Too often, our conception of a “cruise” sticks to Caribbean or North Atlantic waters. Sure, these make for great excursions, but there are equally satisfying (not to mention less crowded and less expensive) cruises to be had along the Mississippi River. In fact, we have a few Mississippi riverboat cruises we heartily recommend – so consider these five the next time you’re in a cruising mood.
Padelford Riverboats – Twin Cities Cruise (Minneapolis/St. Paul)
Did you know that the start of the Mighty Mississippi is in Minnesota – right near the buzzing Twin Cities? While most don’t think of the Mississippi stretching this far north, it’s actually a beautiful haven for falcons, egrets, eagles, and other wildlife. For a chance to witness this untamed natural setting firsthand – with a delectable meal to boot – we recommend the Padelform Riverboat cruises. While there are several boat-and-dine options, our pick has to be the Rib Dinner Cruise. Tuck in for some mouthwatering dry-rubbed ribs, green chili cornbread, baked beans, and a sweet treat as you ogle the verdant beginnings of America’s second-longest river (the Missouri River narrowly wins out). It’s best to go in late spring to avoid the peak heat of summer. This particular cruise is two hours and costs about $50 for adults.
American Cruise Line – Cumberland River Cruise (Nashville to St. Louis)
Head further south and you’ll find yourself in country music territory (i.e. Nashville). While checking out the Grand Ole Opry is on everyone’s must-see list, few take advantage of the sightseeing afforded by a boat ride on the river. Thus, we give you the Cumberland River Cruise, where you can witness the great Kentucky Lakes, 170,000 acres of protected forest, the site of Ulysses S. Grant’s first major Union victory, and the Trail of Tears state park. Oh, and that’s not including the onboard live music (a lot of soul-stirring jazz and country), meals, and downtime that gives you a chance to appreciate that balcony view. This eight-day cruise runs from Nashville to St. Louis and costs between $3,000 and $4,000 per person, depending on your cabin.
We love this cruise not only because it’s a manageable two hours, but it departs from Elvis’s Memphis. Buffet-style eats (BBQ aplenty, along with spaghetti and a cash bar) accompany a long, lingering ride on the water in a replica riverboat from the 1800s. Watch the natural wildlife play in the water, duck under bridges zipping with cars, and spy the sun as it gently sets over the heartland. This is one of the more affordable cruises at $45, which is another reason why it tops our list. It also comes with complimentary blues and jazz tunes – perfect punctuation to the experience.
Steamboat Natchez (New Orleans)
Head down the Mississipp’ far enough and you’ll land in Creole country – smack dab in NOLA. Yeah, you can book a dinner cruise here, too, but NOLA seems to have a gift for brunch, so we recommend booking something for Sunday morning. Not only will you get to see the city the way the French and Spanish did, sailing into (and around) port, but you’ll stuff yourself with gumbo, shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, bread pudding, and scores of jazz. The cost is $55 and the two-hours cruise departs promptly at 11:30am.
American Queen Steamboat Company (New Orleans to Memphis)
If you’d rather enjoy a longer cruise that starts in NOLA and takes advantage of the gorgeous landscape further north, consider a trek with the American Queen Steamboat Company. A nine-day cruise runs about $2,200 and includes stops at antebellum plantations, Old World towns that have managed to preserve their rustic character, Civil War battlefields, and of course, the rolling expanse visible from your cabin. There’s even a day dedicated to cruising, wherein you can linger on your balcony and nature-gaze, take a boat tour, play card games, or visit over tea. Ultimately, you’ll land in the welcoming city of Memphis, where countless icons of American music have called home. (Insider tip: Head to Beale Street for a firsthand look at the start of blues.)