Reminiscent of the bygone era of steamboat travel on lakes and rivers across America, paddlewheel cruise boats ply the waters of the Colorado River, Lake Mead and Lake Havasu. Styled after the floating palaces and showboats of yesteryear, the multi-decked craft carry sightseeing passengers on narrated scenic trips, including popular brunch and dinner cruises.
Before the construction of Hoover Dam and subsequent dams that tamed the Colorado River and harnessed its flow, sturdy little steamboats linked remote communities along the river. These workhorses steamed up and down carrying passengers, supplies, draft animals, equipment and the products of area mines and mills.
The uncontrolled river challenged boat traffic. To overcome a tough section of rapids below the future site of Hoover Dam, crews installed giant eyebolts in the canyon walls that steamboats used to pull themselves upstream. The rusted bolts are still visible from the water where the rapids lie beneath the upper reaches of Lake Mohave.
Lake Mead Cruises, a National Park Service concessionaire, operates the Desert Princess, a handsome replica of an old-fashioned paddlewheel boat. The Desert Princess, the largest such craft in the area, carries 275 passengers and 10 crew members. Its three levels include two glassed-in, climate-controlled decks and an open promenade deck. It docks at Lake Mead Cruise Landing between two marinas at Hemenway Harbor outside of Boulder City. Expect to pay a national park entrance fee of $10 after you exit U.S. Highway 93 onto Lakeshore Road.
The Desert Princess is a busy boat. It hauls sightseers daily all year at noon and 2 p.m. Between April 1 and Oct. 31, it takes passengers on Sunday brunch cruises at 10 a.m. and dinner cruises at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. All cruises include narration and magnificent views of Hoover Dam.
Reserve your cruise by calling Lake Mead Cruises at 293-6180 or online at lakemeadcruises.com. Midday cruises cost $25 for adults and $13 for children ages 2 through 11. Enjoy a breakfast buffet on the brunch cruise for $45 for adults and $19.50 for children. The evening dinner cruise costs $57.50 for adults and $25 for children. Ask about special events such as the romantic Valentine's cruise next month.
Downriver on the Colorado at Laughlin, two mock sidewheelers ply the water. The Fiesta Queen and the Celebration each carry 149 passengers. Do not confuse these operating boats with the 608-foot stationary riverboat replica called the Colorado Belle, a riverbank resort hotel. Operated by Laughlin River Tours, the cruise boats offer sightseeing tours several times a day year-round and dinner cruises when at least 15 diners assemble. Dinner cruises posted at the ticket booth run about $40. Call 298-1047 for details, schedules and pricing.
In southwestern Arizona, riverboat cruises operate at Lake Havasu City above Parker Dam and at Yuma near the border with Mexico, both prime winter travel destinations. At Lake Havasu, the Dixie Belle carries 128 sightseers on daily tours at noon and 1:30 p.m. It leaves from a dock at the London Bridge Resort. Fares cost $20 for adults and $8 for children ages 4 to 12; children younger than 4 ride for free. No regular dinner cruises are offered. Call (928) 453-6776 for reservations.
Operated by Yuma River Tours, the 49-passenger Colorado King travels waters below Imperial Dam. Its three-hour tours begin in Yuma at Fisher's Landing at 11 a.m. for the day cruise and at sunset for the sunset dinner cruise, from 3 to 6 p.m., depending on the time of year. Day cruisers pay $48 for adults and $38 for children. Lunch aboard costs $9. Dinner cruises at sunset cost $63 for adults and $53 for children. Children under 3 years old ride free. Make reservations at (928) 783-4400.
For dinner cruises, passengers often dress up a little. Casual dress is appropriate for daytime scenic cruises. Always bring a lightweight jacket, for breezes off the lakes are often cool.
Margo Bartlett Pesek's column appears on Sundays.