Line aims for 'hassle-free' ride

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NEW ORLEANS -- RiverBarge Excursions here plans to add another vessel to its line when economics permit, according to chief executive officer Eddie Conrad.

The company features a fleet of one -- the 198-passenger River Explorer, which sails along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, among others.

Conrad said the line's next vessel will be smaller in terms of size and number of passengers so it can navigate additional rivers such as the Tennessee River above Florence, Ala.

RiverBarge's 198-passenger River Explorer.To lure guests, RiverBarge Excursions also is promoting a series of programs including Scholarship for Teachers.

The company rewards current and retired teachers by inviting them to sail at half price when traveling with a full-fare companion.

As an incentive for booking early, the line awards $100 in Barge Bucks. The on-board credit can be used for cocktails and souvenirs in the gift shop.

To earn Barge Bucks, guests need to book and pay the deposit six months or more in advance.

As part of its Grand Vacations plan for families, children ages 12 and younger stay for free when in the same stateroom as parents or grandparents.

Kids up to age 18 stay for half price when in their own stateroom.

The atmosphere on board is casual, Conrad said, and all on- and off-board activities are included in the price.

He added that the line aims to create a "hassle-free" vacation for guests by doing such things as allowing guests to do their laundry on board for free and by offering a no-tipping policy, which includes bus drivers and tour guides.

The 98 staterooms aboard the River Explorer are outside and have picture windows that open.

Three of the rooms are wheelchair accessible.

Conrad said there are no steps on the barge and that the bathroom is on the same level as the stateroom, so there are no trip hazards or obstacles for those using a wheelchair.

RiverBarge also likes to distinguish itself by using a certain lingo.

According to Conrad, there is no such thing as a passenger on the River Explorer. "You are a guest," he said.

Guests have supper in the galley (open around the clock) and are on river time (no clocks can be seen in the public spaces).

For more information on RiverBarge Excursions, call (888) GO-BARGE or visit the company's Web site at www.riverbarge.com.

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