Cruising through miles of winding river offers a relaxing way to explore the Mississippi delta and the surrounding area. In fact, a Mississippi River cruise can become the trip of a lifetime once you've sorted out your travel options.
Cruise Lines on the Mississippi
Depending on the port stops, a cruise along the Mississippi River typically lasts about three to 10 days. This majestic waterway encompasses more than 50 rivers and tributaries, including the Ohio, Tennessee, and Missouri rivers. As of 2014, only two established cruise lines offer regular trips along the Mississippi.
The American Queen Steamboat Company
The Mississippi cruise offerings from American Queen Steamboat Company are divided between two riverboats, the American Empress and the American Queen. The Queen is the largest riverboat in the world with a passenger capacity of over 400.
Cruise details include:
- Upper river cruises are based in and around St. Louis, Missouri, while lower river cruises explore New Orleans, Louisiana and Memphis, Tennessee. The company offers holiday and theme voyages, including trips highlighting Elvis and music of the 1950's. Amenities include meals featuring regional cuisine and a hotel stay in the departure city the night before the voyage.
- Fares run from $2,600 to $3,500 per person based on double occupancy of an inside cabin, and the sailings are eight or nine days long.
- Cruise Critic reviews describe the ship as having a "stately" vibe. The trips are full of well-traveled passengers, and the average crowd is over age 50, although the holiday voyages are full of young people and families.
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American Cruise Lines
American Cruise Lines is a large, river cruise company which offers trips on the Queen of the Mississippi. This modern paddlewheel is full of brass details and hardwood railings and is truly modeled after Victorian era riverboats of the late 1800s. Since the passenger capacity is only 150, the staterooms are much larger than other riverboats.
- This cruise line's seven day sailings are based from St Louis, New Orleans and, occasionally, Memphis or Nashville. The New Orleans round trip voyages are offered as theme cruises. They have options for history buffs with a trip highlighting the Civil War, or a cooking theme cruise which features Cajun and Creole-inspired cuisine.
- Cruise prices range from about $4,300 to just over $7,000.
- The editor's rating from Cruise Critic is a 3.5 out of five stars. Since gratuities are optional, Cruise Critic recommends tipping the hotel manager at the end of the voyage to ensure it is divided equally. This trip is great for locals, since this company is US based on the east coast, and they understand US travelers.
Avalon Waterways Tour
Avalon Waterways is a part of Globus, a large international tour company. They reserve 20 outside staterooms for special voyages and offer a 12 day trip aboard the American Queen.
- The trip departs from Nashville and travels to New Orleans a few times a year, during the winter holidays. It's referred to as America's Heartland from Music City to the Big Easy.
- The average starting price is just under $5,300 per person.
- Highlights include a day tour of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville before departure. Port stops include a visit to Graceland in Memphis, a civil war monument in historic Vicksburg, an Antebellum plantation house, and overnight accommodations and a farewell dinner upon arrival in New Orleans.
Since this is a charter trip, very few reviews are available, but Avalon Waterways has won numerous awards, and the company offers a one-of-a-kind itinerary for tourists to this area. This is a perfect trip for people visiting from other regions.
Independent Paddlewheel Boat
The Spirit of Peoria is a modern boat commissioned and built in 1988. It was constructed to mirror the look of a vintage paddle boat, but it operates on a modern propulsion system. It has four decks, is about 160 feet long, and chugs along at an average speed of seven to ten miles per hour. The boat is also available for private charters and weddings with special rates in the winter.
In addition to day cruises, the boat offers a variety of overnight cruises. These trips include transportation, meals and lodging. Choosing between two, three, or five day trips depends largely on the departure point.
- The overnight trip is from Peoria, Illinois to the waterfalls of scenic Starved Rock State Park for a day of hiking, boating, sightseeing, or wine tasting. The double occupancy price of $360 per person. Children sail for about $175.
- There are two options for three-day, two-night trips. The first choice is an extended version of the Starved Rock sailing. Including a stint on the Illinois river, the boat sails round trip from Peoria to St. Louis. Tickets runs from $550 to $575 per person based on double occupancy.
- Each July, the crew hosts a special four-night sailing from Peoria to Hannibal, Missouri, the boyhood home of Mark Twain. Stops include an overnight in Springfield, Illinois at the President Abraham Lincoln hotel and the lodge at Pere Marquette, and overnight accommodations in Hannibal. This is a one way sailing, so transportation back to Peoria is included. This trip is priced at $960 per person for double occupancy, and children travel for half price.
- A great choice for families and history buffs, the crew presents ragtime banjo and storytelling from local legends, including a Mark Twain impersonator.
- The ship sails primarily during the summer months, so a vacation trip is ideal.
The shorter trips to Starve Rock State Park are a fun way for outdoors types to relax. TripAdvisor reviews are excellent. Some hint at the trip being very low key and great for grandparents with small children. One reviewer suggests finding seating on the Port side of the boat, since the west bank of the river is where most of the activity takes place.
Ports of Call
There are three general regions for cruises on the Mississippi River, each with its own attractions and historical charm. Precise ports of call may vary depending on the river's conditions, the season, and commercial shipping conditions.
- American Heritage Region: This is the typical lower Mississippi River that's located deep in the South and stretches from Louisiana to Tennessee. Lazy days spent cruising through the bayou are common on lower Mississippi cruises, and shore excursions may include visits historic plantation homes and other grand architectural masterpieces. Port of call cities typically include Mobile, Little Rock, Baton Rouge, Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans.
- Heartland Region: The upper Mississippi River runs through the heartland of the United States, and passengers can visit many cultural attractions and museums dedicated to westward expansion and pioneer life. This is also the region made famous by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) as the playground for Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, and Huckleberry Finn. Ports of call may include Minneapolis, St. Paul, St. Louis, and Hannibal, MO.
- Wilderness Region: This region is an offshoot of the Mississippi region, yet it's still drained by the mighty river. These cruises explore the Ohio River valley deep into the American Midwest and the Appalachian Mountains. Points of interest range from steel mills to baseball parks to art museums, all of which add multiple layers to the region's history and charm. Ports of call frequently include Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville.
The Mississippi Has a Lot to Offer
Regardless of the cruise line, each Mississippi River cruise offers a window into the local history and culture, including devoted regional menus, jazz, country and bluegrass music, historical reenactments, and other delightful cultural experiences. In addition, the beautiful state parks and miles of calm river appeal to the naturalist in all of us. All things considered, this old river still has a lot to offer anyone seeking a bit of adventure.