SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In the world of U.S. river cruising, the historical paddlewheeler the Delta Queen is a well-known name and vessel. But perhaps fewer are familiar with the Delta King, an identical brother ship docked in California’s capital city.
Like its sister, which is currently being run as a floating hotel in Chattanooga, Tenn., the Delta King too operates as a floating hotel, docked in historic Old Sacramento.
Having heard much about the storied Delta Queen, a wooden paddlewheeler that was built in 1926, but having not yet had the opportunity to see it firsthand, I was delighted to have recently had the chance to spend the night on the next best thing, the Delta King, courtesy of travel industry nonprofit Tourism Cares, which hosted its most recent volunteer cleanup event in Sacramento.
The Delta Queen has an avid fan base that has fought tooth and nail to allow the paddlewheeler, with its steel hull and wooden superstructure, to continue sailing. That effort ultimately failed in 2009 when a congressional exemption from fire safety laws expired. The Delta Queen’s supporters were devastated. And perhaps only those that have sailed on the Delta Queen will ever fully understand their fervor.
Like its sister, the Delta King has had its share of drama, as well. It sailed the Sacramento River between San Francisco and Sacramento from 1927 to 1940. After several other incarnations and uses, the ship sank at Richmond in the San Francisco Bay in 1982, where it laid for a period of 18 months.
In 1984, the Delta King was brought to Sacramento, where it underwent a $9 million renovation.
The reborn Delta King is full of old river charm: A small, 44-room hotel, the paddlewheeler has surprisingly comfortable cabins and an even more surprising spread of public areas and event spaces, including the Delta Bar & Grill, where Tourism Cares hosted its welcome reception. There is also a main dining room, a wine school onboard and facilities for special occasions and meetings.
The Delta King has wood paneling and brass finishes throughout the main restaurant and other common areas, which together with tasteful antique and vintage touches appropriately date the vessel, while modern enhancements such as an elevator and renovated en-suite bathrooms are welcome upgrades.
The floating hotel model, at least in the case of the Delta King, works both as an attraction and as a charming accommodation option. Even if it does require suppressing a desire to see the paddlewheel start churning, watch the chimneys start spouting steam, hear the toot-toot of the horn and to take off down the river.