Northeast Times

Love boat

Marty and Tina Wehner en­joy a glass of wine on the top deck of the Phil­adelphia Belle be­fore tak­ing a din­ner cruise. SARAH SCHU / FOR THE TIMES

The Phil­adelphia Belle is mak­ing ma­jor waves on the Delaware River.

As Ry­an O’Con­nor watches pas­sen­gers get ready to board the Phil­adelphia Belle, he sees plenty of “wow mo­ments.”

O’Con­nor, the dir­ect­or of sales, ex­plained that the ri­ver­boat can handle as many as 1,000 people for a re­cep­tion-style event.

“She’s a big ship,” he said.

The Phil­adelphia Belle, loc­ated on the Delaware River between Mar­ket and Chest­nut streets, is billed as the largest pas­sen­ger/din­ing ves­sel on the East Coast. It fea­tures four decks, in­clud­ing three en­closed, cli­mate-con­trolled decks and an open-air ob­ser­va­tion deck. It is 65 feet high and nearly 262 feet long.

Christened in 1994 as the Mis­sis­sippi Belle II, it served as a sta­tion­ary gambling boat in Illinois be­fore be­ing pur­chased by a com­pany that wanted to bring it to Phil­adelphia. 

The pad­dle­wheel-style ri­ver­boat was, of course, re­named and un­der­went $2 mil­lion in in­teri­or renov­a­tions. It ar­rived in Phil­adelphia last Au­gust after a 

120-day, 3,600-mile jour­ney and was christened for a soft open­ing in Decem­ber. Philly per­former Lauren Hart smashed the cham­pagne bottle and sang God Bless Amer­ica.

The nicer weath­er in the spring has brought more activ­ity for the ves­sel. The cus­tom­er base is in the city, sub­urbs and South Jer­sey, and the Phil­adelphia Belle, as ex­pec­ted, also is a hit with tour­ists and groups.

The ship sits on pre­vi­ously un­oc­cu­pied space owned by the Delaware River Wa­ter­front Corp., and O’Con­nor be­lieves it is a nice ad­di­tion to a wa­ter­front that wel­comed the Sug­ar­House Casino last Septem­ber and the Race Street Pier last month.

Pas­sen­gers get to view the city sky­line, his­tor­ic land­marks, the sports com­plex and oth­er sail­ing ves­sels while en­joy­ing live mu­sic­al en­ter­tain­ment dur­ing a two-hour lunch or week­end brunch or a three-hour din­ner.

The Belle usu­ally heads north to the Ben­jamin Frank­lin Bridge be­fore turn­ing around on its way south to the Phil­adelphia Navy Yard. It then re­turns to its home at Pier 3 at Penn’s Land­ing.

“It’s a very, very smooth sail,” O’Con­nor said.

All food is pre­pared on board, and a grill is be­ing ad­ded to the top deck. “We wanted to of­fer a best-of-Phil­adelphia ex­per­i­ence and at­trac­tion,” O’Con­nor said. “There are pan­or­amic views on each deck.”

Cruise-only tick­ets are also avail­able, with an op­tion of buy­ing food and bever­ages from an a-la-carte menu or out­side con­ces­sion stand. 

A two-hour moon­light cruise in­cludes a disc jockey and dan­cing for the 21-and-older crowd. For an after-work cel­eb­ra­tion, adult-only Taste of the Belle Fri­days fea­tures un­lim­ited hors d’oeuvres, loc­al beers and wines, and mu­sic.

“It’s a great way to end the work week,” O’Con­nor said.

Fath­er’s Day is Sunday, and there is a brunch buf­fet cruise that sails from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and a four-course din­ner cruise that lasts from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Dads re­ceive com­pli­ment­ary beer and Bloody Marys, and chil­dren 3 and un­der board free, as they do for all lunch, din­ner and brunch cruises.

Cruises on June 25 and Ju­ly 2 will be timed to co­in­cide with fire­works dis­plays, and a bar­be­cue menu will be avail­able. The ship sails throughout the year; oth­er spe­cialty cruises take place on Valentine’s Day, East­er, Moth­er’s Day, Ju­ly 4 and New Year’s Eve.

The Belle also is avail­able for wed­ding ce­re­mon­ies, re­cep­tions and re­hears­al din­ners, proms and oth­er private func­tions. For smal­ler af­fairs, a par­lor room on the second deck ac­com­mod­ates 30 to 40 people.

In­clement weath­er might dis­cour­age pas­sen­gers from spend­ing time on the top deck, but the oth­er decks provide shel­ter. “We cruise rain or shine,” O’Con­nor said.

The new ship’s com­pet­i­tion in­cludes the Spir­it of Phil­adelphia, and the Belle has been busy woo­ing cus­tom­ers through hotel con­ci­erges, the Great­er Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce and its Young Pro­fes­sion­als Net­work, the Phil­adelphia Con­ven­tion and Vis­it­ors Bur­eau and the

In­de­pend­ence Vis­it­ors Cen­ter.

The Belle, which is han­di­capped-ac­cess­ible and equipped with an el­ev­at­or, em­ploys about 100 people on board and in a nearby of­fice.

“It’s our first sea­son, and we’re ex­cited to be here in Phil­adelphia,” said O’Con­nor, a Delaware County nat­ive now liv­ing in Manay­unk. “The wa­ter­front and the city needed a product like this.” ••

For tick­ets, group re­ser­va­tions, rates, sched­ules, gift cer­ti­fic­ates or more in­form­a­tion, call toll-free 1-888-516-4889 or vis­it www.phil­adelphiabelle.com

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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