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Boat is ‘belle’ of the river

Watts Bar Belle riverboat docked in Lenoir City during September.

The riverboat first docked in Lenoir City in June for the city’s craft festival and returned to the area because of popular demand.

“We do a variety of cruises. We also offer a venue for office meetings, weddings, reunions, birthday parties [and] showers.

“Just all types of both business-oriented venues and social-oriented venues,” Francie Harkenrider, general manager, said.

The Belle offers dinner and sightseeing cruises: Tuesday through Saturday, passengers sightsee along the Tennessee River. Thursday, the boat offers a pizza cruise, with $1 draft beer.

Dinner cruises are Friday and Saturday, the latter featuring the boat’s prime rib dinner.

Sunday brings lunch and dinner cruises. Special cruises are scheduled for many holidays, including Halloween.

“We also work with the different school districts,” Harkenrider said, adding students often take historic or wildlife conservation cruises.

Times and prices for all cruises are available on the riverboat company’s Web site.

Cruises are by reservation, with 24-hour notice for food cruises so enough food is prepared. Gourmet on the Go, in Lenoir City, caters all food.

Harkenrider said fuel costs are forcing the company to enforce a fuel surcharge of $2.50 per passenger.

The company, based out of Kingston, was founded in 2005 by 11 investors, including Harkenrider.

“It was felt by the people that invested that it would fill a need, and to promote the area as far as tourism,” Harkenrider said.

“We all love this area and we felt that this would be a great way to promote it,” she added.

The boat was purchased from a company in Wisconsin, from which it steamed down the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers to Kingston.

Cruises do not have a set path.

“One of the highlights of our tours here in Kingston is to go down and see the bald eagle’s nest at Monty Bluff,” Harkenrider said.

However, the captains often change routes to match passengers’ requests.

“We don’t have just one particular route we take. We’re able to meet the needs of the passengers on board,” Harkenrider said.

Most of the passengers the Belle sees are from outside the region.

“They’ve been drawn to the area for one reason or another. [The boat] provides another avenue for them to check out some of the Tennessee hospitality and resources around here,” she added.

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