Meet the Hospitality Crew on the Steamboat NATCHEZ and soon...on the Riverbaot CITY of NEW ORLEANS
It’s no secret Gina Darden loves her job.
In her seven years as a hostess on the Steamboat NATCHEZ, Darden has met people from all over the world. She says, “hello” and “thank you” in multiple languages, has given travelers tips on how to experience New Orleans like a local and cheered as conga lines made their way through the top deck of the boat.
When asked what she does on the NATCHEZ, Darden’s response is: “I say hello to strangers and goodbye to friends.”
Darden was offered a hostess gig after following around her sister one day on the boat, she said. Her sister, who works in the New Orleans Steamboat Co.’s office, told Darden she’d love the company.
“I walked around behind her and chatted with the people as she finished at their tables,” Darden said. “Her boss said, ‘“Do you want a job?’ I said, ‘I’ll have to talk to my husband but I think I would love that.’”
Darden’s bright personality makes her a favorite among guests. Visitors often post pictures with her online, and frequently mention her by name in positive reviews on the NATCHEZ’s social media pages.
“The Steamboat NATCHEZ is the best thing in town,” she said. “I adore my job. It brings me so much joy. I thank God for it every day.
Jen has always loved Mark Twain and has been somewhat fascinated by steamboats.
It's only fitting she now works aboard the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River.
Karpowicz joined the NATCHEZ staff in 2014, and has worked as a photographer, server and now hostess.
She loves the bands and beautiful sunsets that are the daily backdrop to her job, but her favorie special moment is to witness marriage proposals.
She usually clears passengers out of an area on the back deck just outside the dining room - a perfect location with the boat's mighty wheel and the city's skyline in the background. She stands to the side pretending she is checking her phone when the couple walks outside. The men casually hand over their phones asking for her to take the couple's photo.
The she hits the Record button while he gets down on one knee and pulls out the ring. The women always say yes.
Only once does she remember thinking a nervous boyfriend might not go through with the planned proposal. He was in the men's room so long that the band piano player went in to give him a pep talk!
"It's really sweet" she says. "Right afterward they come inside and they celebrate with glasses of champagne."
Among cheers from other passengers, Jen says the band will sometimes play the couple a special song.
I love being on the boat - I love the crew on the boat - It's like family! Its a fun - fun- place to work. I lucked into a great job!
Ashley Stewart greets guests as they arrive on the Steamboat NATCHEZ, sometimes the day after she’s helped make their reservation.
It’s fun doing both, she said, because when she tells guests she’ll see them on the boat they don’t always believe her. Then when they arrive they yell, “Ashley!” like they’re old friends.
Stewart said she likes that she’s able to work both on the boat and in the reservation kiosk because she’s able to get instant feedback and see whether her suggestions were right for those particular travelers.
Stewart started as a host this summer, and her favorite guests are the ones that come in large groups.
“They’re coming in excited and amped up, maybe for a birthday party or an anniversary,” she said. “They’re just exciting. They get us amped up for the night, and their excitement makes it even better.”
Steamboat NATCHEZ host Jourdan Sisk has worked in and around the boat for the last six years -- taking reservations, doing maintenance work while the boat was in layup and now greeting guests as they arrive for daily cruises.
He likes the historical aspect of the NATCHEZ, and that the engine room is open for everyone to see how the powerful steam engine works. His co-workers and the people he meets on the boat also have made his job one he loves coming to every day, he said.
He’s seen his share of interesting characters, but Sisk said the one that sticks out the most is the tooth fairy. A man came aboard dressed as the tooth fairy, his costume complete with a set of wings and a tutu, and he just enjoyed the cruise as if nothing was out of the ordinary, Sisk said. It wasn’t Halloween or Mardi Gras season.
“Being on the river is my favorite thing about working here,” Sisk said. “Being on the water and working in a restaurant on the water, it’s like the best of both worlds.”
Ramona Villier has spent six years working on the Steamboat NATCHEZ, first in the gift shop, then as a hostess. But she’s been on the boat for practically her whole life.
Villier’s dad is a captain on the boat, so she grew up with the Mississippi River in the background. And the boat looks almost exactly as she remembers it growing up.
“I definitely love working with my dad,” she said. “And I just love meeting new people and showing them a little bit of New Orleans.”
In 2018, Villier said she was hosting a VIP group of about eight people from all over the world. There was an oil spill on the river that night, so the boat had to stay docked.
She got to know the group so well that she’s remained friendly with them since that night. After they left the boat that night, Villier said the group went to H&M down the street and returned with clothes for her son.
“They were awesome,” she said. “I love that every day I meet people from all over the world.”
Yvonne Pratt has met people from all over the world in her five years working on the Steamboat NATCHEZ.
One couple from Plymouth, England stands out more than the rest.
“They flew all the way from England just to ride the NATCHEZ,” she said. “They were so sweet, and so kind. I still get emails from them and they send me Christmas cards every year.”
They weren’t the only ones who had a ride on the NATCHEZ on their bucket list. Every time she meets people who said they planned their New Orleans trip around a ride on the boat, Pratt said she tries to make sure they have a good time and are able to explore the unique features of the vessel.
“I love when people come here and tell me this was a dream of theirs,” she said. “That they finally made it to New Orleans and they always wanted to ride on the Natchez.”
Pratt practically grew up on the Mississippi River -- her dad was the captain of the now defunct President, a riverboat known for hosting popular music acts -- and said being on the water is one of her favorite aspects of the job.