LAFAYETTE, La.--Please don't call the 198-passenger River Explorer,
now being built for RiverBarge Excursion Lines, a ship. Don't even
call it a boat. Its operators prefer to call it a barge or, to be
accurate, two linked barges. The front barge, the De Soto,
comprises the public spaces; the other barge, the La Salle, houses
A number of factors distinguish the proposed RiverBarge
experience, due to debut Aug. 22, from conventional cruising.Passengers will not eat in the dining room; the eating area
will be called the galley. It follows, therefore, that meals will
not be cooked in the galley, as they are on cruise ships; that
process will take place in what RiverBarge will
call--surprise!--the kitchen.The thrum and vibration of engines will not be evident anywhere
in the passenger sections of the ship, er, barge. All of the moving
parts required for the propulsion of the twin-barge unit will be
carried by a self-contained towboat. And, by the way, the towboat
will not tow the River Explorer; it will push it. Go figure.
According to Eddie Conrad, chairman of RiverBarge, tug boats pull
and towboats push.Don't look for a "cruise director." The person performing the
functions will be known as the barge master.
It might be wisest not to think of this product as a cruise at
all. Conrad doesn't. "You won't find the word 'cruise' anywhere in
our brochure or advertising," he said. "What we intend to provide
is an excursion using the rivers as highways."
The River Explorer might be the first innovative watergoing
passenger vehicle in years, a large-scale adaptation of one of the
heartland's oldest forms of transportation--the barge. Its
destination areas will not be the oceans; it will never transit the
Panama Canal or nose up the fjords of Norway. Rather, it will offer
guests a peek at life along the Mississippi, Cumberland, Missouri,
Ohio and other great American rivers.
It will ply its trade in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana and
along the intracoastal waterway as far west as Port Isabel, Texas
(with day outings to Matamoros, Mexico.) Its ports of call will be
Kansas City and St. Louis, Mo.; Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.;
Vicksburg and Natchez, Miss.; New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.;
Galveston and Rockport, Texas, and many more.
The twin-level barges that will form the River Explorer are in
the final stages of construction in the Leevac Shipyards near
Lafayette. La. The La Salle will have 99 staterooms, all 200 square
feet in size on two decks, the Royal and the Platinum. Each of the
rooms--furnished in maple and mahogany--will be named for a state,
numbered according to when the state entered the union. Room 118,
for example, will be the Louisiana Room on the lower floor and 218
the corresponding cabin on the upper deck; Louisiana was the 18th
state, hence 118 and 218. (OK, there are 50 states and only 99
rooms. Sorry, Hawaii.)
Each stateroom will be decorated with prints of the appropriate
state's capital, and its official bird and flower, and will be
equipped with a TV/VCR. A library will offer films for the VCRs or,
as Conrad put it, "We expect some people to bring their own
Units on the Platinum, or upper, level will have private
verandas and cost an additional $25 to $30 a day. Per diems will
start at between $200 and $250, depending on the itinerary and
sailing date. The eight-day inaugural, for example, the Arch (St
Louis) and the Pyramid (Memphis), start at $1,730 per person,
double, for Royal deck accommodations, and $1,950 per person,
double, for the Platinum deck.
All shore excursions, port taxes and gratuities are included in
the published prices of all River Explorer voyages. Booze and
anything bought in the vessel's Louisiana Purchase Gift Shop will
Three lower deck staterooms will be wheelchair accessible. Meals
will comprise buffets for breakfast and lunch, with family-style
service (at tables of four or six) from menus in the evenings.
Passengers can help themselves 24 hours a day to snacks from the
galley, as life on the barge will be informal. "The idea is to make
people ... feel at home," Conrad said.
Food served on board will reflect the area through which the
vessel in sailing. So will the entertainment. the Sprague Showroom
will offer jazz, country, cajun and blue grass music, depending on
the ship's location any given night. Large windows wrap around
virtually every room and public area, making the passing landscape
a constant backdrop.
* * *
Company: RiverBarge Excursion Lines.
Address: 201 Opelousas Avenue, New Orleans 70114.
Reservations: (888) 282-1945.
Information: (888) 650-5041.
Itineraries: Four- to 10-day voyages on American rivers.