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Daytrippin' | Celebration Belle is a jewel of the Quad Cities riverfront

Tourists come by the busload to climb aboard the Celebration River Cruises' riverboat and get a great vantage point for views of the Mississippi River.

MOLINE, Ill. — Are you looking for a great way to explore the Mississippi River in the Quad Cities? A cruise on the Celebration Belle riverboat may be the best way to do it!

Tourists come by the busload from all over the Midwest and beyond to ride the Belle.

"They come from all over, from Florida, from New York, to the East Coast to the West Coast to the Midwest. We've had coaches from all over," Susan Yarolem, director of sales and marketing, said.

Yarolem has been with Celebration River Cruises for nearly 30 years. The family-owned company was started in 1984 by the late Joe Schadler. Joe's son Scott is now at the helm, with two of his children working on board too.

The original vessel that Celebration River Cruises owned was called the "Queen of Hearts." The business eventually outgrew that boat and acquired the larger Celebration Belle boat in 2000. 

The Belle used to be a riverboat casino so it needed to be retrofitted for the cruise line's needs. The distinctive red paddlewheel remained on board.

"You're on a theme boat from the old days that looks like something that Mark Twain rode on. So you kind of get that nostalgic feel of the river," boat Capt. Jeremy Kerr said.

The boat has four decks, with the first two being fully enclosed. The bottom deck is used by the crew only.

The second deck is usually set up as a dining area with room for 250 guests when seated at tables. The kitchen is known for its homemade sticky rolls and prime rib dinner. 

The second deck also features a dance floor for onboard entertainment. When News 8 was aboard for a cruise, a singing piano player entertained the crowds. 

The top two decks have plenty of open seating areas to enjoy the views of the Mississippi River. 

"We cruise rain or shine. You're inside on the dining decks for the meals and the entertainment. Otherwise, if it's nice and sunny and beautiful, then you can just go up to the top decks and enjoy the cruise and enjoy the scenery," Yarolem said.

Perched high atop the upper deck is the pilot's house. Visitors are welcome to chat with the boat's captains as they cruise the main channel.

"The most common question is, 'How deep is the river?' Everybody just wants to know how deep it is. And then when you tell them it's roughly around 20 feet here in the Quad City area between the two locks and they're surprised that it's only that deep," Kerr said.

From the middle of the river, passengers have a cool vantage point of many features and sites along the riverbanks.

"You do not have a better view than anywhere than on the Celebration Belle," Yarolem said.

The tour highlights areas important to American history, like the Rock Island Arsenal and a monument to the battle on Campbell’s Island during the War of 1812.

"The area has a lot of history that shaped America. And I don't think a lot of people realize that in this area," Kerr said.

And history continues to be made in the area with the recent completion of the I-74 Mississippi River Bridge

RELATED: 'Just the start of great things to come' | Quad Cities closes one chapter, celebrates new I-74 bridge

When the boat goes under the new bridge, it provides a view that everyday commuters don't see while on the roadway.

"If you haven't seen it, again the best way that you can see the new bridge on the Celebration Belle is on the top decks, and at night with a captain's dinner cruise with the views and with the lights on, it is spectacular," Yarolem said.

The boat does some trips beyond the Quad Cities, too. Some tours travel north to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin and south to St. Louis, Missouri.

To celebrate their 40th anniversary season in 2023, a special excursion to Alton, Illinois is in the works.

The 2022 season holds lots of special event cruises that feature Classic oldies, Broadway movies and tunes, and fall foliage.

The Celebration River Cruises season starts in April and can go as late as Thanksgiving, weather permitting.

Guests come from all over to see the attraction that is the Mississippi River. And the Celebration Belle is one fantastic way to see it!

"When they come on board, they expect the food, the live entertainment, the beautiful, beautiful scenery on the Mississippi River. The Mighty Mississippi River is so historical. And so to learn about that, and to be able to say that they actually have cruised on it, that they experienced it, is just wonderful," Yarolem said.

If you're interested in making a reservation to ride the Celebration Belle, click here.


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