America’s Last Steamboat: The Belle Of Louisville

Louisville provided me the opportunity to cross something off my bucket list: ride America’s last operating river steamboat.  Okay, this wasn’t actually on my bucket list before, but you can bet your bottom dollar I added it to the list and then crossed it off after we hopped off board!



The boat I speak of is none other than the Belle of Louisville.  This beauty will be celebrating her 100th birthday in October 2014, an occasion that has never been achieved by any other steamboat in our dear country.  She holds the proud status as a National Historic Landmark.

We joined the Belle for her sightseeing and lunch cruise.  You heard the little lady before you saw her…a few blocks away sounded music being pumped out of her pipes…everything from the theme to Gilligan’s Island to the latest Lady Gaga hit.  For being almost a century old, she’s quite the energetic thing.



Traveling on the Belle is taking a trip back into time…a time when working riverboats were the backbone to America.  We had the opportunity to go up top to chat with the captains a bit, where I saw first hand that navigating the Belle down the Ohio River and back was no easy feat.  It’s been said that if you catch your shorts on the helm, it’s strong and fast enough to throw a grown man clear off the ship.



The two hour lunch cruise ($32) included a buffet with all your southern favorites (fried chicken, mac-n-cheese, collard greens, Derby Pie…need I go on?), as well as a live DJ, dancing, and narration of historical tid-bits throughout the cruise.  We even had an onboard magician, entertaining both the kids and parents alike.

You also have the option to just purchase the sightseeing ticket ($21), which gives you access to the onboard concession cafe and full service bar.



Whichever option you choose, definitely take the time to learn the history of the boat.  You can view the boiler room, take in the photos of the Belle over the years and her transformation, and head to the back to watch the paddle wheel do her magic.  The crew were all incredibly knowledgable and helpful in answering any questions I had, definitely leaving you with not only a greater appreciation for a piece of American history, but also a great impression of Louisville and its people.  And, bucket lists aside, isn’t that what travel is all about?



For more information about tickets and departure times, visit the Belle of Louisville’s website.

WHAT: Belle of Louisville
401 W. River Road
Louisville, KY  40202
Ph. 502.574.2992


By: Jessica Tiare Bowen

A very special thank you to the wonderful folks at the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau!



  • It looks like you enjoyed your tour and cruise in the vintage steamboat. I envy you for experiencing how it feels like to cruise vintage-style.

  • Suzy says:

    Another reminder that I have so much more to see of this country, and I am not even done with New York yet! I love the flexibility of your bucket list. I really must start one…

    • Used York City says:

      Bucket lists are great! A grown-up’s excuse to do all kinds of fun things their inner child loves:-)

  • That looks like such a fun way to spend an afternoon! I had never thought of it before but I’m going to add it to my bucket list now too! :)

    • Used York City says:

      It’s a great activity to do with kids, too! They seemed to love the magic show and the electric slide on the dance floor!:-)

  • Andrea Naomi says:

    Wow I really had no idea running steamboats were such a rare commodity these days. This post definitely made me want to add it to my bucket list :) It sounds like you had an awesome experience, Thanks for sharing!

  • Mack says:

    Well I can’t say it was on my bucket list either Jess, but after reading this, I really want to go for a ride on a steamboat! How awesome, I’m extremely jealous. To see a technology so old in action must have been surreal, not to mention how beautiful of a boat it is :) Thanks a lot for sharing!

  • Gena neumann says:

    Thanks for Sharing our Belle! You must come back down for Derby- and the 2 weeks leading up!!!
    Put on a big ol’ hat and you too can be an Honorary “Belle” ;-D
    Cheers from the South!

    • Used York City says:

      I would LOVE to be an honorary southern belle, Gena! I went to the Derby Museum while I was there and absolutely loved the exhibit with all the hats and snappy spring attire!:-) It would be amazing to experience that in person!

  • timmay says:

    the delta queen still exists and until last year raced the bellle every year also there is the spirit of jefferson which is docked next to the belle and a monsterous american queen normally docked in memphis tenn which makes annual trips up the missisippi and ohio rivers to ohio and back and is also sung about in the country song queen of memphis. there is also the belle of cincinatti which started racing in the great steamboat race this year replacing the delta queen. the delta queen can no longer travel along the river due to politicians failing to exempt it from an old law that prevents it from moving due to age. the delta queen is highly haunted and has been highlighted on many tv ghost hunting shows. she is docked in louisiana last heard. the belle is the oldest that can travel. several years back a crewman left open a valve and she sunk in the ohio. thanks to generous donors and the city louisville she has been fixed and restored in all her glory. she is a ride to remeber. theres also moonlight cruises for those wishing a romantic escape for little money.

    • Used York City says:

      Thanks so much for the info, Timmay! The crew were talking about how she sank a few years back…so glad she was able to be restored thanks to the great people of Louisville!:-)

  • Julie says:

    What a great article! My 18 floor office (I’m in one of the twin lighthouse buildings) overlooks the Ohio River and while I can’t see the Belle until she leaves the dock, I can hear that wonderful calliopy when she takes afternoon cruises. It’s fantastic!

    • Used York City says:

      Thanks so much, Julie! What a gorgeous view you must have! If I lived in Louisville I would love to be downtown overlooking the Ohio River…it’s such a wonderful area! And hearing the Belle take off everyday would be an added bonus!:-)

  • I’d LOVE something like this. Hmm, maybe I can plan a trip to help her celebrate 100 years!
    All my favorite foods are here. I can just taste the mac-n-cheese. Yum!

    • Used York City says:

      That’s a great idea! Louisville is filled with delicious restaurants making comfort food favorites! The “Hot Brown” is something they’re famous for, and all the locals rave about it!

  • Thanks for sharing your wonderful tour. It tickled me a bit looking at red the kitty liter pans to catch the oil in the boiler room. As a child I recall a round-trip paddle boat cruise across the Michigan Lakes to Canada and back.

  • I love your site, Jess! I’m so glad I found this. I’ve not been able to travel very much the past few years, and seeing these colorful photos and descriptions of your adventures allows me to live vicariously a bit.

    The boiler room looks bad. I can only imagine the heat that emanates. Stupid question: Are steam ships powered solely by water?

    Thanks for the history lesson. So much cooler than any textbook :).

    • Used York City says:

      Thanks so much, Linda! You’re right, the boiler room was HOT! Add that onto an already balmy Louisville summer day, and you have to give massive kudos for the crew that mans the boiler room!

      To the best of my understanding, water is fed to the boiler on the ship, heating up and producing steam that powers the boat. Although the crew tells the process much more eloquently!:-)

  • dwight says:

    ah the belle of louisville….when is the steamboat race??

    • Used York City says:

      The Great Steamboat Race is an annual event taking place the Wednesday before the first Saturday of May…part of the Kentucky Derby Festival! Truly a fabulous time to visit Louisville!

  • Anthony says:

    Are there non-steam powered paddleboats left? or is this the last paddleboat period?

    • Used York City says:

      Hey Anthony! The company declares the Belle of Louisville “America’s last true river steamboat still in operation”. While I think there are reproductions of boats that may look like original steamboats, it’s my understanding that they are not powered by the same process. Hope this helps:-)

      • Kadie says:

        I’m the Education Coordinator for the Belle, so I hope this will help with any confusion: The Belle of Louisville is the oldest operating river steamboat of her kind (Mississippi River-style) in the world. There are currently 3 river steamboats operating on America’s inland rivers – the Natchez at New Orleans, the American Queen out of Memphis, and the Belle at Louisville. While all three of those vessels have steam engines and use a stern paddlewheel for propulsion, the Belle is the only operating steamboat built during the steamboat era, and is turning 98 years old this month (October, 2012). There are many riverboats in the country that use diesel engines (including the American Queen which has both diesel and steam engines), and many built to look like old-fashioned steamboats – some even with operating paddlewheels; but if they don’t have steam engines, they’re not a steamboat. The last race between the Belle and the Delta Queen took place on April 30, 2008 (the DQ took the honors), and while the Delta Queen still has operating steam engines and paddlewheel, she is currently serving as a dockside hotel at Chattanooga.

        • Used York City says:

          Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to explain, Kadie! We really appreciate it:-)

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