The largest paddlewheel steamboat ever built visited Chattanooga on Monday.
The American Queen -- which is also known as the First Lady of the Mississippi -- docked at Ross's Landing on Sunday night for its first visit to Chattanooga since being rechristened in April, according to Nora Farrell, an account representative at Lou Hammond & Associates, the public relations firm for the American Queen.
"It was like a big, floating Christmas tree," said Garrett Wilson, a crew member of the Southern Belle, who saw the boat dock Sunday night. "I'm not kidding -- it was really bright all lit up."
Wilson, along with other members of the Southern Belle crew, took a tour of the boat Monday. Brandon Castleberry, one of the crew members, said the boat's interior was elegant and had an open feel.
"It's really nice inside -- really nice," he said. "Have you ever seen the movie Titanic? It looks a lot like that."
Castleberry, who was selling tickets for the Southern Belle at its ticket office, said he had been fielding questions about the American Queen all day.
Towering about 90 feet over the water, the American Queen set off on its 11-day cruise, which will make stops in several ports including Florence, Ala., and Savannah, Tenn., before it arrives in Memphis. The boat was originally slated to travel to Vicksburg, Miss., but will not be docking there, according to crew members. Other American Queen journeys have been unable to travel south of Memphis because of boat traffic and low waters, Farrell said.
"It's been fun sitting here listening to the calliope [steam organ]," said Diane Appleby, a visitor from Harvest, Ala. "They've been battling back and forth with the Delta Queen's calliope, right there across the river."
Monday, about 50 people gathered at Ross's Landing to watch as the boat undocked, lowering its smoke stacks to fit under the P.R. Olgiati Bridge, and set out for its next port, Decatur, Ala.
The steam boat will not make another stop in Chattnooga this year, but it will host a Civil War cruise -- which will travel from Memphis to Chattanooga -- as well as a "manifest destiny"-themed cruise -- from Chattanooga to St. Louis -- in September 2013.
Matt Appleby, Diane Appleby's husband, said he would be interested in participating in a river cruise, like the ones that are offered by the American Queen Steamboat Co.
"I've always liked the idea of doing river cruises, especially if it's something historical," he said. "Now that we are empty nesters, we'll be looking into things like this."
Contact staff writer Rachel Bunn at email@example.com or 423-757-6592.