Why cruise boats are so important to Natchez

Published 6:59 pm Tuesday, March 30, 2021

It’s about tourism and economic development. It’s about investment in Natchez. It’s about JOBS…

This past week, I have had the pleasure of participating in the christening and maiden voyage of The American Countess, American Queen Steamboat Company’s newest paddle boat.

When first invited, I was a bit reluctant to invest the time to make the trip. Upon further reflection, I realized that participating in this historic event was a must as Natchez is the most popular stop for cruises along the Mississippi.

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As a result, I have been able to spend time with a host of American movers and shakers: travel writers, tour companies, other mayors, and the owner and founder of the American Queen Steamboat Company, John Waggoner and his executive team. A real highlight of the trip has been the chance to visit with people like Dickie Brennan, the famous restauranteur of New Orleans, and Billy Nungesser, the Lt. Governor of Louisiana. These gentlemen love Natchez!

While on the trip, ironically, I have been busy in final negotiations with two other cruise companies that are very important to Natchez: American Cruise Lines and Viking. And the good news is that, while on this trip, we have worked out most of the final details for our dock project and the raising of Silver Street. This is indeed reason to celebrate!

A casual observer may ask why spend all of this time luring cruise boats back to Natchez and negotiating the construction of docks and the raising of Silver Street. Like the river, there is a ripple effect. To get the true picture, let’s look at the numbers…

American Queen has three boats that are soon to be travelling again on the lower Mississippi. Once at full capacity, the total weekly passenger count will be 828, and this doesn’t even count the several hundred crew members.

American Cruise Lines has four vessels that will also be travelling our area again soon. The total weekly passenger count for these ships will be 692, again not counting crew members.

Add to this Viking, slated to have their new ship, the Viking Mississippi, ready next summer to start bringing 386 passengers to Natchez each week, again not counting crew members.

This means that Natchez will soon be welcoming over 1500 guests each week from all over America and even the world. And by next summer, this number will increase to over 2000 and even higher once ACL completes construction of more ships that are already underway. Add to this thousands of crew members who all say Natchez is their favorite stop, and we are talking BIG NUMBERS. AQ and ACL predict that they will be bringing over 50,000 people to Natchez over the course of the next year alone!

This kind of publicity for Natchez is invaluable. To have thousands of visitors each year visiting our beautiful city and spending their time and money here is huge. And in true Natchez style, we expect our southern hospitality will bring these tourists back wanting more, to stay longer, and to possibly invest in property and businesses. I have been on the Countess all week. I have heard the buzz. Natchez is a hot commodity, and we haven’t even begun to see the impact of what all of this means!

So get ready Natchez. Our Jewel of the Mississippi is about to embark upon her brightest chapter. The new docks, a Silver Street that doesn’t flood, and scores of tourists at our doorstep every week is just the beginning. The best is yet to come.

It’s about tourism and economic development. It’s about investment in Natchez. It’s about JOBS…

Dan Gibson is mayor of Natchez.