Louisville gets hot in the summer. Muggy, sweaty, gym sock-style hot. Right about the time the WHAS-11 fan drive rolls around and we all begin having involuntary ice storm fantasy flashbacks, consider getting out on the The Belle of Louisville where, for the price of a movie ticket and a box of Dots, you can sip cheap daiquiris and eat mini hamburgers with the wind blowing through your hair like a true Louisvillionaire.
The Belle of Louisville docks at the base of Fourth Street and River Road. The boat that docks in its shadow is the Spirit of Jefferson, also known as “the Baby Belle.” Each offers two-hour lunch and dinner cruises. Having been on both, and seeing how ticket prices are comparable, let me say this: The Belle is your good time girl. She’s larger and prettier, easier to get around on, and the big red paddle wheel is simply rad. Comparatively, the Spirit of Jefferson is a compact car. All the essentials are there, but it lacks amenities, legroom and sex appeal. Did I say compact car? I meant golf cart.
When my friends from out of town come for a visit, I like to take them on the afternoon cruises. In my experience, foreigners and children are especially vulnerable to the kitschy magic of our city’s signature boat. Not every city has a boat; as my friend from the landlocked “pancake capital of the world” pointed out to me, we should consider ourselves lucky. Even skeptical Yankees tend to find it charmingly genteel.
Something surprising about the Belle is that its passengers reflect a cross section of the city’s racial and socio-economic demographics. So often, recreational activities organize us into groups of people we are already know, but a cruise on the Belle is an opportunity to catch a break from the monotony of all that mindless sorting. Seems like everyone can agree on the unparalleled pleasure of taking an afternoon off to float past River City on something other than I-64.
It’s easy to book tickets and figure out the cruise schedule. The website is well organized and the box office people are polite and helpful. There are a couple ticket options: the lunch and dinner cruise tickets, which run about $30 and include a forgettable all-you-can-eat buffet option, and cheaper “excursion” tickets, which run about half that. I recommend getting the cheaper tickets and skipping the lackluster buffet. The Belle has an extensive concession stand and bar area where you can get everything from nachos to mojitos.
While I recommend the afternoon cruises, because the wind gets chilly after the sun goes down, the evening cruise is more romantic. There’s live music, which you can enjoy or avoid accordingly, and both interior and exterior seating options. There is no air conditioning, but once the boat got going, I hardly missed it. The Belle is entirely non-smoking, so if you must light up, do it on dry land.
For an affordable escape this summer, to paraphrase the great Spike Lee, get on the Belle.
Belle of Louisville