About a month after the Delta Queen riverboat arrived in Chattanooga, people finally can get a sneak peak into the future waterfront boutique hotel.
This weekend, visitors will be able take guided tours up the grand staircase that caught the eye of Captain Tom Greene when he bought the boat in 1946, to the Texas Lounge and to some of the suites, including President Jimmy Carter's Suite 340 on the Sun Deck.
"We'll open for tours this weekend. In the coming weeks it will open its food and beverage outlets where people can come aboard and enjoy a cocktail, dinner," said Bill Wiemuth, spokesman and historian for the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, Inc. "And once we get all of the certifications and inspections, we'll open our overnight hotel stays in May."
A National Historic Landmark, the Delta Queen has been leased by Harry Phillips, Chattanooga Water Taxi Co. owner. It's a conditional lease. If the boat receives a U.S. congressional exemption from the Safety at Sea Act and a buyer comes forward to operate it as an overnight passenger vessel, the lease will be terminated.
IF YOU GO
* What: Delta Queen tours
* When: 4-8 p.m. today and Friday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
* Where: Tours depart from Chattanooga's City Pier at Ross's Landing onboard the Fat Cat Ferry
* Cost: $8 adults, $4 for children age 12 or younger
* Info: Visit www.DeltaQueenHotel.com or call 423-209-2943.
DELTA QUEEN FAST FACTS
* Built in 1926 by the California Transportation Co.
* Logged more than 2 million miles, carried more than 500,000 passengers
* Only boat inducted into the National Marine Hall of Fame while still in service
* Added to the National Register of Historic Places in June 1970
* Last public passenger trip ended on Oct. 31, 2008, in Memphis
John Lewis, who worked on the boat in 1964 and now lives in Chattanooga, said he couldn't think of a better city for the Delta Queen than Chattanooga.
"I think it's a very good idea because this boat is on the national registry, is a historic monument and is a part of our history," he said, "and I think that it's great that they're letting people on board the boat (to) see what a real old-fashioned steamboat looks like."
For now, the Delta Queen will not be steaming anywhere. She only was able to carry passengers on the water because she was exempted from the Safety at Sea Act, a 1966 law prohibiting wooden vessels from carrying more than 50 overnight passengers. But she lost that exemption last fall.
"Since the 1950s, she's been the only overnight passenger steamer (in the nation)," said Delta Queen tour guide and historian Jennifer Lemmon. "Now she can't go anywhere because of the congressional exemption that we couldn't get. That's kind of a sad thing, but we are excited the hotel will give her life, and they're going to be able to take care of her."
Jo Ann Schoen, who lives in Indiana and is active in Save the Queen grassroots efforts, said she just hopes the new owner takes care of the vessel.
"My hope is that he will take care of her until our Congress comes to their senses and issues an extension and the right buyer comes along, takes her over and runs her as it should be," she said.
But Vicki Webster, also with the Save the Delta Queen campaign, said she feels that turning the steamboat into a permanently docked hotel is a slap in the face.
"She's only special because of the places she takes the people," said the Ohio resident. "It cannot survive very long if she's tied up. We need to get this boat on the river as soon as possible."
Mr. Lewis also said his dream is to see the boat rolling up and down the river again.
"She's a riverboat," he said.