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American Queen returning to Natchez

The Great American Steamboat Company purchased the American Queen in the fall of 2011 and began work to get her on the river again, said Tim Rubacky, senior vice president of sales and marketing for the steamboat company.

“A boat this iconic, this fabled, it doesn’t go missing without people noticing it,” Rubacky said. “When the American Queen was built in 1995 she was a tribute to what is, this year, 200 years of history, that steamboats had been traveling up and down the Mississippi. She was purposely built to pay homage to the great steamboats of the past.”

The owners, crews and employees of the boat have been working furiously since August to bring that history back, Rubacky said.

“People are wrapped around this with their hearts and souls,” he said. “This has history; the boat has soul.”

Since the boat was the most modern of all the steamboats, the overhaul wasn’t massive, Rubacky said.

The outside was painted, and new paint and wallpaper were applied on some indoor areas.

Seventy percent of the work was behind the scenes, Rubacky said, on things like the vessel’s mechanical systems.In the staterooms, the carpet was cleaned, but most furnishings remained. New bedding and towels helped spruce things up.

Most public areas received new carpeting and a deep cleaning. A rebuilt deck area added a new outdoor restaurant.

“There were a lot of tweaks and enhancements,” Rubacky said. “If you sailed on the boat in 1996 and came back on it today, it’s immediately recognizable, and like you just came home again.”

Economic engine

The love steamboat employees have invested may hardly compare for the love Natchez has toward the money that each steamboat cruise can dump at the city’s doorstep, area tourism officials said.

Boat passengers will pay between $1,000 to $8,000 for their cruises, depending on the length of their trips and the amenities they purchased. Such high-end adventures attract high-end passengers, Rubacky acknowledged.

Passengers are encouraged to enjoy excursions along the way, spending money in local stores and businesses, he said.