Sponsored: The echoes of Cincinnati’s riverboat history can still be experienced with daily BB Riverboat tours

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This article was written by Phil Armstrong.

Riverboat culture has been a steadfast part of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky history since our ancestors settled along its shores centuries ago. As river cities along the northern and southern shores developed, so did our waterway’s importance. The Ohio River and its connected canals became a popular hub of activity for transporting people and goods to and from the area, growing our civilization into what it has become. Regardless of the advancements in personal vehicles and air travel, the river remains a central piece of the puzzle when it comes to commerce and entertainment today.

While the age of the riverboat has quietly dimmed since its introduction to Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky all those years ago, BB Riverboats has been committed to keeping its heart beating for decades. You may know this already, but you can experience what it’s like to sail the Ohio River and get a new perspective on our area by joining them on one of their many weekly tours.

The key to BB Riverboats is the unique perspective they provide. They have something the vast majority of us don’t: the ability to easily and affordably enjoy the Ohio River from a hard-to-reach vantage point. Sure, there are beautiful views from Newport on the Levee, Bellevue Beach Park, The Banks, and numerous other riverside vistas, but a riverboat puts you in the middle of it all. You can’t help but marvel at that invincible thread of our history—the indelible romance of traveling on a riverboat—and how it has persisted despite a changing world.

 If you want to experience the liveliest part of the cruise, you’ll find it on the top deck. Photo by Phil Armstrong.

Thankfully, you can experience this unique perspective by taking one of BB Riverboats’ daily tours. Their fleet consists of two ships: the enormous Belle of Cincinnati and the smaller-sized River Queen. Between the two riverboats, there’s a high probability that you’ll find a cruise during a time that’s amenable to your schedule. Sightseeing cruises, such as the Historic Cincinnati Cruise and the Music & Sunset Cruise, start at an affordable $29. If you’d like a meal with your cruise, the Admiral’s Dinner Cruise or the Captain’s Lunch Cruise may be more up your alley with tickets starting at $46.

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If you’re looking to enhance a holiday like Mother’s Day or New Year’s Eve, BB Riverboats also hoists its anchors for cruises on those dates.

TAKING THE SIGHTSEEING TOUR

As a NKY resident who hopped over the river from Cincinnati a couple of years ago, I’ve been eager to submit myself to experiences I haven’t traditionally enjoyed. Having spent very little time on the Ohio River itself, BB Riverboats seemed to me to be a memorable way to experience both the natural landmark and a piece of our area’s history while also seeing both sides of the river from a unique perspective. I chose the Music & Sightseeing Cruise that departed on a Saturday evening.

I arrived at BB Riverboats’ striking base of operations in Newport an hour before my tour was scheduled to depart. When it was time to board, the captain of the Belle of Cincinnati warmly welcomed us before we made our way onto the ship. Once aboard, a photographer lined up groups of people who wanted a souvenir photo they could later purchase when the cruise was finished. Those who had tickets to the dinner cruise went inside to find their place at a table for a meal. Since I wasn’t eating, I explored the four decks of the Belle.

Be sure to pick up a map of the sightseeing tour before you board. Photo by Phil Armstrong.

Decks two and three had sizeable indoor dining rooms reserved for dinner guests. As a Music & Sightseeing Cruise ticket holder, I could still enjoy the outdoor walkways and the views they offered. Climbing a staircase, I reached the top deck where a band called Big Whiskey played covers of popular tunes under the open sky.

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Seeking a snack, I descended back down to the souvenir shop on the second deck where they sold everything from hot dogs to nachos. The indoor bar was open to anyone on the ship who wanted a drink, so I picked up a local beer before heading to one of the many chairs scattered across the third deck. The cruise hadn’t begun yet, so I appreciated the view of the city across the river for the moment.

At 7 PM, the captain announced our departure before blasting the ship’s horn, delighting an excited little boy seated at the bow and signaling the beginning of the tour. A light breeze lifted the BB Riverboat flag and its accompanying Jolly Roger on the forward mast, and the rear paddle wheel began steadily churning the river behind us. Seated passengers clinked drinks with their friends while others made their way up the stairs to the top deck to dance.

Over the next hour and a half, we headed upstream toward Dayton, KY. A map of the area supplied by BB Riverboats outlined places of interest along the route. Speedboats and jet skis waved to the Belle’s passengers as they whizzed past the riverboat. People leaned over the railings of bridges and smiled at us as we passed beneath them. The sun inched steadily behind the Great American and dug deeper into the edge of Mt. Adams with every wave that splashed against the hull. The tranquility of being on the river—a place I couldn’t access without the Belle’s sturdy deck beneath me—was undeniable.

Despite a shipping out with a full crew, you can find quiet areas to take in the views on lower decks. Photo by Phil Armstrong.

As we turned around to return to Newport, an ever-intensifying golden hue fell over the city in the distance. I imagined what it was like to coast along this same river 150 years earlier with a different crew under the same conditions and what their lives were like at the time.

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The return trip proved to be even more beautiful than the first leg. No longer fighting the flow of the river, the wind kicked up as the speed of the boat increased. The joviality of the top deck hit a high note, a couple on a lower deck stood against the rails and took in the view, and a family gazed downward at the paddle wheel and laughed about something I couldn’t hear. Flames from the tall stacks at Great American Ballpark fired as the team scored a run. All of the streetlights had illuminated on both sides of the river. I pointed my camera into the distance ahead and snapped photos of the impossibly gorgeous scene unfolding before us.

The skies’ yellows melted into oranges. Oranges to magentas. Magentas to purples. I could barely believe I’d managed to schedule my Music & Sunset Cruise during one of those Queen City sunsets fit for immortalization in an oil painting.

The evening would’ve been exceptional from the shore, but it was straight up magical from the third deck of the Belle of Cincinnati. I had BB Riverboats to thank for that.

Go on a cruise to get that nice sunset-on-the-river experience before summer comes to a close. Book your trip at bbriverboats.com.

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