Riverboats will dock again in Burlington, bringing tourists to town for eight hours of sightseeing – Burlington Hawk Eye

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It's been two years, but Mississippi River cruises soon will dock again at Burlington. The Greater Burlington Partnership is inviting the public to the riverfront to welcome the paddlewheel riverboats.  Burlington dockings scheduled to take place are: American Duchess on Aug. 7, and the American Countess on Sept. 3 and Oct. 14.Indiana-based American Queen Steamboat Co. halted travel in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Once-a-month dockings this season at Burlington were slated to start this month; however, AQSC cancelled a visit by the American Queen riverboat scheduled for Wednesday. AQSC had been operating paddlewheelers under SafeCruise protocols since March, including cleaning and disinfecting standards and working with local, state and federal health agencies, according to Kelsey Matthews of Lou Hammond Group, a public relations agency for the company. AQSC began requiring that all guests and crew be vaccinated on July 1.With "enhanced safety measures," the company is doing a phased restart of operations across its fleet. The American Queen will be the fourth steamboat to launch. The American Duchess was the first, in March, followed by the American Countess. The American Empress launched June 14. More: Iowa State Fair releases updated COVID guidance: No mask rules, no capacity limitsBurlington tour guides will get training; passengers greeted by two songsThe big riverboats that ply the Mississippi River are under the purview of Chelsea Lerud, executive director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of the Greater Burlington Partnership. She coordinates the volunteers needed to show passengers around the community whenever they dock riverside. "The boats arrive in the middle of the night. Passengers disembark at around 8 a.m. The vessels will leave around 4 p.m.," Lerud said. The CVB is  preparing with a guide refresher/training course on Wednesday. It has a number of tour guides who assist on docking days. The Welcome Center Ambassadors sing two songs to the passengers — "The Song of Iowa" to the tune of "Tannenbaum," and reworked lyrics to "When You’re Smiling," Lerud said. The "When You’re Smiling" version, with lines of: "Go see Snake Alley, and our Cobblestone Street;And our Museums, they just can’t be beat;So when you're smiling, keep on smiling;And we'll all smile with you,"was composed specifically for this purpose, by then-ambassador Ginny Burrus, who loved sharing with visitors Burlington's architecture, unique geography and landmarks. All local tour guides will be required to present their vaccination card or receive a rapid test (by boat personnel) the day of the docking, Lerud said. Burlington stops include the Des Moines County Heritage Center, Mosquito Park, Snake Alley/Garrett-Phelps House Museum, Downtown Burlington, and the Port of Burlington Welcome Center, Lerud said.For passengers, "Masks are no longer required onboard after embarkation, but a face covering must be worn during boarding and on shore excursion motorcoaches per CDC transportation guidelines," according to a news release from American Queen. Deborah Hoelzen Bowen is a docent at the Heritage Center Museum. As a guide, she and others stand ready to help steamboat tourists and answer their questions. The visitors "are always amazed at what a wonderful place (the Heritage Center Museum) building is," she said. "The Bart Howard Room is pretty unusual, and people familiar with Bart Howard will listen to the radio play 'Fly Me to the Moon.'" Guides also take tourists to different locations if they wish to explore.More: Cedar Rapids contestant dethrones weeklong winner on 'Jeopardy!', comes home with $25,000New riverboats carrying visitors to Burlington, including the VikingThe Duchess is a sister boat to the American Queen built in 2017 on the hull of the former Isle of Capri riverboat casino formerly docked at Bettendorf, and last docked in Burlington in 2019. The American Countess is a refurbished former gambling boat and made its debut for AQSC in March.The American Duchess will operate at near-full capacity of 166 guests.The company describes the American Duchess as a "boutique-style riverboat" that offers "exquisite dining, beautiful decks and exceptional amenities.""American Queen Steamboat Company released its 2022 and 2023 seasons for bookings back in early 2021 in order to meet the pent-up demand for close-to-home cruising. Burlington is a featured stop on the Mighty Mississippi itineraries sailing from Minneapolis to New Orleans and on the Minneapolis (Red Wing) to St. Louis (Alton) sailings on board the American Countess, American Duchess and American Queen," Matthews said. In 2022, even more ships will be traveling area waters. Viking, a river, ocean and expedition cruise line, will debut its first U.S.-based river ship, Viking Mississippi, in August 2022.More: Heritage Center Museum reopens with new displays after more than a year of COVID-19 closureThe five-deck Viking Mississippi was specially built for the Mississippi River and will carry 386 passengers in 193 all outside staterooms. Voyages will sail on the Lower and Upper Mississippi River, between New Orleans and St. Paul, and Iowa stops will be Burlington, Dubuque and Davenport. Viking’s river cruises scheduled for 2023 have already started to sell out, and so the company has opened sales for 2024 Mississippi River cruises. The cruise line is preparing to bring more than 5,800 guests to the region in 2022 and over 17,600 during the first full sailing season in 2023.Iowa Travel Industry Partners (iTIP), a newly formed statewide organization set to represent the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry, announced Friday it has hired Lerud as its interim director.
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