Floridians Rick and Mandy Maitland traveled to Rosedown Historic Site expecting to find a grand home very similar to their Cape Cod residence, but they didn’t expect a personal welcome from the state’s second-highest elected official.

Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser on May 26 greeted the first two buses shuttling more than 150 cruise boat passengers from the American Duchess to Rosedown, signaling a return of tourism along the Mississippi River after a year of COVID-19 restrictions.

The state’s tourism and state parks divisions pulled out all the stops, offering visitors gift bags and lots of pointers to what the state has to offer.

“It was a pleasure to be able to personally welcome these tourists back to Louisiana as they cruise the Mississippi River and dock at ports along their way through our state,” Nungesser said. “It was encouraging to learn from them that they were from all over the United States, encouraging because it’s an important first step to showing the world Louisiana is back open and ready to welcome people safely.”

The Maitlands live in Fort Myers, Florida, but was drawn to the Rosedown site because of the era and design it represents.

“We have a house in Cape Cod that was built in 1835 so, this was interesting and very similar to a lot of things,” Mandy Maitland said. “There were things on the dining room table were wonderful to see the similarities. It’s just beautiful, because we'll never know how far the North and the South were from each other.”

Paul and Vicki Wilson, visitors from Pennsylvania, were anxious to make their cruise that included their first visit to Louisiana.

“This particular Mississippi River cruise was postponed from a year ago because of COVID,” Paul Wilson said. “Now, this is the first one that we've been able to go out having a good time.”

Top stories in Baton Rouge in your inbox

Twice daily we'll send you the day's biggest headlines. Sign up today.

Trish Aleshire, Rosedown park manager, is seeing a slow, but steadily increasing uptick in visitors to the area.

“There have been some before throughout the spring,” she said. “As each week or so goes by, we see a few more numbers. We've been very, very careful of starting with smaller numbers, lots of protocols — very strict protocols — and then we're seeing a few more each week.”

Mary Owen helps lead tours and is a member of the Friends of Rosedown. She’s encouraged by increased numbers of visitors and how local economy has responded.

“It kind of makes us come full circle,” she said. “It’s exciting and comforting to see visitors come back to the area again, like the tourists that are here today. Interestingly enough, the parish was considered a safe place because we have a very high vaccine level; we had a very low COVID positive level. And so, we have seen an influx of people. I think our restaurants, once they could open up in any meaningful way, have very good business.”

Cliff Melius, director of operations and facilities for Louisiana state parks, said the very visible showing was part thanks and part an invitation for return trips to the state.

“The riverboats have become an economic driver not only for the state park system, but also for the local communities,” he said. “So, that's why the lieutenant governor was out this morning — because the riverboats are finally coming back since COVID, and we're excited because it brings in a lot of visitors to the site and tourism to Louisiana."

The American Duchess, a boutique-style paddle-wheeler, is one of a fleet of three that will have 57 river cruises carrying more than 8,550 passengers this year. Two-storied loft suites with private balconies are among the accommodations offered to cruise passengers from all over the world.