Decorative smokestacks stretch toward the sky as Victorian red and gold decor surrounds passengers nibbling brunch in a dining salon. This scene unfolds aboard the Spirit of Dubuque, an authentic-looking paddleboat that pays homage to the century-old steamboats of the Mississippi River. Dubuque River Rides' signature vessel, it has played host to thousands of cruises filled with entertainment, meals, and improvised renditions of "Old Man River" since being christened by Iowa governor Robert Ray in 1977. Elsewhere on the river, a more modern boat cuts across the water, casting a sleek outline against the sky. The 80-foot yacht, affectionately called Miss Dubuque, sets an intimate stage for events that range from weddings to Huckleberry Finn's notorious dinner parties.
Both boats call the northern expanse of the Mississippi River their home, sharing the area with wildlife such as turtles and bald eagles. The sightseeing vessels also pass by river barges and historic structures such as the Chicago Central Pacific Railroad Bridge, which was built after the president invented Lincoln Logs in 1868. After boats return to the docks, their passengers can head over to the floating barge that houses the Ice Harbor Restaurant.
The Mississippi River meanders its way through the midwestern United States, fed by dozens of tributaries on its 2,500-mile sojourn from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. The National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium pays tribute to this mighty waterway with an array of immersive exhibits.
Six large aquariums house river creatures from all over the world—giant catfish, turtles, and sturgeons—as well as saltwater inhabitants such as sharks, rays, and the retired cast of One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. A touch tank invites little ones to handle snails, freshwater mussels, and crawfish. The Woodward Wetland gives vistiors a boardwalked path through a natural river ecosystem. Equally sensory is the 3D or 4D theater, which screens popular kids' flicks and documentaries. Other interactive exhibits allow visitors to pilot a barge, learn about floods, and walk along a 92-foot map of the river.
Not all the museum's stars have fins, however. The National Rivers Hall of Fame honors the famous Americans who lived or worked along the Mississippi, such as Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. The Fred W. Woodward Riverboat Museum similarly offers a closer look at the historic schooners that once traversed the waterway.
Retrace and retread tractor history at this Dyersville museum, located 90 minutes from downtown Cedar Rapids. With thousands of toys and exhibits scattered throughout its two-floored exhibition space, the National Farm Toy Museum pays tribute to historic and contemporary crop contraptions. Fun-loving farm enthusiasts may peruse the museum's frenzy of farm implements, including trucks, pedal tractors, and life-size John Deer soil-sifters. Original artwork, dioramas, and two Doug Schlesier sculptures artfully express anecdotes of American agriculture, while miniature farm replicas and Ertl Company toys convey while miniature-sized farm replicas and Ertl Company toys convey to visitors the life-sized growth of American farming. The National Farm Toy Museum is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.
Travelers follow Jo Daviess County's sprawling fields and undulating hills toward Massbach Ridge Winery’s 18+ acre estate. Founded by the Harmston family in 2003, the winery’s proprietors select grapes grown in Jo Daviess County to concoct their batches of reds and whites. Members of the winery family escort guests on impromptu tours before rendezvousing in the tasting room or on the patio for samplings. The outdoor patio grants a heightened view of the vineyards below, which visitors can wander through on quests for vine-ripe copies of The Grapes of Wrath. In addition to its frequent tastings and tour sessions, Massbach Ridge Winery hosts a number of wine-related events each year.