NWQ Summer Getaway Guide

A great weekend’s journey is right inside our region. Here are some of our area’s excellent places to play.

The Shot Tower began producing lead shot for the military in 1856.
The Shot Tower began producing lead shot for the military in 1856.

Dubuque, Iowa: Experience the Spirit of the Mississippi


Sightseeing along the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa, is easy with Dubuque River Rides. With two cruise ships – the SPIRIT of Dubuque and the Miss Dubuque – sightseers enjoy a unique view of Iowa’s oldest city.

“The riverboat rides have been a huge asset to our community, because there’s always that traditional experience we can offer families, couples and people from all different demographics,” says Taylor Cummings, director of marketing at Dubuque Area Convention & Visitors Bureau.

For more than 20 years, Dubuque River Rides has provided a wide variety of ways to experience the city, from May through October. Rides last from 90 minutes to four hours. Some cruises include lunch or dinner service; others play host to special celebrations such as birthday parties or class reunions.

Independence Day cruises offer prime fireworks viewing. Mostly, though, visitors simply drink in the picturesque Dubuque riverbank with its steep bluffs and historic riverside homes.

The SPIRIT, built in 1976, is a Victorian-style paddlewheel watercraft. With an open top deck for sightseeing and a lower deck for dining, the boat holds up to 285 people for any number of scenic river tours and fun events. The smaller Miss Dubuque carries 110 passengers and is perfect for small weddings, social gatherings and special cruises, such as the murder mystery dinner in which passengers become players in a “whodunit” game.

“The Miss Dubuque is a more modern version of a yacht, while the SPIRIT is an authentic paddleboat,” says Cummings. “This riverboat ride is the only one here locally that has a paddleboat.”

Passengers board at the Port of Dubuque, a downtown section along the river with an award-winning museum, riverwalk, casino and resort. As part of the scenic tour, the boat passes a number of historic Dubuque sites, with narration provided by the captain. Heading north, passengers will see the 120-foot-tall Shot Tower, built in 1856, first used to create lead shot for the military; molten lead was dropped from the top of the tower, and as it fell, it would cool into uniform round balls. Further north, the ship also passes through Lock and Dam No. 11. On a bluff above is Eagle Point Park, providing a spectacular view of three states.

Come October, there’s no better way to see Dubuque than aboard a Fall Foliage Cruise. “At the peak season, all of the leaves are turning, so it’s one of the best and most unique ways to see the foliage,” says Cummings. “It’s still part of the regular tour, but you get to see the shore in a different light. It’s so beautiful when the colors are changing.”

Aside from sightseeing, the boats are also popular spots for couples to say “I do.” Available by request, magistrates on board can officiate a wedding ceremony. These “WOWs,” or “Weddings on Water,” create a unique and memorable experience for your special day.

Whichever cruise you choose, there’s never a shortage of scenery.

“Dubuque has undergone a lot of reinvention,” says Cummings. “The Port of Dubuque has gone through development to become a tourist destination, so it’s now a beautiful campus, but the mainstay has been the Mississippi River and the riverboat rides.”

Reservations are required for dinner and some special events cruises. For more info, call (563) 583-8093 or register online at dubuqueriverrides.com.



The Quad Cities: Festivals Aplenty Along the Mississippi


What’s summer without a festival or two – or more? The five communities that make up the Quad Cities – Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, and Moline, East Moline and Rock Island in Illinois – have something going nearly every weekend. “Many events are free,” says Jessica Waytenick, public relations and marketing manager for the Quad Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Some, like the Balloon Festival, just ask for a donated canned good for local pantries. And many are set against the riverfront.”

Here are six uniquely Quad Cities ways to celebrate summer.

Great River Tug Fest, Aug. 7-9
On Saturday, all traffic on the Mississippi River yields to the waterway’s only cross-state tug-of-war. Starting at 12:30 p.m., 22 teams stationed along the Iowa and Illinois riverbanks will test their might on a 680-pound rope that stretches for nearly a half-mile. Last year, Iowans brought home the trophy, with six teams pulling out a victory over their Illinois counterparts. On Thursday and Friday, folks in LeClaire celebrate with a carnival, parade and other activities.

Quad City Symphony Riverfront Pops, Sept. 6
Each year, this pops concert draws some 20,000 fans to the lawn of Davenport’s LeClaire Park, where they relax on the scenic banks of the Mississippi River while listening to the area’s elite orchestra.

This year, the symphony plays the music of Elton John, joined by performer Michael Cavanaugh, star of the Broadway musical Movin’ Out. Gates open at 3 p.m. for those who want to stake a spot early and bring a picnic dinner.

Beaux Arts Fair, Sept. 6-7
Twice a year for almost 50 years, nearly 150 U.S. artists have gathered just outside Davenport’s Figge Art Museum to display and sell their masterpieces: handwoven textiles, handmade pottery, custom jewelry, sculptures, ornate woodwork and paintings. Proceeds from spring and fall fairs support the public art museum, with its impressive collection of American masterworks including those of Iowa painter Grant Wood.

Celtic Festival & Highland Games, Sept. 19-20
Release your inner Celt at this celebration of ancient European culture, held at Davenport’s riverside Centennial Park. All weekend, you’ll see sheep herding, traditional athletic competitions, and plenty of kilts.

During the Heavy Events, burly athletes compete in traditional games such as the caber toss, where they must flip a telephone pole end over end. Visitors can also watch full-contact medieval combat, and enjoy reuniting with relatives of Celtic origin.

“They have clan tents, where those from similar backgrounds can come together,” says Waytenick, whose family is descended from the Johnston clan. “A lot of people have family come in that weekend, and they all join the parade of tartans. It’s really a family event, because you see the generations coming together, fathers and sons working together and people having fun.”

WQPT Brew Ha Ha, Sept. 20
Sample hundreds of brews from around the world, including craft selections from Europe and the Midwest. Inside Davenport’s LeClaire Park, soak up the music, food and comedy acts, or keep up with sporting events broadcasted on dozens of big-screen TVs. (Hawkeyes, anyone?)
Proceeds support educational outreach from the Quad Cities’ PBS station and community service events of the Davenport Jaycees, this year’s festival organizer.

Quad Cities Balloon Festival, Sept. 26-28
Look to the skies as dozens of hot-air balloons arise in East Moline’s Kennedy Square. Pilots launch on Friday and Saturday evening, as well as Saturday and Sunday morning. Visitors can ride on a tethered balloon and meet the crews.

“It’s just beautiful, if you go out for the night glow,” says Waytenick. “The balloons don’t make any noise at all. It’s just amazing how they’re so large and yet so silent.”

Summer is a busy season in the Quad Cities, and there’s plenty to explore. To find out more about these events and other happenings, check out visitquadcities.com.



Heidel House Resort & Spa: Sail in Style on Wisconsin’s Green Lake


When relaxing on the shores of Green Lake, Wisconsin’s deepest natural lake, it’s only fitting to spend some time on the water. At Heidel House Resort & Spa, 643 Illinois Ave., Green Lake, Wis., the Escapade yacht provides a unique way to experience the area’s lush lakeside.

This custom-built, 60-foot catamaran-style yacht can hit more than 26 mph during sightseeing cruises and private social events. With an open top deck and a climate-controlled salon, Escapade sets sail from May through October, when scenery is at its best.

During peak summer months, public sightseeing cruises leave daily at 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. In late spring and early fall, they’re available on weekends only. During these one-hour cruises, guests enjoy snacks and refreshments while sailing past Green Lake’s historic and geographic landmarks.

“Throughout the cruise, we travel back in time to the days of the early settlers, telling tales of the Native Americans’ culture and lore, and explaining how the lake was vital to their way of life,” says Captain Cletus Alsteen, who’s steered the Escapade for five years. “Your captain will highlight points of interest, including geographical features formed during the glacial periods and historical landmarks, such as estates and lake houses dating back to the 1800s.”

Periodically, the boat also hosts special event cruises open to the public. The monthly Beer Cruise features various Wisconsin craft breweries, for a special night of sampling drinks and appetizers. During the Grey Rock Dine & Sail Experience, cruisers begin with dinner at the resort’s Grey Rock fine dining restaurant, then move to the boat for dessert and cocktails during an evening voyage.

Escapade also books private cruises, for office outings, motorcoach groups, wedding rehearsals and even high school graduations. The yacht can hold up to 60 standing passengers or seat 34 diners buffet-style, or 27 for plated-style dining. The motorcoach yacht package includes a one-hour cruise and a luncheon menu with items such as vodka cream penne, bistro sirloin and roasted turkey. For private cruises and wedding groups, Catering Manager Lindsay Stone crafts a custom experience.

“We find out how many we’ll serve, what their age range is, what their food preferences are, and more,” she says. “I recommend guests dress comfortably for the weather outside, and consider bringing a light jacket if they plan to spend time on the top deck.”

Escapade docks just outside Heidel House’s 190-room resort, which offers plenty of summertime activities and lodging for small and large groups. Nearby, guests can visit the private beach or rent a watercraft for the day. Inside, guests can choose from among three restaurants for breakfast, lunch, pub-style fare and fine dining with evening entertainment. Elsewhere on the property, the Pump House Parlor serves up hand-dipped ice creams.

To reserve your special cruise aboard the Escapade yacht, or to enjoy a Heidel House retreat, call (800) 444-2812, or visit heidelhouse.com.