I was looking back over some travel posts on my author website and found a memorable one from 2013. I called it my “Magical History Tour,” and logged 2,581 miles, visiting nine states in seven days.
The first stop on my trip was Chattanooga, Tenn., where I stayed aboard the historic riverboat, The Delta Queen. What a magnificent experience for a history lover. Though she is now moored and used as a stationary hotel, this grand lady logged over two million miles and carried over half a million passengers during her time on the water.
Additionally, she is the only boat to be inducted into the National Marine Hall of Fame while still in service.
Delta Queen History
Stepping board the Delta Queen is like taking a 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 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!
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.
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 her 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. For instance, on June 26, 1938, the Delta Queen 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
I have to admit, by today’s standards the regular quarters 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.
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.
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!
Things To Do
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.
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 the Delta Queen is 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!
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.
If you enjoy history as much as I do, don’t pass up any opportunity to experience this hotel on the water in Chattanooga, TN.
Aboard the Delta Queen, you just might fall in love with the past and not want to return to the hectic pace of the present.