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Go for the ride, not the food 

The river view is the highlight of the Arkansas Queen.

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Initially, we thought maybe it was a little unfair to judge a place by its food when food isn’t really supposed to be the focal point.

But then we figured out how much of our $24.50 ticket for the Arkansas Queen riverboat’s Sunday brunch cruise went to pay for the food — $12.50 — and well, anyone asking you to pay that much for a meal should be held accountable for it.

(We reached the $12.50 figure by subtracting the cost of a sightseeing-only cruise, $12, from the brunch cruise price.)

And it sort of pains us to be this blunt, but we didn’t get near our money’s worth. We enjoyed the 90-minute run up and down the river, and wouldn’t have minded paying $12 just for that, but the food …

Our ticket got us a single trip through an abbreviated buffet — scrambled eggs we’re pretty sure weren’t real, bacon so thin it was all but flavorless, rubbery biscuits and gravy, passable fried potatoes, some kind of Cool Whip fruit salad, rice pilaf, chicken breasts, ham that tasted like it had been around awhile, and lukewarm peach cobbler for dessert. We sampled everything but the chicken, and didn’t finish anything but the potatoes and the rice. If it hadn’t been for the little basket of mini-muffins at each table, we would have left hungry.

(And to add insult to disappointment, only coffee and tea are included in the ticket price. Want a Coke? You’ll pay $1.25 — refills not included.)

We didn’t venture back for one of the riverboat’s other cruises — there’s a dinner/dance excursion nightly Tuesday through Saturday ($39.50), and a deli lunch cruise at noon on the same days ($19.95) — so who knows, maybe the food’s better then. We wouldn’t count on it, though.

All that said, it’s kind of fun to ride on a riverboat, and we saw some decent wines lined up on the bar. The sightseeing-only cruises on Saturday afternoons cost only $10 and $12, depending on the length ($7 for kids), and we can imagine worse ways to spend 90 minutes than sitting on the top deck with a nice glass of something in our hand.

The cruise we took started out going upriver of the AQ’s dock by the submarine on the North Little Rock side of the downtown riverfront. We didn’t go very far, though, before we turned around and headed the other direction. We got within sight of the I-440 bridge before turning back around and heading home. Now this probably isn’t the most scenic stretch of the river — we passed at least one quarry and a lot of other industrial-looking structures — but there’s plenty of green on the banks, and you can always keep your eyes upriver on the beautiful downtown skyline.

Next door from the dock, the Queen’s owners have opened the Salty Parrot on the River, a bar and grill open Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. until late at night. They have wings, appetizers, burgers, onion rings, fries, salads, soups and the like, plus a bar.

Arkansas Queen
(food)
(ride)
100 Riverfront Park Drive
North Little Rock
372-5777

Quick bite
Dinner cruise includes prime rib, shrimp Creole, roasted turkey, salads, veggies and desserts.

Hours
Noon deli lunch Tue.-Sat.; 3 p.m. sightseeing tour Tue.-Sat; 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. dinner/dance cruise Tue.-Sat.; 1 p.m. brunch and music 90-minute cruise Sun.; 6:30 p.m. two-hour gospel music dinner Mon.

Other information
Deli lunch $19.95 adults, $18.50 seniors, $14.50 children; $12 adults, $11 seniors, $7 children for sightseeing cruise noon; $10 adults, $9 seniors, $7 children for 3 p.m. sightseeing; $24.50 adults, $23 seniors, $17.50 Sun. and Mon. meals and cruises; $39.50 adults, $37.50 seniors for dinner and dance cruise. Call ahead to reserve lunches, brunches and dinners. Credit cards accepted. Boarding begins 30 minutes before departure. Full bar on two inside decks. Live music on most cruises.

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