ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As a waitress at the former No Wake Cafe for four years, Liz Miller dreamed of someday owning a houseboat of her own. The small diner operated aboard a salvaged and re-purposed towboat moored off Harriet Island Regional Park, across the Mississippi River from the cliffs of downtown St. Paul.
The diner closed in 2000, but Miller stayed on as innkeeper for the floating bed-and-breakfast.
When owners Tom Welna and Ann Holt were ready to sell, Miller was ready to buy. Her dream became reality in 2004, and for the past 15 years she's operated the Covington Inn, a four-bedroom, multi-level B&B that welcomes guests year-round, even in the dead of winter, to the quiet shoreline of the Mississippi.
Now Miller has another dream -- to put Minnesota winter behind her for good.
She plans to pack up with her fiance, a St. Paul Public Works employee, and run a hostel-like inn on a Panamanian island just south of Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. Miller, a seasoned backpacker who has completed extensive travels throughout Europe and Latin America with her identical twin sister, has scouted out the area in Bocas del Toro. But first she needs to sell her houseboat, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
"There's been some interest, but we have to get it out of the water," said Miller, who has been marketing the Covington Inn for sale since 2014. She's asked Upper River Services to complete a hull inspection, which would require towing the 1940s-era towboat on dry land to their marine location beneath U.S. 52.
"Hopefully it'll get done this October," Miller said. "We have to wait for the river to cooperate. It has to be eight feet (high) or less. It's eight feet right now."
Over the past five years, Miller's asking price has dropped from $650,000 to $499,000. The B&B can comfortably host eight guests overnight, or 11 with pull-out beds. The inn can also host some 50 people for weddings and other special events. No one under age 14 is allowed overnight. Every room has a gas fireplace, private baths and views of the riverfront.
It makes for a sizable home. The boat is 120 feet long and 28 feet wide, with 3,200 square feet of finished space and 2,200 square feet of deck space.
So what's the best part of owning a floating B&B?
"Being my own boss. I don't have to commute," Miller said. "I barely drive. I put 3,000 (miles) on my car every two years. We have a little boat at the Upper Harbor -- a 25-foot cabin cruiser. We go cruising around after I get people checked in, all summer long."
And the worst part?
"The greatest amenity is the worst enemy," she said. "I was closed for 42 nights this past spring for flooding. The water didn't get the highest (ever), but it was the longest duration" in recent history.
When guests aren't around, life on her side of the river can be a little quiet.
After 17 years at Harriet Island, the Minnesota Centennial Showboat -- a replica paddleboat that once hosted University of Minnesota theater productions -- sailed away in mid-September on a two-day journey to Winona, Minnesota. New owners plan to convert it into an event center.
Founded in 1969, Padelford Riverboats still host local river cruises. Events like the Irish Fair sometimes draw a crowd to the regional park. But despite the city's long-standing stated intentions to breathe some new recreational energy into the Mississippi, Miller acknowledges it's not exactly Cancun.
"I'm the only business -- me and the Padelford hanging tough," Miller said.