Louisville, KY. – The Kentucky Derby Festival is pleased to announce that the American Queen – the largest steamboat ever built – will join the Belle of Louisville and the Belle of Cincinnati in the Festival’s 2012 Great Steamboat Race on May 2. The vessel’s home port is the Beale Street Landing in Memphis, Tenn. The American Queen will begin a series of 3- to 10-night cruises next April, with regular stops in Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, St. Louis, Minneapolis/St. Paul and New Orleans.
“We’re very excited that this magnificent boat will participate in next year’s Great Steamboat Race,” said Mike Berry, Kentucky Derby Festival President and CEO. “The American Queen will certainly be a sight to see and will add a striking presence to the Louisville waterfront during Derby Week next year. Having these three vessels compete in the Great Steamboat Race in 2012 is a tremendous way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of this unique event.”
The American Queen is a six-deck recreation of a classic Mississippi riverboat and is the only authentic overnight paddlewheel steamboat sailing in the United States. The American Queen, which is 418 feet long and 89 feet wide, was launched in 1995 and is currently undergoing a $5 million renovation. She has a capacity of 436 guests and a crew of 160. Tickets for cruise packages aboard the American Queen are on sale now; for more information visit the company’s website at www.greatamericansteamboatcompany.com.
The Belle of Cincinnati will be competing in the Derby Festival’s Great Steamboat Race for the eighth time, winning the competition in 2008 and 2010. The Great Steamboat Race was first held in 1963, with the Delta Queen capturing the inaugural contest on the Ohio River. The race series between the two historic vessels ended in 2008 with the hometown Belle of Louisville finishing with an overall record of 22 wins versus the Delta Queen’s 20 victories. The race was cancelled once in 1967 and rescheduled in 1966 and 1983 due to high water. Three other boats have won the event – the Julia Belle Swain in 1976, the Natchez in 1982 and the Spirit of Jefferson in 1999.
Details of the 2012 Great Steamboat Race will be released next spring, but all three boats will have the opportunity to capture the Silver Antlers, which are traditionally presented to the winning crew.
Since 1956, the Derby Festival has worked to bring the community together in celebration. The Festival is an independent community organization supported by 4,000 volunteers, 400 businesses and civic groups, Pegasus Pin sponsorships and event participation. It entertains more than 1.5 million people in a two- week period. This involvement has made the Festival the largest single attended event in Kentucky and one of the leading community celebrations in the world.