CLINTON -- The American Queen, the largest steamboat ever built, made its grand return to the shores of the Clinton Mississippi Riverfront Thursday morning to the delight of passengers and Clinton-area residents.

Traveling northbound up the river, the boat docked near the Clinton Marina around 8:30 a.m. and passengers spilled up on the dike to hop on tour buses and begin their day in the city. The familiar "hop on, hop off" method utilized by organizers allowed the tourists to see various shopping and dining sites throughout Clinton during their stay.

Warm sunshine and near cloudless skies greeted the passengers who were highly appreciative of the volunteer efforts by those clad in red shirts. They reflected on the trip thus far.

"My goodness, it is a newer construction that still contains a lot of the old, historic wood and things from the past, so this is the best there is right now," Nile Rungy of Livermore, California said as he stood on the dike admiring the boat. "The real highlight has been the performances, especially the talks about Mark Twain. There have been several of them, all very good."

Assisting passengers in various ways as they piled out of the Queen were volunteers like Dwight Royer, who has held that role several times as the boat and its sister, the American Duchess, visited Clinton.

Whether giving directions, passing out pamphlets or informational fliers or in another capacity, the volunteer work of those like Royer have made Clinton a favorite stop as the behemoth structures navigate the Mighty Mississippi.

"It's nice to welcome people to our town, especially with how appreciative they are telling us that Clinton is the most welcome they've felt on the trip," Royer said Thursday morning. "It's just good for our town. We want to help in any way we can, and welcoming them to our town is just one of those ways."

Another one of those travelers on the historic ship -- and yet another one making the trek from California -- appreciated the lore of the Mississippi in old folk tales and stories. Coast Guard veteran Carl Mike Ackerlind first saw the Queen with his own eyes "several years ago" in Louisiana, he said, and his interest in traveling the river grew.

This was Ackerman's third voyage on the Mississippi, he said, and his admiration for the muddy waters remains strong.

"Being on the open ocean for 25 years, I really don't have much desire for that anymore," Ackerlind said Thursday. "The ocean has its own beauty, but there's something about coming up and down the river and feeling the history of it all.

"Being a native Californian, it's neat to be able to see this part of the country," Ackerlind said. "The whole trip is the highlight."