster with resulting loss of life, their practiced position is to formally object while bowing to the will of congress. They don't hate the DQ, but she will forever be the vessel that "rates" strict interpretation and extra inspections. The masters and owners of the DQ have become used to this, and have no desire to do anything that will raise hackles. Finding a loophole is not an option.

The DQ always made money! While her younger and bigger sisters were cheaper to operate on a per-stateroom basis, and each had a much higher potential profitability, during a decade of valiant attempts three different owners never found a way to fill the bigger boats without major discounts. Year after year a higher percentage of the DQ's smaller number of staterooms were filled without discounting. Unfortunately, the DQ's ACTUAL operating profits seemed pitifully small when compared to her sisters' PROJECTED yet unrealized profits.

The DQ had two other distinct advantages over the MQ and AQ. First, she attracts an "authenticity" clientele that is not drawn to her sisters (or any other cruise vessel). Second, her smaller size allows her to travel on nearly twice as many miles of river. Unfortunately, because she invariably "steals" clientele from her sisters (who always seemed to need just a few more passengers to "turn the corner" on profitability), owners have sometimes considered her a nuisance instead of an asset.

The past three owners all wrongly believed they could somehow increase demand and fill their trio of Mississippi steamboats without discounts. After three successive failures it is impossible to believe that anyone would give this a fourth try. In talks with sales executives I learned that millions of Americans dream of cruising the Alaskan passage, Mexican coastline or Caribbean islands. A much, much smaller number can imagine cruising the Columbia and Snake Rivers. The number who think that a cruise on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers might be entertaining is smaller still. That's right, when it comes to attracting new passengers the Columbia outscores the Mississippi.

Next installment: DQ and the perfect storm.

-Bill McCready
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