My first “Mississippi river cruise” was a silly 20-minute boat ride aboard Liberty Belle at Disney World. When I stepped onboard American Cruise Line’s Queen of the Mississippi, the only similarity was the traditional big red paddle wheel at the aft.
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.
Queen of the Mississippi
Queen of the Mississippi’s ambiance and décor of the mid-19th century were accurately duplicated throughout each the four decks, the spacious public areas and all of the cabins. Beautiful ornate woodwork, plush cushioned sofas and chairs and a sun deck with dozens of white wooden rocking chairs were evocative of a small step back in time.
All 150 passengers were mostly seniors and mostly Americans, with a few Brits and Australians. Everyone got into the 1800’s spirit even before the complimentary wine was poured at lunch and dinner.
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.
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Mississippi River Cruise Itinerary
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Oak Alley Plantation
- 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 made it 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.
Before dinner chimes were even heard, Queen of the Mississippi was underway and headed 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 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.
A 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.
Located on 25 acres, Oak Alley was a wealthy sugar plantation 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 city tour. 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).
Magnolia Mound is a beautifully preserved French Creole plantation house dating 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.
A stop for an extensive and fascinating tour at Longwood, the elegant six-story mansion that was never completed. The building of this unique octagonal-shaped mansion began in 1859. Longwood was never finished because at the start of the Civil War in 1861, all the construction workers had to abandon the job and march off to war.
Back to the Queen of the Mississippi for lunch as was routine. Shuttle buses ran continuously to and from the sleepy downtown area.
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, Mississippi river took us to Vicksburg, Mississippi. A major location for civil war battles and 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. It was discovered buried in silt and mud in the nearby Yazoo river in 1956. But it wasn’t until 1964 that the gunboat was salvaged 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 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. They were painted by Robert Dafford and 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.
We were supposed to dock right at Beale Street, the heart of Memphis. Due to a civic event, the Captain was told to instead dock at Mud Island. An overnight in Memphis allowed plenty of time to tour, taste and listen to Memphis blues.
A Visit to Graceland
Not an Elvis fan (he was a few years before I discovered the transistor radio!) I was encouraged to take the Graceland tour. That’s his house, very unimposing and looking more like a suburban home in a northern city than what I imagined.
Graceland is frozen in Elvis-time. You can tour all of the downstairs rooms but the upstairs, where Elvis died, is off-limits. It’s the extensive adjacent grounds and buildings that give Graceland its estate-like quality.
As on all seven-night cruises, whether ocean or river, the days went by too fast. Our river cruise covered a lot of territory. A total of over 453 miles on the Mississippi river. Someday, I’d like to do a repeat of this trip and then continue north on the river all the way to St. Paul, Minnesota.
Amtrak’s famed City of New Orleans train was my ride from Memphis to New Orleans. Once aboard the train and comfortable settled into my roomette, I’d go to the dining car for a hot breakfast and train coffee. A fabulous finale to a memorable week.
Cruises on the Mississippi River
American Cruise Lines launched their brand new, 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi in 2015, 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. 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 the Queen of the Mississippi. 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 USA and Europe on land and sea. Always looking for new vistas, local food and wine. I hope my articles and photos entertain, advise and inspire you to savor and travel the world without flying.