Paddlewheel cruise boats plying Lake Mead and the Colorado River recall the days before dams controlled the river and created lakes. Sturdy little steamboats served as workhorses on the untamed river of yesteryear. A vital link for remote communities, the boats carried passengers, supplies, draft animals, equipment and the production from area mines and mills. In bygone days, the challenging passage on the river always included elements of danger from shifting sand bars, driftwood, boulders and white-water rapids through narrow canyons.
Today’s jaunty, multidecked, motorized craft safely carry sightseeing passengers on narrated excursions on Lake Mead and the Colorado River at Laughlin. They provide a nostalgic setting for scenic cruises, meals and dancing. Popular for special events such as parties, meetings, reunions and weddings, the steamboat look-alikes keep busy all year.
Lake Mead Cruises, an authorized national park concessionaire, operates a fleet of sightseeing boats on Lake Mead above Hoover Dam. The concern operates from Lake Mead Cruises Landing near Boulder City. To reach this large boathouse and pier, follow U.S. 93 to the second stoplight in Boulder City. Turn left and follow the truck route to Lakeshore Road, Highway 166. Turn left again, watch for the sign for Hemenway Harbor and turn right. When you reach the Las Vegas Boat Harbor and pier sign, turn right to reach the cruise boat landing.
The sightseeing fleet includes the Desert Princess, a handsome replica of an old-fashioned paddle-wheeled steamboat. Passengers find comfortable indoor seating in nicely appointed lounges on two decks with plenty of windows, as well as outdoors with unobstructed views from deck sides and atop the craft. The Desert Princess is a busy boat with two mid-day sightseeing tours daily year-round except on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, breakfast and evening cruises seven months of the year and special charters.
The Desert Princess sets out all year at noon and 2 p.m. for narrated tours lasting an hour and a half. Cruise highlights include views of Hoover Dam from the lake near the entrance to Black Canyon. Snacks and beverages are available on board. The tours cost $22 for adults and $10 for children aged 2 to 11 years. Babies tour free of charge.
On Saturday nights until Dec. 31, resuming Feb. 13, the Desert Princess takes adult guests on a romantic dinner-dance cruise from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. The dinner-dance excursions cost $54.
During the summer season, April 1 through Oct. 31, the paddle wheeler adds Sunday breakfast cruises at 10 a.m. and evening dining Sundays through Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. The breakfast cruises cost $36.50 for adults and $18 for children. The dinner experience costs $46 for adults and $25 for youngsters. Additionally, the boat hosts guests on special occasions such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.
For schedules, details, cruise reservations or arrangements for events on the boats or in the landing building, contact Lake Mead Cruises at 293-6180. Explore the company’s Web site at www.lakemeadcruises.com. The concessionaire even offers gift certificates for future use, a fine option for gift-giving.
On the Colorado River at Laughlin, various tour boat options exist. A small fleet of cruise boats run by Laughlin River Tours includes the Fiesta Queen, a steamboat-styled craft, the more modern-looking Celebration and the smaller "Lady Liberty." Launching from piers along the Nevada side of the river, they take sightseers out for narrated cruises several times a day all year. One-hour cruises cost $12 for adults and $6 for children over 3 years. Tickets for the hour and a half cruises cost $15 for adults and $7.50 for children.
The 149-passenger Fiesta Queen offers the only dinner cruise in the area on Saturday evenings. The two-hour excursion with dinner costs $40 per person, including children at least 8 years of age. Visit the tour company’s Web site at www. laughlinrivertours.com or call for details and reservations at 298-1047 or (800) 228-9825.
Margo Barlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.