Friday's Tall Stacks Gala isn't so much a Tall Stacks party as it is the Tall Stacks party. The one everyone waits for; the one all 17 captains attend; the priciest ($200) cruise; the cruise for which the guests - all 580 of them - haul out the safety deposit box jewelry.
It's also the most lavish.
Set on the incredibly ornate General Jackson, with its red velvet drapes and gold fringe, it was six food stations from six river cities serving marinated beef, honey-coated chicken, pork tenderloin, salmon, shrimp, crab cakes, ham, turkey and more. Not to mention eight fully stocked, very busy bars on three levels.
As attorney and former Cincinnati city solicitor Fay Dupuis said, "(Tall Stacks) just seems a lot ... more exciting this year."
All of which made honorary chair George Schaefer Jr. ecstatic: "I don't think I've seen this many people in downtown Cincinnati in a long, long time. That's an extremely good, positive, uplifting thing."
Most of the party was on the first floor, in the Jackson's gigantic showroom, but it spilled onto the balconies surrounding the room, outdoors on deck three and even to level four's Hurricane Deck, where a few hardy souls braved the chill for the fireworks.
The gala was the biggest party, but not the only party. A few docks away, PNC Financial Advisors invited 625 of its clients aboard the Majestic for cocktails, hors d'oeuvres and an elaborate buffet of prime rib, chicken breast and a ton of side dishes.
This was another one you knew was going to be good when guests started lining up a half-hour early. Luckily for them they had a Dixieland combo playing till the line started moving.
Once inside, they found it easy to eat, drink and make plenty merry with munchies lined up on both levels and bars on three levels.
A little farther down the dock, 50 members of the Avon 25 Year Club - employees who have been with the company 25 years or more - were whooping it up aboard the Chattanooga Star.
Avon, said general manager Nicki Henson, does a party every year for the club. "This year, we selected the party site by vote. Tall Stacks won hands down."
It's a cruise with style, that's for sure, from the champagne toast to the huge platters of shrimp and the beef and chicken dinner. They even did a sort of scavenger hunt: Henson hid the commemorative pins from the 17 boats around the Star. Whoever found the Chattanooga Star pin won a prize.
"It's my third time on a cruise and I think it's the best choice they could have made. What a great way to experience Cincinnati," said 30-year veteran Gary Horton.
Bernie Kramer, a 35-year employee, agreed, but with mixed feelings. "I love being here, but I retire in five weeks, so I guess it might be my last cruise.
"But then I'll be retired and doing whatever I want, so maybe I won't care."
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Civil War recruiters at work
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City's new riverfront becomes visible
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