'Big Easy' Riverboat Casino | Photo by unprose, 2008
Photo Credit: unprose, 2008 – At the time of this photo, the “Big Easy” was staying at the Port of St. Petersburg.

First acquired in 2004 by the now-defunct Palm Beach Casino Line, the “Big Easy” was sent to Jacksonville for a $12 million facelift. The 238-foot New Orleans-themed ship was painted with hues of purple and green and featured a 30,000 square-foot casino with 23 gaming tables.

Not long after leaving dry-dock in April 2005, it was delayed for months, waiting for the Coast Guard to approve its modifications. By the time the vessel was cleared to sail, Hurricane Wilma was bearing down on South Florida, causing further delays and financial problems for the owners. At the start of the 2006 hurricane season, the Port of Palm Beach forced the ship to vacate as a precautionary measure.

Arriving at the Port of St. Petersburg, city officials said it was only a temporary stop for ship. Soon after it’s arrival though, the owners filed for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The “Big Easy” remained at port until in November 2009, city officials and the ship’s owner claimed the ship would soon depart. Soon after that announcement, the Palm Beach Casino Line filed again for Chapter 11, indicating continuing financial troubles.

At this point, the ship wasn’t going anywhere and with port space paid until June 2010, the Palm Beach Casino Line was cutting it short on time.

In April 2010, the cruise line’s single ship, the Palm Beach Princess, was ordered to vacate the Port of Palm Beach by a federal bankruptcy judge. With a crew of 19 and with the help of three tugboats, the Princess was pushed out to sea.

In July 2010, the “Big Easy” was moved from St. Petersburg to a dry dock in Tampa. At the time, the plan was to renovate the ship into a functioning casino ship. The ship had a temporary purpose; to generate revenue to build a hotel and casino, making the whole operation land-based. Even though the vessel underwent a $40 million renovation, the ship remained dry docked.

As of 2012, to recoup the costs of renovating it, the “Big Easy” has been demolished to be sold as scrap metal.

'Big Easy' Riverboat Casino | Photo by Mike Woodfin, 2012
Photo Credit: Mike Woodfin, 2012

UPDATE(10/11/2013):
The only remaining evidence of the gambling ship “The Big Easy”. Hendry Corporation removed the top canopy and placed it on the ground to create a roof for their welding operations. As you can see, they attached it to containers and made them storage, tool shed, and snack bar areas. It is interesting that they left the sign, “The Quarter” and many of the speaker and light connections in the rigging. It is not easy to see this since you have to have a port pass to get past the 24 hour guard.

The canopy has been set up on the slab (footprint) of the old and demolished Hookers Point Power Plant.

On the ship the stage was nearly directly behind the sign. A huge bar was in the foreground, which would be just in front of the forklift. When I toured the boat, before they demolished it, behind the backdrop of the stage were a line of queen sized beds that had draw curtains around each one. Wonder what the show girls used those for?
Mike Woodfin

Photo Credit: Mike Woodfin, 2013







14 Comments

  1. As of 2012, many of the fixtures have been sold (although the statues are still there) and the ship is scheduled for scrapping by the repair company that owns it now. They said they are going to save a few neon lights just for decoration but the rest is going to be gone soon. The chairs, tables, bar fixtures are all sold.

    They are interested in “American Pickers” paying a visit but do not hold much hope in that.

    • That last part made me chuckle. Thank you for the update Mike.

    • Just to let you guys know, all the inside is gone or scrapped. The figures were sold to the Krewe Of Neptune” club in Tampa. They have removed the upper canopy and the floor of the upper level revealing the inside. This will be gone in a few weeks for scrap.

  2. Thanks for the update. It’s always sad to see the misfortunes of failed economic ventures.

  3. Any idea the cost to acquire this thing (at salvage value) with the goal to refit as a towable for use as an off shore medical facility? Cost to make it seaworthy WITHOUT navigational power? Feel free to contact me directly via mailto:zapduff@gmail.comor 813-363-1910

  4. Mr. Woodfin is right — there’s a lot less left of the ex “Big Easy” than there was a week ago. The ship is docked right across the water from our condo balcony, and the shipyard has been active, with several large lifts of structure coming out today.

  5. Darn, my friends and I wanted to explore the ship, it had been docked Downtown St.Pete for a while and we were all curious but not brave enough.

    • I’ve added a photo of what the boat looked earlier this year. Not sure if you had seen it since the site is having some issues.

  6. I worked on the Big Easy as First Engineer when it was in West Palm Beach. All the money that was spent on that vessel was a total lost and why? Because they left two little tiny Cat Engines on her for the propulsion. Had they installed bigger engines on this vessel it would still be working today. I really liked the Big Easy. She was just way underpowered. I am sad to see what is left of it.

    • Sad to see what happened to a ship that had such potential. While I agree the engines were way too small, I don’t think it would still be sailing under the same owners as when I worked on it. I worked on the Palm Beach Princess and the Big Easy. There were way too many issues in upper management for them to have continued for much longer. I will say, I miss the staff, we had such great times on the few trips this ship made out of the port.

      • It was a lot of fun. I started on the big E and then moved to the princess to continue as a member of SKY. Just sad seeing her in that state. But I definitely do nto miss being thrown across the room or down the stairs on even a 6 ft wave

  7. Noticed on the news that the Jester Head is for sale at Schiller’s Salvage at Cypress & Rome Ave. Tampa. Surprised to see it “pop up” on the news.

    The top canopy is still being utilized as a shelter from the weather at Hendry Inc. Hemlock St. in Tampa.

    • Most of the fixtures have been bought by customers all around the country, especially up north. I was at Schiller’s Salvage in Tampa the other day and they only have two stairwell neon signs. One say Mardi Gras and the other says Topless Dancers. The owner said that he could not keep the items in his store the way they were flying out. The old ship lives on in it’s items I guess.

  8. I worked on that boat. So sad. It was such a fun place to work or gamble…