Belle of Louisville

A National Historic Landmark and an icon of the Louisville waterfront, the Belle is the last of her kind in the world!

The Legendary Lady

The Belle of Louisville has been cruising along since 1914. She looks good for her age, doesn’t she? A National Historic Landmark and an icon of the Louisville waterfront, the Belle is the only remaining authentic steamboat from the great American packet boat era.

No matter what you’re boarding for—sightseeing, a four-course dinner, live music excursion or unique event—it’s always a very special occasion. A cruise on the Belle is a chance to explore and enjoy a living, operating museum.

history of the belle

When you’re 108-years-old and counting, you’ve got a rich history. Learn more about the Belle from her time as the Idlewild and the Avalon up to her journey to Louisville’s waterfront.


The Idlewild was launched on October 18th at Pittsburgh, PA. She served as a ferry between Memphis, Tennessee and West Memphis, Arkansas and moved freight as a day packet.


The Idlewild spent a season in Louisville running trips to Rose Island and Fontaine Ferry amusement parks.


After years of traveling U.S. waterways from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and Montana to Pennsylvania, the Belle returned to Louisville and stayed through World War II.


The Idlewild offered moonlight cruises during the Big Band era and occasionally served as a USO nightspot on the Mississippi River to help the war effort.


Idlewild Master Ben Winters’ death-bed wish was granted by renaming the boat Avalon.


The Avalon was sold to a group of Cincinnati investors. Over the next 13 years, she became the most widely-traveled river steamboat of her size in American history.


The Avalon was put up for auction at Cincinnati. She was purchased by Jefferson County Judge Executive Marlow Cook for $34,000 and renamed the Belle of Louisville.


Countless hours were spent rebuilding and repairing the Belle. On April 30th, she began her new life by racing against the Delta Queen in the first Great Steamboat Race.


The Belle was highlighted as the nation’s oldest and most authentic river steamboat at the first celebration of the steamboat era, Tall Stacks in Cincinnati, Ohio.


In August, the Waterfront Development Corporation assumed the operation of the Belle of Louisville on behalf of Louisville Metro.


The Belle of Louisville celebrates her 100th birthday with a 5-day gathering of her peers on Louisville’s Waterfront.

Engine Room

When guests visit the Engine Room, they can watch 19th and 20th century technology working together to operate the Belle! The main features of the Engine Room are the two 450 horsepower single piston engines, which are older than the Belle itself. While it is unknown exactly how old these engines are, we can estimate they are from the 1890s, but possibly older! While visiting the Engine Room, be sure to greet our engineers, who are happy to answer questions you may have about the unique machinery at work!

Boiler Room

Converted from coal to diesel in the 1950s, the Belle’s boilers can hold up to 6500 gallons of water, which is heated up to create the steam that powers the steam equipment onboard the historic vessel, including the engines! Stop by during your cruise to greet the fireman, who keeps a close eye on the boilers to maintain the proper steam pressure while underway!


The Paddlewheel is made up of 608 paddlewood pieces and weighs an astonishing 17.5 tons. Even more, the paddlewheel is the Belle’s only means of propulsion. No hidden propellers! Each piece of paddlewood can last up to 20 years before being replaced, and once removed, our crew reuse them to create unique souvenirs like wall décor and clocks that can be found in our Gift Shop.

Ballroom Deck

The Belle’s Ballroom Deck is home to many activities, including live music, dancing and dining—in addition to the Concession Stand, Bar and onboard Gift Shop. This deck has seen many changes since the vessel was originally built, including expanding the dance floor and enclosing the outside portion of the deck.

Pilot House

The Pilot House is the most original area onboard the historic steamer and features both original and modern-day equipment to help our Pilots navigate the river. Some of the key features of this area include the telegraph, power steering system and the original wheel.


Calliopes were once used as an advertising tool to draw people to the riverbank to take a cruise. Nowadays, we continue the tradition of playing the calliope before cruises aboard the Belle of Louisville! The Belle’s calliope—a steam powered organ—can be heard up to five miles away on a clear day. Arrive early for your cruise and you may just hear the calliope playing and meet the calliopist. Be sure to request a song!