Saturday, October 3, 2015

Autumn Day on the Celebration Belle from Dubuque to Prairie du Chien

The Celebration Belle

Boarding in the rain

Tuesday, September 29, 2015  Our itinerary called for a 7:30 am boarding, so we woke early, sadly to a dark and rainy morning.  Even though the Celebration Belle was docked only a short distance from our hotel, we decided to drive and avoid spending the entire day in wet clothes.  Luckily we has a large umbrella in the car and could make it from the car to the loading area quickly.  We were given our table number immediately and ushered to its location where our waitress greeted us with hot coffee.  As soon as all the guests were aboard and the boat had left shore, we were treated to breakfast.
All three meals were served buffet style and all the food was prepared right on the boat.  Sticky buns, muffins, fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, and rope sausage were on the morning menu.  A delightful couple, both retired school teachers, provided the day's entertainment, and they were busy entertaining almost the entire day.  They played through each meal, plus more.
Passengers were able to walk the third and fourth decks, and could even sit with the captain for a smell and chat about the river.  We spent some time on the third deck in the morning and wandered through the gift shop, but the wet weather kept us in the main second deck area for most of the morning.  Russ did go up to the captain's area and he enjoyed talking with the two captains.

Our entertainers led a shipboard exercise group and we both took part in that.  Really surprised me that Russ was willing, but it was good to be up and moving around.  Then there was a trivia contest and we joined one of four teams.  We won the first game of 20 questions and tied in the second game.  We had some really good people on our team, and Russ was able to provide the correct answers to some golf questions.  Me, I was sort of a dud.  I knew the answers to questions that others also knew, but really didn't provide any answers to the tough ones.  We saw quite a few barges and went through one lock in the morning.  The captain filled us in on some of the sights along the shore, explained the mechanics  and history of the lock system, and also talked about the importance of barges to our economy.  Here is a link to a chart which shows just how efficient and huge barges are  One barge carries the same as 15 railroad cars or 58 semi-loads.  A tow ship can tow up to `5 barges at a time on the upper Mississippi, that is as much 870 large semis.  Those of us who don't live along the river really don't understand how much our economy benefits from the river traffic.  

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Several barges.  The towboat is mostly cut off the photo.

Before we knew it, it was lunch time.  It was way more food than was necessary for a lunch.  Spring mix green salad, pasta salad, bean salad, rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken breast, hot vegetable and carrot cake.  By the time we were done with our meal, the sun was out and many people headed for the upper decks to walk around and to watch the scenery.  Our entertainers had a special decades show in the afternoon with music from the 50s-70s.  We watched for a while, but then went outside and just listened over the speakers.  Near the end, they did a special tribute to veterans and Russ went down for that. He purchased a US Navy cap a while ago, and when we've gone new places, strangers have come up to him and asked about his Navy service.  That happened again on the Celebration Belle, and he visited with another Navy vet for quite awhile.   

During the afternoon, we went through another lock.  Our scenery to the left was of Iowa, mostly bluffs.  Some passengers were having fun deciding which homes on the bluff tops we would like to have. There were two travel groups onboard, both were from Minnesota, I think. The Wisconsin scenery were mostly lower river shore and we could see good areas to tether a boat and set up camp. Eventually the Wisconsin area become more bluff-like, especially when we went by Wyalusing State Park.  A couple ladies traveling alone were at a table right next to ours.  They spent most of their time playing cards, and it looked like they were playing canasta, so we asked them.  Yes, it was canasta, but not "hand and foot" like we play.  They invited us to play, but we never got around to doing it.  Now, we certainly could have landed at Prairie du Chien without eating again, but this was booked as an all day cruise.  With an expected landing of 5:30 or 5:45 that meant eating at 5:00 -- Salad, hot vegetable, red potatoes, pasta primavera, and prime rib, with raspberry cheesecake square for dessert.  Ugh, will my clothes ever fit again??

I have to say we had the nicest crew on this excursion.  We learned that the Celebration Belle only does this trip from Dubuque to Prairie du Chien once a year.  Normally they travel from Moline or LeClare to Dubuque, and vice versa.  The day after our trip the Celebration Belle was doing two 4-hour cruises right by Prairie du Chien, one for lunch and then a separate evening cruise.  On Thursday, they then had a cruise back to Dubuque, beginning at 10:00 am and landing at 5:30 or 6:00.  That is the cruise we had originally planned to take, but it was fully booked when we made our reservations.  As we docked right along Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien, there were people onshore taking photographs.  Seeing the elegant Villa Louis, you could almost imagine being a 19th Century traveler, except the three buses parked in the lot waiting for us to disembark sort of ruined the illusion!  

The travel groups loaded their buses and I believe they were headed to motels in Prairie du Chien for the night.  The rest of us were transported on the third bus back to Dubuque and our cars.  For us, that meant another night at the Grand Harbor.  By the time we were back, I was ready for a bit of exercise, so I walked the short distance to the hotel while Russ drove our car back.  A little down time and it was time for bed!  I forgot to share earlier that the Celebration Belle is the largest passenger boat (ship) floating on the upper Mississippi River; she was built to be a casino boat, but was purchased and turned into an excursion vessel a few years ago.  This was a delightful trip.  Like so many things that interest us lately, it seems to appeal to a retired clientele.  That dynamic may be younger during the summer months, though.  Here is a link to their website for further information.  

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