Mississippi River cruise visitors may be returning to Oak Alley

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 30, 2010

By David Vitrano


VACHERIE – Since 2008, passenger ships have been all but absent from the lower Mississippi River. That year, the Delta Queen made its last voyage before being docked permanently in Chattanooga, Tenn., where it is a floating hotel.

The end to the trips by the Delta Queen and its sister ships, the American Queen and the Mississippi Queen, greatly impacted the number of visitors to local plantations, especially Oak Alley, a frequent stopping or excursion point for passengers on the river boats.

Said Zeb Mahew, owner of all parts of Oak Alley except the mansion, “In the course of a year we used to have close to 86 stops.”

He said the stops brought about 12,000 visitors to the plantation yearly.

“When they stopped it took a lot of business away from us,” added his wife, Debra Mahew, who handles much of the administrative duties at Oak Alley.

A new service may soon bring some of those visitors back to the plantation.

Cruise West, a line based in Seattle, said recently the 207-foot Spirit of America will begin making trips between New Orleans and Memphis starting next spring.

Louisiana stops on the line include Vacherie and St. Francisville.

The cruises will take eight days to get from New Orleans to Memphis.

The boat will also travel between Memphis and Nashville.

“I really, really miss the Delta Queen,” said Zeb Mahew, who said the Spirit of America may not be the only thing bringing an influx of visitors to the area.

He said the return of Carnival Cruise lines to New Orleans will also be a boon to local tourist destinations.

“We’re looking for that business to grow back again,” he said.

He also said many beach goers may change their vacation destination to New Orleans because of the oil spill and hoped those people would take side trips to the plantations of the River Parishes.