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Riverboat visit hails season

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN lduncan@paducahsun.com

When two smokestacks can be seen east of the river wall today, it means Paducah has a few visitors.

The American Queen is expected to arrive at 8 a.m. with between 200-300 passengers in tow. The steamboat is passing through Paducah on a 10-day voyage between its home city of Memphis and final destination of Cincinnati. Cruise information touts the trip as one where tourists will encounter "friendly people, beautiful scenery and cityscapes so unimposing you might suspect they've always been there," which is also how one local volunteer describes guests' reactions to visiting Paducah.

It wouldn't be the first visit of this year's riverboat season without the help of the Paducah Ambassadors. The group's president, Marty Bendick, said a group of between 8-15 Ambassadors are set to be readily available to direct American Queen guests during their anticipated 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. stop.

Once the guests disembark, Bendick said the volunteers offer any assistance they can in directing visitors to local attractions or helping them with any needs. Their goal, he said, is to make visitors feel welcome.

Apparently the Ambassadors have been doing a good job of being friendly, as Bendick said another port city in Iowa asked a captain for suggestions to make its city more welcoming, and the captain told them to go to Paducah.

The city is also on a list for tour changes when boat schedules change. A boat may have to make a last-minute change in course and one of the top picks for itinerary revisions is Paducah.

"It's because of all the support here," Bendick said.

Throughout the day, some Ambassadors travel with tour groups on buses, when Bendick said he tries to include quirky details about the city in addition to its storied past.

He'll hold up an old mussel shell and visitors will ask why it has holes, when Bendick explains Paducah was once a hub for button production, where shell-cut buttons were made. He'll tell them about how Paducah was dubbed the "Stawberry Capital of the World" in the early 1940s, or share the story of the cow on a home's upstairs balcony during the 1937 flood.

"That tells them about Paducah itself, the story. That's what our guests want to hear, they want to hear those little tidbits," he said.

And the Ambassadors get to hear visitors' compliments firsthand. 

"I've never been on a bus yet where a guest hasn't said 'isn't this such a clean, beautiful city,'" he said,

When the voyagers return to the American Queen, the Ambassadors plan to say their traditional goodbye by waving red kerchiefs.

"It's a symbol of welcome and a symbol of goodbye," Bendick explained.

It won't be a final goodbye for the American Queen, though, as it's scheduled to return to Paducah seven more times this year, according to a schedule from the Paducah Convention and Visitors Bureau. It's set to return on July 13, Sept. 1, Sept. 10, Oct. 14, Oct. 22, Oct. 27 and Nov. 6. The Queen of the Mississippi is also set to visit Paducah on July 1, July 21, July 30-31 and Sept. 23.

Contact Lauren Duncan, Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8692 or follow @laurenpduncan on Twitter.

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