On May 21st, 1927, Charles Lindbergh made his
historic transatlantic flight to Paris and a new
era of travel began. Less than two weeks later,
the newspapers acclaimed what was to be the end
of an old era of travel.
"Hail To The King Of The Sacramento,"
read the headline of the Sacramento Bee on June
2nd, 1927. The headline saluted the maiden voyage
of the world's grandest paddlewheel steamboat,
the Delta King. And the very next day, the Delta
King's sister ship, the Delta Queen, completed
her maiden voyage. Thus began the journeys of
The Delta Queen and King, identical 285-foot riverboats
that for more than a decade were to make nightly
cruises between San Francisco and Sacramento.
These ships were the last of the great riverboats
that for a hundred years prior had been the major
means of transportation and commerce on our inland
If you enter the city of Sacramento from the north,
from Highway 80, you'll cross Tower Bridge. Old
Sacramento sits just at the foot of that drawbridge.
The old town has been restored for tourists and
sits alongside an unattractive and muddy stretch
of the Sacramento River. But here is the exact
place where much of California history began.
A place where countless boats and ships once docked
during California's Gold Rush era after sailing
up from San Francisco with miners and adventurers
seeking their fortunes, with men and women destined
to develop the state of California. And here is
where the Delta King, today a floating riverboat
hotel, is docked.
In the 1920's the owners of the "Delta King
and Queen" dreamt of building the grandest
riverboats afloat. But they were dreaming of glories
of an era that had already passed. The Delta Queen
and King were fabulous boats but they were dinosaurs
the day they went into operation. The very day
that the Delta King set out on San Francisco Bay
for its coast guard trials was the day the Carquinez
Bridge opened. That bridge was the first to span
the Sacramento River Delta from Vallejo to Crockett.
Riverboats became even more of an anachronism
in 1937 when the Golden Gate Bridge opened. It
was bridges and highways and the ability to get
from the state capital to San Francisco without
taking a ferry that spelled the doom of riverboats.
From 1927 to 1940, the twin ferryboats left their
docks at 6:30 p.m., one from San Francisco, the
other from Sacramento. Flags flew from bow and
stern. The black single smokestack behind the
bridge belched gray smoke. Mid-way in the 10 1/2
hour trip, the King and Queen passed one another
in the dark, with the noise of celebration aboard
each echoing across the quiet river, and with
passengers gazing at a majestic blaze of lights
In 1940 the decision was made to take the King
and Queen out of service. Then the war broke out
and the navy used the paddlewheelers as troop
transports, shuttling recruits from forts along
the river to troop ships in San Francisco readying
to go abroad.
Today, the King goes nowhere. Her engines were
long ago scavenged for spare parts for the Delta
Queen, which is still a working steamboat that
plies the Mississippi River. The Delta King sits
stolidly on the Sacramento River, at a dock alongside
a railroad yard museum across from Old Sacramento
with its wood plank western sidewalks and touristy
stores. But just a few blocks from the river,
you can walk through a tunnel that flows into
a modern outdoor mall and then into downtown Sacramento
with its electric trolley cars, and a little further
on to the Capital Mall and the wonderful Capital
The Delta King has been a floating hotel in Sacramento
since 1989. There are 43 staterooms and a captain's
quarters available for guests. You can dine aboard
in the elegant Pilothouse restaurant with river
views to starboard and Old Town Sacramento to
port. The Pilothouse has a seafood emphasis but
also offers steak and chicken. It's open for lunch
and dinner and serves a continental breakfast
for guests only. During the week, the King mostly
accommodates business travelers. During the weekend
couples arrive for weekend getaways where they
can enjoy live piano music in the Delta's Lounge,
a romantic play in her intimate 115-seat theatre,
or participate in a murder mystery dinner.
The Delta King is the centerpiece of Old Sacramento.
Climb the gangplank and go aboard. She still gleams
white outside; and inside, rare woods, mahogany
and teak, shine. Her staterooms seem a bit cramped
with low ceilings and her furnishings are quite
antique. There are no elevators on the King, no
high-rise views, no pool, no spa, no room service.
But the Delta King is not a Holiday Inn or a Hyatt,
she's a riverboat. It you want a "hotel room,"
there are many in Sacramento. But if you want
an experience, a memory, a place close to both
Old Sacramento and its modern downtown Capital,
a place to stay that still has the heartbeat of
history alive within it, make the Delta King your
destination. (Reservations: 916-444-KING).