A Publication of WTVP

The Spirit of Peoria commemorates 25 years with a host of throwback cruises and new tour offerings.

A well-known city landmark that’s graced our riverfront for more than two decades, the Spirit of Peoria marks a quarter century of paddlewheelin’ fun on the Illinois River this year. Originally commissioned by hotelier James Jumer, the Spirit first cruised into its downtown dock on April 29, 1988. Captain Alex Grieves, son of former Peoria Mayor Bud Grieves, began leasing the authentic paddlewheeler in 1993, and three years later, reached a deal with the City of Peoria to buy it. While the purchase began as a simple investment in his hometown, Grieves soon found himself living the life of a fulltime riverboat captain.

Today, he routinely floats passengers up and down the Illinois River for sightseeing cruises, murder mystery dinners, private charters, overnight trips to Starved Rock and Missouri, and more. In its 25 years in operation, the Spirit’s engines have logged nearly 30,000 hours—the equivalent of more than 1.5 million miles—and hundreds of thousands of passengers have hopped aboard for a ride. Despite treading the same waters year after year, Grieves says every journey offers a new adventure. “There’s always so much changing on the river,” he notes. “[It] kind of gets in your blood… You can’t leave the river once you’ve experienced it.”

In honor of this milestone anniversary, Grieves and crew plan to offer throwback tours—such as daylong trips to Lacon and Friday night moonlight cruises— throughout 2013, as well as adding some fun, vintage flare to their traditional offerings. New this year, the Spirit of Peoria will participate in one of the city’s most popular festivals, offering a Steamboat Days Kickoff Cruise on June 13th, with entertainment by local pop/rock trio The New Imposters and discounted admission to the Steamboat Days Festival. Later this summer, it will follow up with an even bigger 25th anniversary celebration.

Shipping out on July 13th, the Spirit of Peoria debuts its newest cruise to Hannibal, Missouri, childhood home of Mark Twain and the setting for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The five-day, four-night excursion features stops at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Pere Marquette State Park and the historic Star Theatre, as well as tours of downtown Hannibal and Twain’s boyhood home. Not only does a ticket include overnight accommodations and top-notch catering, guests will enjoy live entertainment—whether old-time banjo or ragtime piano—and breathtaking views of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers’ flora and fauna along the way. “It’s very relaxing,” Grieves remarks of the scenery. “Traveling down the river… you’ve got a perfect view of everything.”

In its 25 years of operations, a ride aboard the Spirit of Peoria has become a beloved community tradition. And with cruises departing four days a week; regular onboard entertainment from local musicians and storytellers Barry Cloyd, Brian “Fox” Ellis, Ken Bradbury and Mark Twain (a.k.a. Bob Anton); and the ever-present opportunity for new adventures, Grieves is looking forward to another 25 years on the river. For a complete schedule and additional information, visit iBi