A floating jewel of red and white that hearkens back to the age of river travel and the golden years of theatre, the Centennial Showboat is one of five vessels operated by Padelford Riverboats. To keep this stage lit and to expand the cultural horizons of the community, the University of Minnesota Department of Theatre Arts and Dance performs roughly 80 productions there every year for an intimate crowd of 225. Apart from the floating theater, two reception rooms accommodate guests in Victorian style, and temperature controls ensure that snowmen don’t hog all the best seats.
In 1969, the founder of Padelford Riverboats, Captain William D. Bowell, Sr., launched the Jonathan Padelford steamwheeler into the Mississippi, hoping to bring visitors to the riverfront for leisurely jaunts. After more than 30 years of expanding his fleet and ferrying passengers along the historic waterways, he handed the reigs over to his daughters and nephew. Today, the family operates five boats equipped with dance areas, bars, sun decks, and the nostalgia that William hoped to keep alive. With the Twin Cities' skyline and the rugged, green banks of the river as the backdrop, US Coast Guard–licensed vessels float passengers past sights such as Pig's Eye Cave, Fort Snelling, and Pike Island. Some cruises also include dinner or fireworks, and special holiday cruises are also available.