Revitalized river walkway is top tourist draw in Texas

San Antonio’s River Walk — our favorite destination in the United States and the most popular tourist attraction in Texas — is becoming more and more a piece of art and a very enjoyable site for relaxation, bicycling, entertainment and simply meandering.

All of this is thanks to a $72 million overhaul that has transformed the dry, weed-choked area north of the River Walk into a 1 1/2 -mile manicured waterway with whimsical art, benches and fountains that can be seen on foot or by water taxi en route to attractions upriver.

The project essentially doubles the area of the River Walk and is part of a massive $345.4 million upgrade effort to revitalize the San Antonio River.

This new, so-called "Museum Reach" of the River Walk, which opened at the end of May, connects visitors from the busy convention center and Alamo area downtown to the San Antonio Museum of Art and the Pearl Brewery, a retail redevelopment project. Beyond that, a path this fall will allow pedestrians and cyclists to keep going north along the river to Brackenridge Park, home of the Witte Museum and Zoo, the Associated Press reports.

The River Walk was created in the 1940s with help from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, but beyond it much of the other 11 miles of the San Antonio River bed had been neglected over the years.


Now, visitors will be able to ride water taxis from downtown, hailing them from any of the landings, or walk the paved path past the lock system that raises and lowers the boats so they can move upstream and downstream despite the 9-foot elevation change.

Along the way, trees and flowers line the sidewalks with covered overlooks and water features. A small steel bridge that once allowed beer kegs to move between the two towers of the old Lone Star Brewery, now home to an art museum, was salvaged from the scrap heap and turned into a small foot bridge over the river.

The nonprofit San Antonio River Foundation raised money to place 123 pieces of art along the 3 miles of walkway. The art includes a 150-foot cement cave-like sculpture with a waterfall and a school of brightly colored sunfish suspended from wires beneath the Interstate 35 overpass. The River Walk is visited by 5.1 million people a year; more than 25 million tourists visit San Antonio annually — resulting in an impact of $10.5 billion on the city’s hospitality industry. San Antonio is the cornerstone of the south Texas tourism market, which attracts hundreds of southern Minnesota visitors each winter.


New Queen Elizabeth

Cunard Lines has released details about the Queen Elizabeth, the line’s new vessel that’s slated to debut in October 2010. The vessel is named after Cunard’s first Queen Elizabeth, a ship that launched in 1938 as the world’s largest liner but no longer is in service.

The new ship will reference her predecessor in interior grandeur, decor and style, but with "a modern twist," a spokesman for the cruise line said. The ship will offer activities inspired by the first Queen Elizabeth’s era, such as country house parties, piano evenings and dancing from that period — including the jitterbug and jive.

Like the QE2, the Queen Elizabeth will feature the Yacht Club, a place for activities and gatherings during the day and cocktails and dancing at night.



New safety regulations

New safety requirements for cruise ships take effect Oct. 1, 2010, and dozens of ships — older and smaller ones — will be affected.

New regulations were adopted by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), and some older ships won’t pass muster because they are constructed with too much wood and other combustible materials. Newer cruise ships are largely unaffected, to the benefit of the large cruise companies.

Many of the smaller, older vessels probably won’t be brought up to standard since it would be cost-prohibitive, according to analysts. So what will happen to them? Observers say they will likely end up at ship-breaking yards in Asia.


P-B trip date

A date of interest to potential P-B cruisers is coming up. An informational meeting for a river cruise next April from Budapest, Hungary, to Istanbul, Turkey, is set for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 28, at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center, 1517 16th St. S.W. The public is invited but reservations should be made ahead of time by calling Bursch Travel at 281-3652.


About a dozen people already have made reservations for the cruise and space for about 40 persons (20 cabins) is guaranteed until Aug. 31. After that date, space may be limited.

Also, a New Year’s getaway to the Los Angeles area — highlighted by reserved seats for the Parade of Roses, other events and followed by an optional week’s cruise to the Mexican Riviera — is planned for after Christmas under P-B sponsorship. Bursch Travel also says trip and reservations for guaranteed space also should be made by Aug. 31.

Meanwhile, the P-B’s Alaska cruise, which also includes two days at both Vancouver and Whistler Resort in western Canada, is booked for Aug. 4-15 and 42 people will be make that trip. A document meeting for those cruisers was held earlier this week.

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