After being closed since March 16 because of COVID-19 restrictions, BB Riverboats resumed its sternwheeler cruises on the Ohio River on Memorial Day weekend — with discounted rates and social-distancing policies in place on its vessels.
With social-distancing protocols in place, BB Riverboats is offering a cash bar service as well as a full range of meal options for purchase during the cruises. The company is not offering table service at this time. Instead, its staff members will serve meals in buffet lines instead of allowing guests to serve themselves, as they had in the past, said Ben Bernstein, chief financial officer of the family-operated business.
“During these cruises, we will strictly follow the state’s mandate that we operate at a reduced capacity of one-third our maximum capacity,” Bernstein said. “In fact, we will be able to operate at well below that capacity level because of our large, unique space.”
Unlike other entertainment and dining venues with limited space, said Bernstein, “our boats have ample space—both inside and outside—to accommodate a number of guests while complying with all social-distancing policies.”
“From our parking lot to our expanded onboarding space on our wharf to our sternwheelers, we have the ability to spread people out, get them onto and off our boats in the safe manner, and allow them to get out of their houses for a few hours to enjoy the beautiful spring scenery found along the Ohio River this time of year,” he added.
Bernstein said that the company has altered the floor plans of its boats to provide reserved seating to every person who takes the cruise, including allowing family members of up to 10 people to sit at one table, as permitted under state rules.
On the boats’ outdoor decks, all seating will be stacked upon arrival of guests and BB Riverboats’ staff members will assist guests in setting up this seating in appropriate clusters.
“We have created an excellent return-to-business plan to ensure our guests are able to enjoy our facilities in a way that is safe and compliant with all state regulations,” said Bernstein. “But everyone else must do their part, too, if this is going to work out properly.”
This month, BB Riverboats plan to resume its regular seasonal cruise schedule, running cruises from Thursday to Sunday, including lunch cruises, sightseeing cruises, and dinner cruises.
Last year, BB Riverboats spent approximately $2 million to transport, retrofit, and rebuild a 300- by 54-foot barge that formerly served as a part of an Argosy Casino in Sioux City, Iowa. The new facility has a 250-seat event center with full-service bar and new kitchen called the River’s Edge, an expanded waiting area for cruise passengers, and a wrap-around outdoor deck with a fabulous view of the Cincinnati skyline. The River’s Edge reception facility remains closed until the company receives further direction from the state on when and how to reopen this facility. However, it plans to use this space for social-distancing purposes as part of its onboarding process for its cruises.
BB Riverboats operates two sternwheelers—the 1,000-passenger M/V Belle of Cincinnati and the 500-passenger M/V River Queen—from its riverfront wharf at 101 Riverboat Row, Newport, Ky. BB Riverboats began operation in Covington in 1980 with cruises on the M/V Betty Blake, a 400-passenger sternwheeler operating from the Mike Fink Restaurant. BB Riverboats moved its operations to Newport in 2005.
A third generation of the Bernstein family now runs the day-to-day operations of the company.