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Paddle Wheel Showboat Branson Belle Under Construction

Luxurious 19th Century paddle wheel riverboats are the inspiration for the Branson Belle, a turn-of-thecentury style showboat under construction on the shore of Table Rock Lake near the White River Landing area of Branson, Mo.

Although it will be landlocked on Table Rock Lake, the owners, who include country singer Kenny Rogers, wanted naval architects DeJong & Lebet, Inc., of Jacksonville, Fla. to design a ship to approximate those bygone vessels. The vessel's interior will also be patterned after that period, designed by Directions In Design of St. Louis. The vessel will be built by Maritime Systems, Inc. of Amelia, La., and co-owned by Silver Dollar City Inc. and Mr. Rogers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the White River Landing where the vessel will be based, will be a regulatory partner.

A maiden voyage is scheduled for April 15,1995. The ship will cost $8 million to construct, with an additional $5 million to be spent for Phase I of the landing, which will feature a ticket office, shops, walkways, and a gangplank for boarding the Branson Belle.

Branson Belle will be driven by twin rear paddle wheels like the ships it was modeled after. Larger than its historical counterparts, it is believed by its owners to be the largest excursion vessel ever built on a landlocked waterway: 240 feet from bow to paddle wheel and 78 feet wide. The hull will be built on a rail or track system, eventually to be launched into the lake where the finishing work will be done.

The ship will be U.S. Coast Guardapproved for 1,000 passengers plus crew, taking them on up to four daily two-hour cruises with dining and entertainment on Table Rock Lake. The ship will have a maximum speed of 10 knots, but will usually operate at between 6 and 7 knots.

Four decks of historically accurate detailing, an ornate pilot house, painted gingerbread trim, two grand staircases, balconies topped by a stained-glass skylight, and twin majestic fluted stacks rising 98 feet above water level are some of the touches that will add atmosphere to the cruise.

Each cruise will feature a meal and a family-style show in a threestory theater, which doubles as a dining room. The theater will offer a lake view and seat 650 at tables, with additional seating in the theater's balconies.

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