Meet Captain Donald Rojas
Whenever you’ve taken a cruise, enjoying the wind coming off the river and all the fascinating sites along the way, do you ever think about who is driving the boat? Well on the Creole Queen, we have two very experienced captains with lots of interesting stories and history. In part one of our “Meet the Captains” series, get to know Donald Rojas, affectionately called “Chico,” one of the captains on the Creole Queen. Chico who was born and raised in New Orleans and has a lively sense of humor he enjoys sharing with his passengers.
Q&A With Creole Queen Captain Donald "Chico" Rojas
How long have you been a captain on the Creole Queen?
Roughly 10 years. This December will make 11 years and the first year as a full time captain.
What lead you to being a captain on the Creole Queen?
Started out on the Cajun Queen, which was our sister boat, back in 2003 as a captain and [maritime] pilot. I found out about the Cajun Queen through a friend who worked with me on the ferries for the state. After Katrina, the Cajun was sold and the opportunity was to come work on the Creole Queen.
Did you always want to be a riverboat captain?
I remember crossing the Chalmette Ferry once and it was like the coolest thing in the world. I looked up there and saw the captain and said “I would really like to do this.” Back then I was a kid and never really thought about it and it was a coincidence I ended up running that boat. It’s pretty cool.
What’s the best part about being a captain on the Creole Queen?
Meeting all the different types of people who come to the boat looking for this sort of entertainment. It’s entertaining because you meet people from everywhere and they tell you a little bit about where they live at and they give you insight about whether they have a paddleboat or a river in their town.
What’s the best part about the battlefield cruise and the dinner jazz cruise?
My favorite part about the battlefield cruise is probably when we’re at the battlefield because we’re secured, we get to come down, mingle with the passengers and say “hello, how you doing, are you enjoying the cruise, can I help you with anything?” That’s where you really get to meet people from different parts of the world and get their point of view. They ask questions about the narration, about facts they may have not understood. It’s rewarding. I enjoy it.
For the dinner cruise, I would have to say that the best part is when we’re getting underway and we have that view of the city, coming down as the sun is setting, that’s one of the highlights. And the other one would be when we’re coming back on it, which we call “the money shot.” If we see there’s a big crowd out, we’ll purposely take our time coming down the bend so they can see all the bridges and everything lit up.
What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen in the river on a cruise?
Getting underway with clear visibility and then at one point getting caught up in the shadow of a fog. When it creeps up on you, you go from being able to see everything to not being able to see anything at all. It’s a little bit on the wild side, it makes things interesting.
What happens in that situation?
We pray. We have one life jacket that Captain Brian and I share. JUST KIDDING, we communicate with the passengers what’s going on and we have communicating systems so we can tell what’s going on. We have a lot of tools that are available to us so it’s completely safe.
Do you have a favorite memory from a Creole Queen cruise or event?
One year we hosted an event for the Army Corps of Engineers and Coast Guard. We took the Creole Queen into the Intracoastal Waterway to go see the floodwall they built for the hurricane protection system. We kind of had an audience and it was the first time I ever brought this boat to the Intracoastal Waterway and the water out there is absolutely gorgeous. Just being able to accomplish that, to and from, and everyone’s outside snapping pictures. It was a good experience.
What’s your favorite landmark or site that you pass by on the Creole Queen?
When we leave the dock, a lot of times the Natchez is in place. That’s pretty cool because the passengers are snapping pictures of the other boat. Everyone can see what’s going on over there. When we’re coming up to the [Algiers] Point, a lot of times we’ll meet again and we’ll whistle at each other. It’s kind of like a little show.
What’s some of your most frequently asked questions from passengers and what are your answers to them?
How many lifejackets do you have on board? My answer (kiddingly) is one and it belongs to me.
You must have been doing this a long time? Nope, first day on the job. We like to kid and joke with our passengers.
Where’s the front of the boat? Where the bow is.
What’s your favorite thing about New Orleans?
The lifestyle. It’s different. There’s no place like home. We’ve got it all here.