Cruise lines bring families together on the river

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NEW ORLEANS -- I dont see why I oughtnt to like it. Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?

Theyre Tom Sawyers words to the hapless Ben Rogers, who soon pleads for a chance to do the job himself.

Delta Queen Steamboat Co. borrowed a page from Mark Twains The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by letting kids on its Delta Queen Riverventures cruise literally whitewash a fence at Toms home in Hannibal, Mo.

Bruce Nierenberg, the companys president, said the chore is part of an offshore excursion to Toms literary Mississippi Valley home and just one way to get kids to bond with their surroundings.

The riverboat cruise company said it is actively pursuing the multigenerational market this year. The concept involves taking children and teens out of the video-arcade environment via such alternatives as kite-flying and board games, of which there is a room full.

When [families] play board games, you could sell tickets, Nierenberg said. You get four people around the table, and they have to talk, and all the juices start flowing.

The concept is somewhat backwards from most cruise programs for kids, where the goal is to separate active kids from their weary parents. And, of course, Delta Queen offers that option, too, with a kids-only program that breaks down into age-appropriate groups and kids-only shore excursions.

Multigenerational travel is on the rise at other river-cruise companies like American West Steamboat Co., even though, said Sales Vice President Joel Perry, American West hasnt done anything specific to promote kids cruises or foster multigenerational groups.

Like Delta Queen, American West offers a no-frills, no-video game environment for families to reconnect.

River cruising typically attracts a more mature market; thats true in the U.S. and in other river-heavy destinations like Europe.

Eddie Conrad, the CEO of RiverBarge Excursions in New Orleans, said the number of  younger passengers has remained fairly constant over the years.

Weve always promoted our product as being an opportunity for families of multiple generations to experience a vacation together, Conrad said.

Well have some people who come year after year, a grandmother bringing her granddaughter, and we watch the little girl grow up. Its not a big big portion of our business, but it always has been a portion.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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