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Making A Splash

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Dianne Reeves wanted her daughter’s birthday party to be special, so when Captain Steve Barnes gave her a tour of the new Riverboat Queen on Wilmington’s Riverfront, her party-planning synapses went into overload.

The fifth-birthday bash in early May 2009 was a huge hit. “In hindsight,” says Reeves, who lives in Newark, “I think I could have shown up with just balloons and a cake, because the children were very happy and enthusiastic about going for a boat ride and seeing the sights. And the parents were pretty pleased to do something different on a Saturday morning.”

In fact, she says, “A number of the children told my daughter it was the best party they’d ever been to.”

Near the other end of the celebration spectrum was the graduation party Lauren Delpino arranged on the Queen for her son, Ambrose, when he graduated from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy in late May 2009. Though the 80 guests ranged in age from 5 to 70-plus, the real partiers were Ambrose’s 40 classmates. “It was awesome,” he says. “We saw the sunset and went out within a few hundred yards of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. My friends were emailing and text-messaging me about it for days after.”

That’s the kind of response the Riverboat Queen has been eliciting from customers since Barnes and his family launched her on the Christina River in late 2008.

A native of Wilmington, Barnes is a veteran of 23 years with the Wilmington Police Department, where he is the public information officer and, for the past seven years, has been supervisor of the Marine Unit. He served in the U.S. Navy, and he has owned and been around boats almost his entire life.

On a police cruise escorting an oil tanker up the Delaware River one day, Barnes spotted the Riverboat Queen docked in Essington, Pennsylvania. A smaller version of the paddle wheel riverboats that ply the Mississippi River, it measures 65 feet at the waterline and 85 feet overall. Steve and his wife, Laura, purchased it in April 2008. Now the Riverboat Queen, with two decks, a full-service bar and two restrooms, is on a regular schedule, often carrying 90 people. It also hosts frequent private charters.

The most popular events on the Queen are the all-you-can-eat, 1 ½-hour crab cruises at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays. Public cruises ($15 for adults, $5 for kids) with bar and snack service sail Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

In July 2009, the Queen began hosting Floatin’ Friday from 6 p.m. to about 10:30 p.m. For $10, passengers get bar and snack service as well as music, usually live. The boat leaves the dock at about 7 p.m. for an hour-and-15-minute sail. After returning, it stays open at the dock for the rest of the evening.

Charters complete with a catered buffet (cooking is now allowed onboard), bar service and deejay are available any time.

The Queen gets a bit of competition from the River Taxi, a 36-passenger pontoon boat designed primarily to move people around the Riverfront daily. Passengers board from six docks along the Riverfront for a relaxing voyage on the Christina River and Brandywine Creek. Special tours and chartered services are also available, including Family Night and Wednesdays on the Water, a one-hour cruise with wine tasting and entertainment.

“This is our first business venture,” Laura says, “but it’s turned into quite the adventure.”

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