Mississippi River Cruise Tips
Prepare for small towns. Itineraries might incorporate major cities like New Orleans and Memphis as cornerstones, but your experience will also focus on smaller towns along the way.
Prepare for calm waters. Inland waterways are much calmer than those on ocean-based trips, which is great news if you’re prone to seasickness.
Listen up. Because of the short distances between ports, full days of river cruising are rare. However, when you spend time sailing, there is usually commentary from a “riverlorian” over the public address system explaining some of the sights you pass.
Mother Nature rules. The same way a hurricane might force an oceangoing cruise ship to change course, bad weather on the rivers can alter itineraries. In particular, heavy rain and droughts can make or break a river trip. For instance, one year’s drought along the Mississippi River kept waters so low that riverboats couldn’t sail upriver, and operators had to push some of their Upper Mississippi sailings onto the Ohio. Another year, too much rain flooded the river, making it impossible for riverboats to get under bridges and forcing the closing of several locks. The result was the same as during the drought. Boats scheduled to sail the Upper Mississippi were diverted onto the Ohio.
Best Time To Cruise The Mississippi River
The Lower Mississippi River has the longest season, which typically runs from November through December and April to mid-June, with most sailings on the bottom one-third of the river . In the spring and early summer, the Upper Mississippi is generally too high for riverboats to traverse, so the Upper Mississippi itineraries don’t typically begin sailing until July.
With Louisiana and Mississippi at their hottest and muggiest during the summer, the bulk of the summer season is split between Upper Mississippi sailings and Ohio River sailings, with the Upper Mississippi taking over again for the most of the month of October. Even on the Upper Mississippi, temperatures can climb into the 90s, and humidity is high during the summer. Always be prepared for sudden thunderstorms brought on by the humidity. The weather cools down quite considerably come fall.
Mosquitos also can be a problem in several of these states, as they all experience high humidity in the summer, so be sure to bring bug spray.
Choose American Cruise Lines If You Like Lots Of Itinerary Choices And Modern Ships
American Cruise Lines passengers are a loyal bunch, and many go beyond river cruising to book coastal cruises with the company. The fleet of modern riverboats offers a nice twist on what can be a nostalgic itinerary. In addition, the same company owns Pearl Seas Cruises, an oceangoing line that sails a 210-passenger ship, Pearl Mist, on the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Canadian Maritimes, and the U.S. East Coast.
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Lower Mississippi River Cruises:
Itineraries that sail the lower Mississippi River will typically travel from New Orleans to Memphis. You may be able to find a round trip cruise, although those itineraries are longer and rare. Usually, these itineraries last five to seven days and will travel either way . There are several port options that include southern sites like old plantations and vibrant cities. The cruising season for this region is November and December and then April through mid-June. It has the longest season of any of the regions, but American Cruise Lines offers itineraries all year long.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruises
This global operator of 19 ships sails rivers across Europe, plus waterways in Cambodia, Egypt, India, Peru, and Vietnam. Among the newest in the fleet are the Bon Voyage, based in France, and the La Venezia, recently relaunched in Italy. And while readers certainly raved about the line’s ships, they saved their highest praise for the ask-and-you-shall-receive mentality of the Uniworld crews. “My experience exceeded all expectations,” said one traveler, who toured Europe on the Antoinette. “Staff consistently went above and beyond to ensure a pampered vacation. When one of our party asked if there was a guitar on board so we could sing in the parlor one evening, a staffer said he would arrange it and proceeded to purchase a guitar at our stop the next day!” Other respondents made note of Uniworld’s overall attention to detail, with excursions, meals, entertainment, and logistics expertly handled in just the right way. “It was among our most favorite vacations ever everything was perfect,” said one voter, who traveled on the Beatrice. “The best experience I have ever had on any ship,” said another. A third reader summed it up like this: “This was my first experience with Uniworld, and I cried when I had to leave. Everything wowed me.”
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Cruises On The Mississippi River
Mississippi River cruise itineraries are usually separated into the Upper and Lower part of the river. The Upper Mississippi is generally considered to be between St. Louis, Missouri and St. Paul, Minnesota and the Lower Mississippi is between Memphis, Tennessee and New Orleans, Louisiana. Cruises are sometimes combined with other waterways, such as the Ohio River and the Tennessee River.
Since the weather tends to be warmer in the southeastern United States, travel on the Lower Mississippi is available during most of the year while cruises on the Upper Mississippi are more seasonal and usually only available between June and October.
American Queen Steamboat Company is offering some quick, easy voyages from New Orleans aboard American Duchess to ring in this year and next. Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company
Activities On Board And Ashore
Enrichment opportunities on board Viking Mississippi include musical performances typical of the region and guest lecturers covering the history, architecture, culture and other interesting topics for the areas in which the ship is traveling.
For guests who prefer a little more active shore excursions, there will be guided kayaking in the Louisiana Bayou, a visit to a working farm, or experience Cajun culture during a private excursion to the Rural Life Museum of Louisiana State University.
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Frequently Asked Questions About River Cruises
What is river cruising?
Its a form of leisure boat travel along inland waterways most popularly along the worlds major rivers, including the Mississippi, Danube, Rhine, Volga and Yangtze. River cruise boats are smaller than ocean liners to maneuver smaller waterways and can carry up to 250 guests. This reduced capacity makes the whole experience of river cruising more intimate than typical ocean cruising.
Are river ships different from other cruise ships?
River ships are much smaller in size compared to giant ocean liners, so they cater to fewer guests. It is easier to get to know some of the other travelers on a river ship. Also, because rivers are shallow, river cruises tend to be smoother sailing than ocean liners.
How long does a typical river cruise last?
River cruises are typically just over a week in length and include several port stops during each passage. Instead of spending many days at sea, you will spend less time sailing on a river cruise and can expect to awaken each day in a new port.
What are some amenities found on river cruises?
Ocean liners often sail with amenities such as pools, fitness centers, casinos, entertainment venues and so on. River ships tend to have fewer onboard amenities and instead offer educational, cultural or culinary experiences to keep things lively on board.
What can I expect a river cruise to include?
Whats the best season for a river cruise?
What should I pack for a river cruise?
What type of person enjoys a river cruise?
Combination Upper And Lower Mississippi River Cruises
Though the Mississippi can be broken up into two parts, there are many itineraries that combine both parts of the river. Most of these itineraries are longer than those that are segmented, so if youre looking to do a combination cruise, youll likely need to block out at least two weeks.
American Duchess leaving Winona, Minnesota at sunset. Photo courtesy of American Queen Steamboat Company
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Viking River Cruises Review
Great Destinations and Itineraries |
Getting its start in 1997, Viking River Cruises was among the first lines to set the standard for river cruising. The company has since built a strong reputation along with a large fleet of river-sailing longships, serving plenty of dates and destinations along the rivers of Europe, Russia, China, Egypt and Southeast Asia. The longships are made to be space-efficient and modern in design, accommodating 190 guests without feeling cramped.
Viking River Cruises start off at around $1,800 for 2019 and serve so many destinations throughout the year that new river cruise customers favor this company. If you are looking for an excursion with cultural and historical experiences, Viking has a proprietary Culture Curriculum featuring showcases for musicians and dancers, lectures and intellectual talks, or cooking lessons in the cuisine of the region, and other added onboard enrichment sessions. Onshore walking tours, lectures and experiences are also offered, although may come with an additional fee.
Viking River Cruises rate a 4.8 on a five-star scale. We found some complaints about spotty Wi-Fi access, small rooms and the crew being very busy. However, the overall opinion is that Viking offers quality excursions and the staff is very accommodating.
Are American River Cruises Worth It
With some research, youll find that American river cruises are worth it. The best river cruise lines offer great amenities and service for their guests.
They also journey areas that expose you to some of the most beautiful sceneries.
American cruises allow you to see many amazing sceneries along the way, unlike flying. Plus, they provide more room so you wont feel cramped like when you fly.
Having seen our best river cruises in USA list, we hope you now have what you were searching for. If you are yet to select a suitable cruise, look at the itinerary and pricing.
Also, consider the reviews and ratings, and you should be ready to sail.
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American Queen Steamboat Company Named Among The Worlds Best River Cruise Lines
- The American Queen
American Queen Steamboat Company, part of the Hornblower Group, was named Best River Cruise in Travel + Leisures 2021 Worlds Best Awards for the first time in the cruise lines 10 year history.
The U.S. flagged cruise line ranked fifth overall in the Top River Cruise Lines category, as announced online today by the publication. Offering itineraries on the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland rivers, as well as in the Pacific Northwest on the Snake and Columbia rivers, the American Queen Steamboat Company is the only U.S. river cruise line named to this years winners group.
We are incredibly honored to make our debut in the Travel + Leisure Worlds Best Awards, said Shawn Bierdz, president of American Queen Steamboat Company. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of our team, as well as the unwavering support of our loyal guests and partners, we christened and debuted the new American Countess and were able to resume operations across our entire fleet this year. We are grateful to have these efforts and our U.S. cruise experience recognized by such a highly regarded travel authority.
Whats Included On Your Mississippi River Cruise
Every Mississippi River cruise fare includes one complimentary shore excursion in each port of call, all onboard meals, and all port charges and government taxes.
Guests also receive complimentary beer and wine with lunch and dinner, one complimentary specialty dining experience, self-service launderettes, 24-hour room service and free Wi-Fi.
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Highlights Of The Mississippi
âEverything was wonderful. I cannot remember having such a great time. The entire staff was great and so accommodating. I loved this trip. I have been on cruises on big ships and there is no comparison. It was so much nicer on a smaller boat. We had the chance to meet and probably had a meal, a drink or excursion with almost everyone on board.â
â Cindy E. – Frederick, MD
Best River Cruise For Unique Itineraries
Enterprising CroisiEurope has cruises on the Loire in France, the Elbe in Germany, Guadalquivir in Spain and the Sava and Tisza through Hungary, Serbia and Croatia.
It is the only line operating on the Loire, with a modern paddlewheel boat specially designed to cope with the rivers shallow waters, and the Guadalquivir, where its dual-purpose boat also sails along the Atlantic coastline to reach the Guadiana river in Portugal.
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Getting To And From A River Cruise
A consistent pain point in customer reviews of river cruise lines involves travel to and from the ship, which for travelers can be a stressful aspect of a trip. Common complaints include air travel thats either difficult to book, inconvenient, poorly managed or not available around the travel dates. Manage your flights online. Pick your seats early and check in frequently before your travel date to make sure nothing has changed.
Depending on how close the airport is to your ships port, you might consider taking an Uber or a Lyft from the airport to your port location or hotel if youre staying in one the night before. This saves on not only car rental costs but parking costs while youre on your cruise.
American Cruise Lines Vs American Queen Steamboat Company
If you’re looking to book a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi River, you might run into confusion when you begin to research the two main providers. The names of competing American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Company sound a lot alike and have a lot of similarities.
Both companies offer American river cruises, not only in the heartland on the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, but also in the Pacific Northwest on the Columbia and Snake that run through Oregon and Washington state. Both have ships that look like old-fashioned paddlewheelers, although only American Queen Steamboat Company’s vessels actually rely upon them. And both like to promote a healthy dose of Americana as their chief selling point.
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Choose American Queen Steamboat Company If You Want The Familiar Comforts Of A Larger Vessel
Although considerably smaller than most oceangoing vessels, American Queen’s ships have some of the amenities you expect from cruising, including a bar, lounge, multiple dining venues and other niceties. The line also carries bikes onboard for passengers who want to explore in port.
Which Cruise Is Best In Usa
Viking River Cruises are one of the most popular because they offer an authentic vacation worth your money.
The companys CEO Torstein Hagen wanted to create something different from competitors. He also had a passion for history, so he combined his interests into one trip.
The result is Viking River Cruises, which started operating its ships in 1997. Today they have 76 river vessels, an immense fleet to give you versatility when picking which one to board.
Their largest vessels feature some of the classiest staterooms, including suites and penthouses.
Many dining options are also available. There are specialty restaurants like AmphorA and casual eateries like Stella Bistro.
Entertainment includes live music performances from local musicians plus comedy and magic shows.
There are plenty of activities onboard each vessel ranging from art classes to cooking demonstrations.
Guests enjoy guided tours around cities which also include complimentary drink tastings.
Guests can choose from several departure dates throughout the year. But if you want to save money, consider booking during off-season months when rates tend to drop significantly.
If you have a small budget, the New Orleans and Southern Charms Tour is an excellent consideration.
For starters, its the most affordable Misssissipi cruise by the cruise line. Nevertheless, it is excellent.
In fact, there are pricier but similar-duration expeditions. Examples are Heart of Delta and Mississippi Holiday Tours.
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Concluding Thoughts On River Cruises
Bottom Line:River cruising is a great option for culture-hungry travelers. Pay attention to the travel package details to get the best value for your money.
River cruise lines make researching their adventures fun, with video tours and details to suit the needs of many different types of travelers. Our three river cruise lines, for example, have well over 100 river ships between them and offer destinations around the globe. Consumers who dive into this research and understand the details of the packages they consider will get the most out of the experience. It also helps to get input from friends, family and acquaintances who have taken part in a river cruise experience. Look for feedback on travel websites and customer review forums. Finally, working with a travel agent can help you understand your options, and get you started on the voyage thats right for you.
Choose American Queen Steamboat Company If You Like A Little More Independence
American Queen has a unique approach to shore excursions. The line has its own branded Hop On, Hop Off buses that travel the route with the ship, allowing passengers to do their own thing in most ports . In general, people on American Queen and American Empress seem a little more independent, and are happy to use these buses as a means to explore at their leisure.
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