This is Part 2 of a two-part series.
Last time I wrote about rowboats, tenders and ferries. To continue sharing my experiences of being on various boats, I'll start with sightseeing boats.
In Hawaii, my wife, daughter and I went on a small boat on the only navigable river in Hawaii. We went inland and ended up at what is known as the Fern Grotto. Along the way we were entertained by a young lady teaching us the hula. I remember being seated near the front of the boat and seeing her step out of her shoes before beginning her dance to recorded music.
A once in a lifetime experience took place on a steam-driven paddle wheeler on the Maumee River near Toledo. The Captain went down to the lower deck where his engineer was tending the fire in the boat's boiler. He left me at the wheel steering the boat all by myself. Quite a responsibility. The boat only held maybe 20 passengers.
Bermuda is a group of islands on the perimeter of the crater of an extinct volcano about 300 miles off the Atlantic coast. Parts of that perimeter are only a few feet underwater and present a danger to boats passing over them. I remember being on a glass bottomed boat that took us out to see the remains of ships that had been sunk when they hit the volcanic rocks just below the surface.
Harbor tours have always been part of any vacation near the water. One I remember best was a sightseeing tour that took us all around Manhattan Island. That tour included an up close look at an aircraft carrier. Another one took us out to see all the big Navy ships docked at the Norfolk Naval Base. When viewed up close those things are huge.
A Pittsburgh boat took us up and down all three rivers at the point where the Allegheny and the Monongahela join to form the Ohio River.
I remember a sightseeing boat ride in San Diego harbor. It also had many Navy ships docked there, and a strong memory of that trip was admiring the curved bridge that dominates the harbor.
When we bought tickets for a sightseeing ride in New Orleans, we were directed to board The President, a really large boat. That was a bit misleading, because we just passed through it and actually boarded a much smaller boat tied up side by side to The President. Years after, we actually sailed on The President in St. Louis. Still later it was transformed into a gambling boat. I'm not sure if the launch at Geauga Lake Park was classified as an amusement park ride, or as a sightseeing boat or as a ferry. It was pretty big, and had maybe 50 passengers seated on an open-air top deck. At sundown on a hot summer day, the cool breeze would always be refreshing. As the boat made a big circle, passengers could get close-up views of everything going on onshore. The boat also took people back and forth from the park to the train that ran near the shore on the side of the lake opposite the park.
Cleveland's Goodtime river cruises have been around for a long time. I remember when they also offered what was known as Moonlight Cruises. Depending on the weather, the ship would go back and forth to offer passengers a good view of the city's lights. If the weather was nice, the ship would go out past the breakwall. If not, then it would cruise back and forth within the harbor. Needless to say, most of the passengers were young couples who would look for a place, maybe between two lifeboats, to do some necking.
At the eastern end of Lake Superior, is a sight that can only be seen from a boat. When we took the ride, it was on a sightseeing boat with an enclosed lower deck and an open-air top deck. The boat went up close to a vertical cliff that has been colored by rain water percolating down from above. Along the way, that water picks up and dissolves a variety of minerals. As the water flows down the face of the cliff, it evaporates and leaves behind deposits of those minerals in a variety of colors -- like a painting created by nature. The place is near Grand Marais, Mich. and is known as Pictured Rocks Lakeshore. It took a while before I learned how to pronounce Grand Marais -- it's "maray."
A unique boating experience was having lunch on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, Calif., where it was retired and docked. We could feel the ship move as the waves lifted it now and then.
Other dinner cruises were in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
Anybody remember the Aquarama? It ran between Cleveland and Detroit. We were on the top deck near the ship's whistle when it went off. Scared the daylights out of us.
On a tour of the battleship Alabama anchored in Mobile Bay, I asked our guide what the huge bins on the deck were for. Guess what? That's where the ship carried its supply of potatoes. The spuds would absorb some of the shock if hit by an enemy shell and the crew would have instant mashed potatoes.
Best of all, cruise ships! Used to be, only the very rich could afford the luxury of cruising. Not anymore. My family has enjoyed nine cruises: The Twilight on the Mississippi River; The Atlantic to Bermuda; The Independence cruising the Hawaiian Islands; The Mozart on the Danube River (my favorite); The Costa Classica in the Mediterranean to Italy, Spain and North Africa; The Ecstasy in the Caribbean; The Princesse de Provemce in Southern France; The Statendam to Scandinavia and the Sovereign of The Seas to Nassau. Each one different and each with its own memories.
Editor's note: Straka can be reached at email@example.com.