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Belle of Cincinnati returning to Tri-State

July 24, 2018
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Guests look off of the back of the Belle of Cincinnati as it heads upriver from Harris Riverfront Park during a tour of the Ohio River.

HUNTINGTON — Folks have seen it at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, the Centennial Festival of Riverboats, at the Kentucky Derby Festival’s Great Steamboat Race, and plying the Ohio River waters between Newport, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio. This week, the Belle of Cincinnati is all ours as BB Riverboats and its crew make their way upriver. Stops are scheduled Thursday, July 27, through Thursday, Aug. 2, in such Tri-State river cities as Portsmouth, Ohio, Ashland, Kentucky, Huntington, Point Pleasant, West Virginia. and Gallipolis, Ohio, as well as Maysville, Kentucky, as the Belle pushes on back home to Riverboat Row in Newport. Kentucky.

The flagship of BB Riverboats, the Belle of Cincinnati has lavish Victorian decor on three climate-controlled decks with seating for up to 700 people. Inside, amenities include full bars, buffet restaurant seating and elevator access which gives passengers a chance to stroll on the top open-air deck.

For its summer cruise schedule, the Belle of Cincinnati offers guests multiple options for sightseeing cruises as well as brunch, lunch and dinner dining. The Belle is owned and operated by Bernstein, who runs BB Riverboats with his wife Mary and their children, Terri and Ben Bernstein. They have based their business out of Riverboat Row in Newport since 2005. Alan Bernstein’s father Ben started BB Riverboats in 1979 in Covington, Kentucky, booking cruises from the Mike Fink Restaurant. The first cruise took place on March 15, 1980.

Ben Bernstein, who is named after his grandfather, and who was the

youngest person (19) to get a captain’s license on the river back in 2000, said that they love to be able to bring the Belle of Cincinnati rolling up river through the small, yet quintessential Ohio River towns.

“We always enjoy traveling the boat and showing people a good time,” Bernstein said. “Back in the steam boat days it wasn’t so much entertainment, it was much more about transportation and delivering supplies but always and even then when a riverboat came to town it would always create a commotion and draw a crowd, and we recreate that in a way. We come in and show folks a good time.”

The visit by the Belle is a rare opportunity for Tri-State residents to get to ride a sternwheeler. When the 418-footlong American Queen visited Huntington last week, folks were not allowed on board or to cruise. The closest regularly operating river tour boats to Huntington are The Valley Gem out of Marietta and the Island Belle. Bernstein, who started working on the boats when he was six or seven and who was able to dock the boat by age 9, said the river is in his family’s blood, and that they love to share the magic of slow rolling along the river with families and friends aboard their ships.

“To me there is a romance to the river, and an aura and an atmosphere that you can’t get anywhere else,” Bernstein said. “You can dine at a waterfront restaurant or go to a riverside event at a city park. It’s different when you are on the river, with that slow movement and progress that you continue to make, and all of the sounds and the wind. It’s everything wrapped into one thing. It’s an entertaining trip, it’s a great meal and you get to share some great times with family and friends. That love of the river definitely gets inside of you. We have employees that are with us and then leave for a year or two. They always come back because that love of the river gets inside of you and grows. It’s a special thing.”

Bernstein said like in years past, the Ohio River summer cruises are selling well in all of the cities. Folks wanting to get a spot should call to book ahead in advance since group reservations quickly fill the boat’s capacity.

This is currently the case in Ashland, where the Saturday night dinner cruise is already sold out. Bernstein, who is now sharing the love of the river with his five-year-old son, said that they try to create cruises for everyone. Whether it’s the sightseeing, brunch, lunch and dinner cruises on the Ohio River tour or the wide variety of themed cruises from pirate cruises to bourbon, craft beer and wine cruises.

“We pride ourselves in having cruises for everybody and that also is a challenge marketing-wise but we do have stuff for everyone whether you want to take your wife out for dinner and a night out or take the family for one of the day cruises,” Bernstein said. “We try to touch it all and we’ve always had great success doing that.”

The small, family-owned business has had so much success that Ben and his father, Alan, won’t even get to roll up the river this trip. Capt. Kerry Snowden, and a new captain, Sam Sengsouvanh, will be manning the pilot house, while the Bernsteins are back in Covington, Kentucky. Crews there have began construction on a new $2 million expansion of the former Argosy Casino barge. BB Riverboats plans to transform it into an event facility. Seating capacity should be about 200 people. The barge will also house a bar, kitchen, as well as BB Riverboat’s catering operation, a wharf dock and business offices.

“Construction just began on Monday and so my father and I will be there but we are really excited about it,” Bernstein said of the expansion. “It is a big expansion for us and we have grown really quickly. We’re going to miss being on the trip but we thank all the people who have always came out and supported us. We couldn’t come back year after year if all the citizens of these cities didn’t come out and support us. We hear so many great stories from people who have spent birthday and anniversaries or who have been engaged on the boat. It’s always a fun trip and we couldn’t do it without people coming out to support us.”

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