Sale of Wilderness Queen bittersweet
Zastrow family says ‘goodbye’ after hosting cruises for six years
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
The Wilderness Queen will cruise a Northwoods section of the Wisconsin River for only about a month longer. It will be moved from its docking station along Hwy. 8 near Rhinelander in October, headed south to a new home in the Delavan area. The Wilderness Queen was purchased by Gregg Kunes, well known in Walworth County for owning Kunes Country Auto Group.
“He’s going to do right by this,” said current owner Patty Zastrow. “It’s a remarkable boat; it’s been my baby. It’s going to be bittersweet.”
Zastrow and her husband, Ben, bought the Wilderness Queen six years ago from Tom and Chris Tiffany, who operated Wisconsin River Cruises on the Willow Flowage from 1991 to 2007. In 2007 the boat was relocated to where it is now.
Patty has been running the business solo for the past two-and-a-half years, when Ben took a job in Michigan. A pretty big move, but after Ben’s 18-month deployment in Afghanistan as a member of the National Guard, it didn’t look so bad.
“We knew when we sat down and discussed everything; we just knew that in the long run it was going to benefit us as a family,” Patty said. “At the time, our two youngest were still in high school and they didn’t want to move.” Now, she will put the family’s house on the market, and prepare for the move to Michigan.
The plan was to keep the boat and Patty would work the cruises in the summer. That was until Aug. 24, 2017, when the former Woodwind Spa building on River Road burned to the ground, and with it went the Zastrow’s commercial kitchen.
“For the last 30 years people have come to expect dinner cruises,” Patty said. “That was a big part of our business reputation.”
Not sure what do, the Zastrow’s took a step back. “Maybe it’s time. Maybe this is the universe telling us to move on,” Patty said with a shake of her head.
They listed the boat on an online classified ad service. A potential sale fell through last spring, again presenting a dilemma. Deciding they can’t afford to just let the boat sit there, Patty, along with Rhonda and Tom from CT’s Deli put their heads together.
“We ended up serving hot sandwiches from CT’s and that worked out great,” Patty said. “But people really wanted that dinner, and it’s too hard to pull together without a commercial kitchen.”
So back online, for sale. And this time the universe wasn’t kidding. Zastrow said Kunes is building a trailer to fit the boat, and expects the journey to southern Wisconsin to begin in October.