My first “Mississippi river cruise” was a silly 20-minute boat ride aboard Liberty Belle at Disney World. I was finally going to experience the real deal.
Based on my Huck Finn Disney ride, I really didn’t know what to expect on a real Mississippi river cruise. When I stepped onboard American Cruise Line’s American Heritage (formerly Queen of the Mississippi), the only similarity was the traditional big red paddle wheel.
Our week on the Mississippi would cruise through U.S. territory I’ve never explored. The cities and towns were totally new to me.
This post takes you along on my Mississippi River journey from New Orleans to Memphis. I hope to inspire you to get onboard and experience the controversial history, regional culture and delicious cuisine in this part of America.
Mississippi River Cruise from New Orleans to Memphis
It would be a week of grisly Civil War battlefield sights and stories, tours of opulent plantations with their costumed glamour and turbulent past. There were strolls through some of America’s cities that grew up along the river.
In addition, we’d have a chance to indulge in regional southern food that included its French and subsequent Creole and Cajun influence.
Step Aboard American Heritage
Before beginning its 2022 season, American Heritage had a bow to stern remodel and refurbishment. The rivership now looks modern yet still cozy. Muted tones of beige and aqua, plus accents in navy and deep red are found throughout the new fabrics and décor.
All 150 passengers were mostly seniors and mostly Americans, with a few Brits and Australians. Everyone joined in the 1800’s spirit.
A few men and women were wearing straw or ribboned hats and other small bits of wearable nostalgia. At embarkation, crew members were dressed as though they were sent from Central Casting. It’s a Mississippi river cruise thing.
READ NEXT: Mississippi River Cruise Embarkation Day and Ship Photos
Mississippi River Cruise Itinerary
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Oak Alley Plantation, Vacherie, Louisiana
- Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- Natchez, Mississippi
- Vicksburg, Mississippi
- Memphis, Tennessee
The river cruise price tag included a one-night pre-cruise stay at The Whitney Hotel in New Orleans. This was very convenient for the cruise line to pick up almost all of their guests from one location in town to go to the port.
It also assured that everyone would be on board and checked in well before sailaway time.
En Route to Oak Alley, Louisiana
American Heritage left New Orleans well before dinner chimes were heard. We were heading upstream for an evening port visit. Oak Alley, Louisiana.
Only a few hours into our Mississippi river cruise was our first port town; Vacherie, Louisiana for a stop at Oak Alley Plantation. Aglow at sunset, the plantation was quite a spectacular sight.
Maybe it was the 300-year old canopy of live oaks or the warm glow from the porch lights.
An evening stroll along the 1/4 mile path from the ship’s gangway to the double-door plantation house entrance was a good way to walk off dinner. Set Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine to the year 1837.
Once a wealthy sugar plantation, Oak Alley was built on the backbone of slavery. Between 110 and 120 men, women and children lived in bondage at the plantation. Almost all Mississippi river cruises stop at Oak Alley.
Next morning, any apparitions disappeared with the light of day, or so I hoped. Tour guides in period costume guided us through many of the rooms, chatting up the history and events from the plantation’s nearly 200-year old existence.
After the tour, and roasting in the heat and humidity, everyone slowly sauntered back towards the Mississippi river. Our awaiting air-conditioned ship was a welcome sight.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana
As we neared Baton Rouge in the early evening, it was a strange juxtaposition of a contemporary skyline with an Antebellum mood. A light drizzle curtailed our plans to walk the river’s wide promenade.
I liked the idea of a walk in the evening mist along the river bank but no one else seemed interested to go.
It was also just a little too far to walk for a peek at the USS Kidd Naval Destroyer permanently docked on the Mississippi. Instead, many guests stayed onboard and relaxed on rocking chairs beneath the awning on the Sun Deck.
The second full day of our river cruise began with motor coach tour of Baton Rouge. Tour guides in these old buildings seem to love a good ghost story. First stop was a tour of the castle-like Old State Capitol Building.
An Antebellum-costumed woman eagerly recanted the “Ghost of Sarah Morgan” story with tales of the Capitol’s Civil War history and ghostly past. Then onto the new and hopefully not haunted State Capitol Building (also known as Huey P. Long’s monument).
A beautifully preserved French Creole plantation house, Magnolia Mound dates from 1791. Several buildings, including an outdoor open-hearth kitchen, slave quarters, the Overseer’s house and an unusual three-seater outhouse comprise the 900-acre grounds.
Natchez, Mississippi, our third stop, began with a city motor coach tour that wound through the tree-lined thoroughfares and riverfront drives.
First stop was Longwood, a sprawling and elegant six-story mansion. The building of this unique octagonal-shaped building began in 1859.
The completion of Longwood would never happen. With the start of the Civil War in 1861, all the construction workers had to abandon the job and march off to war.
Back to American Heritage for lunch as was routine. Shuttle buses ran continuously to and from the sleepy downtown Natchez.
Downtown Natchez was built by French colonists in 1716. Definitely worth a walk-through just to dodge overhanging pink bougainvillea, stop for an iced tea and explore the small clothing boutiques and miscellaneous shops. Or like me, buy another cookbook.
The next morning, the Mississippi river took us to Vicksburg, Mississippi. A major location for civil war battles, archeologists are still finding artifacts buried in the muddy waters.
A visit to the Vicksburg National Military Park was a sobering reminder of the Battle of Vicksburg and the 47-day siege in 1863.
Civil War battlefields, monuments and memorials dominated the day’s theme in Vicksburg. Once we reached the National Military Park entrance, a park guide narrated the scenes and explained what happened where and why.
Not being a Civil War buff, (I’m a Lewis and Clark enthusiast) I learned more about the Civil War than I could actually absorb in the two-hour tour.
We stopped to view the U.S.S.Cairo, an iron clad gunboat sunk in battle in 1862. The antique gunboat was discovered in the nearby Yazoo river in 1956, buried in silt and mud.
The gunboat was salvaged 8 years later, along with hundreds of incredibly well-preserved artifacts. Who knew?
Like many of the small town treasures along the Mississippi river, Vicksburg is high on my list of places on this river cruise that I’d love to see again. The town’s Civil War history was almost totally unknown to me.
In fact, almost all Civil War history that took place along the Mississippi was news to me.
Vicksburg’s Riverfront Murals depict the history of Vicksburg, Mississippi and the role the city played in the building of America.
There was time back at the dock to explore the beautiful Yazoo and Mississippi R.R. Station building, now the Old Depot Museum.
I would have liked a little more time to view all the murals but they’re seemingly endless. Painted by Robert Dafford, the murals were unveiled to the public in April 2002.
After your busy day touring much of Vicksburg, remember to leave time to stroll and sightsee along the riverfront. It’s worth it.
We were supposed to dock right at Beale Street, the heart of Memphis. Instead, the ship’s Captain had to dock at Mud Island due to a special civic event.
An overnight in Memphis allowed plenty of time to tour, taste and listen to Memphis blues.
A Visit to Graceland
I decided to take the Graceland tour even though I was not an Elvis fan (he was a few years before I discovered the transistor radio!) That’s his house, very unimposing and looking more like a suburban home in a northern city than what I imagined.
The guided and narrated tour only allowed 8 guests at a time.
Graceland seemed frozen in time. You can tour all of the downstairs rooms but the upstairs, where Elvis died, is off-limits.
While the house isn’t exactly huge, it’s the extensive adjacent grounds and out-buildings that give Graceland its estate-like quality.
Our Mississippi River Cruise Comes to an End
I would have been happy to do a southbound turn-around cruise and revisit all the places we saw on the journey north.
As on all seven-night cruises, whether ocean or river, the days went by too fast. Our Mississippi river cruise covered a lot of territory.
We traveled a total of over 453 miles on the Mississippi River. Next time, I’d like to do a repeat of this trip and continue north on the river all the way to St. Paul, Minnesota. Or reverse.
Amtrak City of New Orleans Train Back to New Orleans
Unlike everyone else on this cruise who flew home, I chose to ride overnight aboard Amtrak’s famed City of New Orleans train from Memphis to New Orleans.
I reserved my roomette, and looked forward to a relaxing overnight, eating in the dining car (or my room) and of course, a piping hot cup of train coffee.
Rather than a rush to the airport, this was a fabulous finale to a memorable week. Once we arrived in New Orleans, I spent an overnight and picked up a rental car for the drive back to Florida the next day.
Cruises on the Mississippi River
Launched in 2015, American Cruise Lines 150-passenger American Heritage is dedicated to Mississippi river cruises.
The most traveled Mississippi river cruises are between New Orleans and Memphis or St. Louis. There are also a few full-length New Orleans to St. Paul, Minnesota or reverse cruise each summer.
You can also journey east of the Mississippi river and cruise the Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee rivers.
If you’re wondering if Mississippi river cruise ships have a casino, the answer is no. Overnight Mississippi river cruise ships do not have a casino.
However, an option would be to take a taxi from the ship if the port that you are at has a nearby casino. Just don’t miss the boat!
Disclosure: I was a guest of American Cruise Lines aboard American Heritage. As always, all opinions are my own. It was a wonderful week and I heartily recommend this cruise.
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I’m the editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com, a solo traveler cruising the world on waves and wheels, collecting recipes along the way. I hope my articles and photos entertain, advise and inspire you to travel the world without flying. Take a breath…stop for a local meal and a glass of wine along the way.
Sherry Laskin says
Thank you for reading my Mississippi river cruise article. As for “best side” of the ship, leaving New Orleans it’s nice to be port side as that’s the most scenic for the first two – three days. Then the right side (starboard) becomes the scenic side. It also depends on your itinerary, too. Either side is as good as the other, in my opinion.
Enjoy the cruise…I really did and hope to go again this year! Thanks again for your comment and question. Happy cruising!
Denise Boyd says
I enjoyed reading your review. I and some friends are looking at a cruise in June, New Orleans to Memphis. Is there a better side of the boat to choose your cabin? That is in regard to sun and sightseeing.
Sherry Laskin says
Thank you so much for your question. I think a February Mississippi river cruise would be unique when it comes to the weather. It’s always cooler on the water, too, so be prepared. As for the food with American Cruise Lines…I thought everything served was very good. I really like when there are regional specials on the menu, too. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. If you have a chance to have lunch in a port town, that’s always one of my favorite things to do!
Have a wonderful river cruise and thank you again for taking the time to read my article!
Angela Watkins says
We are going on this cruise next February.Hoping the weather will be suitable. very informative review. Could you let me know what you thought of the meals on board the cruise please