Can you Stay On The Delta Queen Riverboat Chattanooga?

No, you cannot stay on the Delta Queen Riverboat in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2023.

The latest Delta Queen update is that it has been moved to undergo a complete restoration and will hopefully return to its duty of carrying passengers on three, five and seven-night river voyages.

I had the opportunity to spend a night on the historic and elegant riverboat when it was used as a floating hotel moored in Chattanooga.

Here is my experience and some Delta Queen history.

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A Memorable Night Aboard The Historic Delta Queen

Spending a night aboard the iconic riverboat, was a one of those memorable lifetime experiences and one that was once on my travel bucket list.

For those who don’t know its history, the legendary Delta Queen Paddlewheel Steamboat was the last fully operational, overnight passenger steamboat in the country before being turned into a floating hotel, moored in Chattanooga.

During a trip in 2013 (which I called my “Magical History Tour”), I logged 2,581 miles, visiting nine states in seven days. Spending a night on board this historic and legendary paddlewheel boat was one of the highlights.

Considering the turn of events, I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to stay at the Delta Queen Riverboat hotel while it was located in Chattanooga.

All Aboard The Delta Queen Chattanooga

Stepping board the Delta Queen riverboat hotel is like taking a nostalgic trip back in time.

Built in the 1920s, the boat is lavishly decorated and retains its historic atmosphere. As someone said, it’s like staying at a Victorian bed-and-breakfast on water.

The elegant main staircase in the Delta Queen hotel.
The elegant staircase in the Delta Queen hotel.

In her storied historic career, the Delta Queen riverboat logged more than  two million miles and carried more than half a million passengers.

The attention to detail is clear right from the start. As a matter of fact, at the time the Delta Queen was built in the mid 1920s, the normal cost of a boat was $75,000. Her final cost however was $850,000!

Stained glass and heavy wooden doors aboard the Delta Queen.

When you see the Tiffany-style stained glass windows, rich hardwood paneling, gleaming brass, and the beautiful Grand Staircase crowned by an elegant crystal chandelier, you can understand how the costs added up.

The lounges and public areas are roomy and comfortable; and the entire boat features mahogany and cherry wood trim.

As a result of her stylish and luxurious trimmings, the Delta Queen entertained U.S. presidents, foreign dignitaries and a multitude of celebrities.

Some of the Delta Queen’s most notable guests were: President Herbert Hoover, President Harry Truman, President Jimmy Carter, Princess Margaret, John Wayne and Elizabeth Taylor.

But lots of not-so-famous people had the opportunity to experience the hospitality of the Delta Queen over the years as well.

The Riverboat Race And War History

For instance, on June 26, 1938, the Delta Queen riverboat raced the Port of Stockton for a distance of 17 miles. She carried 900 passengers who paid 50 cents each, and, unfortunately lost the race by a whisker.

As if that history wasn’t enough, the Delta Queen served the U.S. Navy as a floating barracks, training facility and troop ferry from 1940-1946.

She is even credited with ferrying (as many as 3,200 men at once) wounded Pearl Harbor victims ashore from large ships.

For that feat, she was awarded two medals: An American Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal.

In 1989, the Delta Queen was designated a National Historic Landmark, and in January of 2004, she was inducted into the National Maritime Hall of Fame.

A Peek Inside The Cabin Aboard The Delta Queen

A peek inside a cabin in the Delta Queen hotel.
Close quarters in my cabin at the Delta Queen hotel.

I have to admit, by today’s standards the regular quarters in the Delta Queen hotel were small and the doorways were short. I’m 5’ 9” so I had a little trouble in the low doorway department.

The door of the bathroom gave me the most trouble. It was very narrow and even shorter than the cabin door… something I had to get used to.

Brass fixture aboard the Delta Queen

Still, I enjoyed seeing the brass fixtures and the lights that remain just as they were in the 1920s.

It’s hard to imagine what it would cost in today’s world to start from scratch and replicate the accents of quality that abound.

The brass, the Tiffany glass, the polished wood, all contribute to the charm and extravagance of the by-gone era and make it easy to imagine that you have stepped back in time.

A Unique And Memorable Experience

I often stay at historic Bed and Breakfasts or restored hotels, but being on the water and being surrounded by so many special touches adds another level of allure.

It’s impossible not to feel and sense the presence of history at every turn — a truly unique experience!

And what could be more romantic or wonderful for a historical fiction author than to experience the traditional southern charm of a Mississippi riverboat?

Getting the opportunity to spend a night at the Delta Queen hotel was something I will never forget.

Visiting Tennessee? Put the Dickson-Williams Mansion on your bucket list.

Passing The Time Aboard A Floating Riverboat Hotel

The afternoon we arrived was pleasant so we sat on the deck in rocking chairs and watched the boat traffic on the river.

Although not as busy as the Mississippi, which I had the opportunity to see later in my trip, there were a few tourist boats on the Tennessee River.

Tables and chairs lined up on the deck of the Delta Queen hotel when it was moored in Chattanooga.
Tables and chairs lined up on the deck of the Delta Queen hotel when it was moored in Chattanooga.

In the evening I went a few doors down to check out the bar, then relaxed in the downstairs lobby in a deep, comfortable leather chair.

Right beside where the historic riverboat was moored, I discovered a park, complete with an old-time (indoor) carousel. The Tennessee Aquarium is also close by, accessed by the world’s longest walking bridge across the Tennessee River.

This also takes visitors to the city’s Arts District and museums in Chattanooga. There are shops located in an old mill near to the Delta Queen as well so it’s a great location to use as home base during a visit to Chattanooga.

After dark, we were treated to a fireworks show over the water that was spectacular! I didn’t do very well in the picture-taking, but trust me, it was loud and colorful!

fireworks delta queen

Is The Delta Queen Steamboat Haunted?

For all of the ghost hunters out there, I did get up in the middle of the night and walk around the deck, but I didn’t see anything — not even the spirit of the captain that supposedly haunts the boat.

Victorian brass lamp that hangs in the cabin of the Delta Queen.
Victorian brass lamp that hangs in the cabin of the Delta Queen.

The only problem I found while staying board the historic Steamboat Hotel was falling in love with the past and not wanting to return to the hectic pace of the present.

If you’re in Chattanooga and you want to see some ghosts, check out this 1.5-hour Cemetery Ghost Hunt in Chattanooga.

RELATED: The 14 Most Haunted Places in Gettysburg

Facts About the Delta Queen Riverboat

The Delta Queen is 285 feet long, 58 feet wide, and draws 11.5 feet (3.5 m). She weighs 1,650 tons and has a capacity of 176 passengers.

The cross-compound steam engines generate about 2,000 horsepower, which power a stern-mounted paddlewheel.

Another unusual feature of the Delta Queen is her steam calliope, mounted on the Texas deck aft of the pilothouse. It covers approximately three octaves, and used to play while she was docking and undocking.

Here is a video of the famous riverboat’s final voyage in 2015 featuring the calliope.

What Happened To The Delta Queen?

The Delta Queen was forced to retire in 2008 because her exemption from the 1966 Safety at Sea act expired. This law prohibits ocean-bound vessels from carrying overnight passengers unless completely made of non-combustible materials.

Even though she was never more than several hundred yards from shore, this law applied to the Delta Queen. Congress approved nine exemptions over four decades to allow the riverboat to continue operations until 2008.

Where Is the Delta Queen Hotel Now?

While moored in Houma, Louisiana for restoration, the Delta Queen was impacted by a direct hit from Hurricane Ida on August 21, 2021.

Amazingly, despite being subjected to winds in excess of 150 mph for more than an hour, the Delta Queen did not suffer any major structural damage.

However the storm ripped away some of the waterproofing membrane on the roof, as well as several sections of handrail along the stern (rear) of the vessel. Several doors were damaged and about a dozen windows were broken.

It’s a true testament to the craftsmanship of the Delta Queen riverboat’s builders that she held up so well, especially when compared to adjacent structures in the area.

Once funding is secured, the the Delta Queen Steamboat Company plans to replace the boilers, which are original to the boat and constructed in 1919.

The generators, main steam line, heating and air, plumbing and galley will also be either upgraded or replaced entirely in this massive historic preservation effort.

Common areas and staterooms will undergo various cosmetic updates.

All Aboard The Delta King

If you feel like you’ve missed out on a great opportunity to spend the night in an authentic riverboat, don’t despair. The Delta Queen Steamboat has a twin brother, the Delta King!

This authentic paddlewheel riverboat has been revived to its former glory and converted into a boutique hotel. It is moored along the Old Sacramento Waterfront, and provides riverfront dining, nightlife, conference facilities, and a beautiful riverside wedding venue. 

Moored in Sacramento, California, the Delta King is a riverboat hotel that offers 44 beautiful high-class rooms with breakfast.

Historic Timeline Of The Delta Queen

☑️ The Delta Queen and Delta King were created in Scotland from 1924 to 1927, and was then shipped in pieces to Stockton, California, where it was reassembled.

☑️ December 12, 1925 – Delta Queen was launched in Stockton, California

☑️ The “royal twins” were christened on May 20, 1927

☑️ June 2, 1927 – Maiden voyage from San Francisco to Sacramento

☑️ June 26, 1938 – Delta Queen and Port of Stockton raced 17 miles from Sacramento down river to Clarksburg. Delta Queen carried 900 passengers who paid 50 cents each. Port of Sacramento won by a whisker.

☑️ Autumn 1940 to August 1946 – Served U.S. Navy as floating barracks, training facility and troop ferry. Placed in service as Yard House Boat, she ferried (up to 3,200 men at once) wounded Pearl Harbor victims ashore from large ships.

☑️ December 17, 1946 – Delta Queen sale confirmed for $46,250 to Cincinnati, Ohio’s Greene Line Steamers.

☑️ April 19 – May 18, 1947 – Delta Queen crated and towed more than 5,000 miles from California through the Panama Canal to New Orleans.

☑️ Summer 1947 – Summer 1948 – Delta Queen proceeds under her own power to Pittsburgh and undergoes $750,000 in renovations.

☑️ April 1963 – Delta Queen and Belle of Louisville race and it is a publicity success.

☑️ 1966 – Congress passed law banning wooden superstructures with more than 50 guests but the Delta Queen was granted two-year exemption, which was later extended to 1970.

☑️ June 1970 – Delta Queen was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

☑️ October 21 – November 1, 1970 – Farewell cruise from St. Paul to NOLA because exemption expired.

☑️ December 1970 – A new exemption added as an amendment to another bill and signed into law!

☑️ September 1971 – Delta Queen is contracted to carry U.S. mail with its own postmark.

☑️ August 17 – 24, 1979 – President Jimmy Carter and his family ride a St. Paul to St. Louis cruise.

☑️ 1989 – The Delta Queen is designated National Historic Landmark.

☑️ January 2004 – The Delta Queen is inducted into National Maritime Hall of Fame.

RELATED STORY: If You Enjoy Historic Hotels, check out 106 Jefferson in Huntsville

The Delta Queen Steamboat Company

The current owner of the paddlewheel riverboat is the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, which traces its roots back to 1890.

At that time, Gordon C. Greene and his wife Mary Becker Greene purchased a steamboat by the name of H.K. Bedford and operated it under the flag of the Greene Line Steamers.

The family-run business continued to operate steamboats on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, eventually entering the tourist trade.

In 1974, the company changed names to the Delta Queen Steamboat Company.

Following a succession of owners, the company ceased operations in 2008, when the Delta Queen was forced into retirement following the expiration of legislation permitting vessels of wooden construction from operating.

The Delta Queen Steamboat Company is now owned and operated by a team of supporters dedicated to preserving the nation’s last authentic overnight steamboat.

Where To Stay In Chattanooga

Even if you can’t stay on the Delta Queen, there are still plenty of unique accommodations in Chattanooga! It’s a great city with Lookout Mountain being a must-see for history buffs!

Moxy Chattanooga Downtown Marriot: Unique pet-friendly hotel with free cocktail for guests!

The Read House: 4-star hotel with indoor pool.

Bluff View Inn: 3-star B&B with 2 restaurants

Things to Do In Chattanooga

Chattanooga Trolley and Train Ride

Adults-Only Haunted City Walk

Swincar Back-Country Tour

Other Tours and Activities

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2 Comments

  1. I worked on the DQ from 89 until Katrina forced me to leave. Lots of memories, worked with great people. The crew was like family.