In 1990, thousands of mature travelers who sought out a relaxing vacation accomplished that goal in a way that also permitted them to enjoy early American history through a distinctly different form of transport--by steamboat.
Next year, two proud stern-wheelers, the Delta Queen and her new sister boat, the Mississippi Queen, will tour the South from Memphis to New Orleans and the Midwest as far north as Minneapolis.
They will ply the waters of the Ohio, Mississippi, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers on cruises from three to 12 nights, with stops along the way for touring historic cities and towns.
Many of the cruises will begin and end in the same city. Others will start in one place and terminate in another.
Departure and arrival cities will include New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, St. Paul, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Chattanooga and Louisville.
Ports of call will include Vicksburg, Miss., site of the Civil War siege; Baton Rouge, capital of Louisiana, and Hannibal, Mo., the boyhood home of Mark Twain.
Although there are dozens of other ports of call, there are also ample shipboard activities to keep passengers engaged.
Entertainment will include Dixieland jazz bands, minstrel shows, dancing, Big Band concerts, bingo games and shuffleboard. The Mississippi Queen has a fitness room, sauna and pool.
Several of the steamboat trips at various times of the year have themes that are reflected in some of the on-board activities, entertainment, shore excursions and meals.
Themes for 1991 include "In the Good Old Summertime," "Fall Foliage," "Old Fashioned Holidays," "Big Band," "Spring Pilgrimage," "Kentucky Derby" and the "Great Steamboat Race."
In addition to regular meals, cruises include early bird breakfasts, mid-morning coffee or bouillon, afternoon tea, evening snacks and a late-night buffet.
One appealing feature for the health-conscious traveler is the selection of menu items, classified as "heartsmart," that are prepared with low cholesterol and low-fat ingredients.
Cruise meals also frequently reflect the cuisine of the area being visited.
Fares depend on the length of cruise and the type of cabin accommodations selected. All cabins are carpeted and include a private bathroom with shower.
A three-night trip will cost $445 per person for an inside stateroom with a single bed and a foldaway upper berth, up to $1,200 for "Captain's Veranda Suites," which have picture windows, large private verandas, dressing areas with vanity and mirrors and private bathrooms with tub and shower.
A six-day trip with a "middle category" stateroom will cost about $1,800 per person, including all meals and on-board activities but not shore tours or transportation to and from debarkation and embarkation cities, although a program that includes air transportation is available.
City tours are offered at additional cost in such places as New Orleans, St. Louis, Cincinnati, St. Paul, Nashville, Chattanooga and Pittsburgh.
These are one- or two-night visits and may include meals, city tours, admissions to various local attractions, airport transfers and pickup and transportation to the boat.
A free 65-page brochure provides descriptions of all aspects of the steamboat cruises, a complete description of on-board facilities, information on dining, entertainment, tours and other activities, and day-by-day itineraries on 1991 trips for both the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen.
Also included in the brochure are charts of the deck plans to assist in selecting staterooms, and prices for each trip. The brochure is illustrated with color photographs.
For a copy, write to Delta Queen, Robin Street Wharf, Dept. MT, New Orleans, La. 70130-1890, or call (800) 532-1949.