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Train Festival 2011 Day 3 -- Celebration Belle River Cruise ~ July 23rd, 2011

by Elizabeth Guenzler

What better way to end the penultimate day of Train Festival 2011 than with a river cruise aboard the Celebration Belle. This was a Festival event so once we detrained from the all-day steam excursion, we quickly made our way to the boarding area. Riverboats, harbour cruises and ferries appeal to me from the riding and scenery perspective. Being outside, close to the scenery, the sun glinting on the water; it is something I really enjoy. I daresay that comes partly from taking the British Columbia Ferries from Victoria (Swartz Bay) to Vancouver (Tsawwassen) many times over the years growing up in Victoria. The ferries became bigger and fancier over time but my favourite location was outside on the deck, especially while going through the area known as Active Pass through the Gulf Islands. Of course, that was during the summer months; I tended to ride in March or November to attend the twice-yearly model railway shows or accompany my mother on her shopping trips. But I digress ...

My ticket for the cruise.

The riverboat that myself, Bob, Chris and Nathan would be riding.

Celebration Belle History

Celebration River Cruises is a family owned and operated business. The Schadler family is involved in every aspect of the boat's day-to-day operations from cooking the food fresh daily, helping serve their guests, keeping the engines running smooth and even piloting the vessel. Joe Schadler started the excursion boat business in Davenport, Iowa in 1984 with the Queen of Hearts, a three deck 400 passenger boat. Mr Schadler had the boat made to order at Tucker Marine in Cincinnati, Ohio. As word got around and the passengers began coming from miles around, Joe saw a need for more space. So in 1986, he purchased river front property in Moline, Illinois and moved the operation to Moline.

A few years later in 1993 after spending much of his boyhood watching and helping his father on the boat, Joe's son, Scott became a full partner in the business. With Scott's business sense and Joe's knowledge of the industry, the business began to flourish. As the business grew, the need for a larger vessel became apparent. In 1998, the Schadlers purchased the Celebration Belle, the largest non-gaming excursion riverboat in the Upper Mississippi River. The 750 passenger Celebration Belle was built in 1986 by Patti Shipbuilding of Pensacola, Florida. The larger boat also made way for new and exciting cruises. One such cruise that has become popular is the 100 Mile Day Long Cruise from the Quad Cities to Dubuque, IA. This cruise overwhelms its passengers with three homemade meals and live entertainment. And with the popularity of the 100 Mile Day Long Cruise came other special cruises such as the Big Band Cruise and our Captain's Prime Rib Dinner & Dance Cruise. We have also added new ports to include cruises south to Hannibal, Missouri and north to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin. We also had an increase interest in privately-chartered cruises for wedding receptions, proms, and corporate outtings. The Celebration Belle has significantly boosted tourism along the river. Visitors from as far as 1,000 miles away come to the area to cruise the Mississippi River. We have a large number of motorcoach groups that come to the Celebration Belle every year. The Schadler's host many international groups, including the King and Queen of Sweden. In 35 years of business, the Schadlers have been involved in the Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois economy as restaurateurs and boat operators. They have demonstrated that their love of the river equals entrepreneurial success. Their pioneering spirit has been instrumental in making the Mississippi River a major national tourism attraction.

The Government Bridge.

The City of Rock Island to the south; one of the municipalities that make up the Quad Cities (Moline, Davenport and Bettendorf are the others).

The Crescent Bridge which carries a rail line across the Mississippi River between Davenport and Rock Island, formerly owned by the Davenport, Rock Island and North Western Railway, a joint subsidiary of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, which was split in 1995 between then-joint owners Burlington Northern Railroad and Soo Line Railroad, with BN getting the bridge and the Illinois-side line, and Soo Line getting the Iowa-side line.

The swing span of the bridge open for us.

The southern part of the bridge.

The name board of this riverboat.

In the wheelhouse.

The pilot house of the 800 passenger Celebration Belle, the larest non-gaming riverboat on the Mississippi River, built in 1986.

After a delicious buffet dinner, the four of us went outside to enjoy the summer's evening cruise. Looking down from the top deck to the water below.

The I-280 bridge.

A road bridge over the Mississippi River.

Mississippi River views.

Boaters enjoying the river.

After this river marker, the boat will make a 180 degree turn to start back up the Mississippi River to Rock Island.

Looking toward Buffalo, Iowa.

The sun started to set but no one knew how incredible it would turn out to be.

Chris and myself enjoying the riverboat cruise.

After some pirate hilarity, I went up to the top deck to take in the sunset and was joined by Chris. As I stood there, I could not believe my eyes as to the colours and ever-changing scene.

The absolutely spectacular sunset that kept on getting better and better.

The silhouettes of the bridges against the myriad of colours was an added bonus. It was a truly magical experience and remains a special and treasured memory to this day. Once the boat returned to Rock Island, we deboarded, returned to the car and drove back to the hotel.

The ride and dinner on the Celebration Belle was the perfect way to cap off an excellent day and I hope to take another riverboat cruise on the Celebration Belle before too long.