If you read Mark Twain as a kid – and who didn’t – you probably were captivated by the romance of the Mississippi River. The greatest of American rivers, she winds 2,320 miles from Lake Itasca, Minnesota to New Orleans, where she flows into the Gulf of Mexico. The history of America is writ large on her banks.
In 1811, the steamboat New Orleans was the first to sail the length of the Mississippi and by the middle of the 19th century, steamship travel on the river was booming.
A cruise on the mighty Mississippi is a travel dream of many, and before Katrina, there were many Mississippi River cruises to choose from, notably the Mississippi, American, and Delta Queens. But the one-two punch of Katrina and the recession forced the major Mississippi cruise lines out of business.
For now, Blount Small Ship Adventures is the only company offering Mississippi River cruises. But American Cruise Lines is building a new 140-passenger paddlewheeler that is scheduled to begin cruises on the river in the fall of 2012.
Blount offers three different cruises on the Mississippi River on their vessel, Niagara Prince. Built in 1994 and renovated in 2009, she was especially designed for cruising America’s inland waterways. She has an extremely shallow draft and a collapsible pilot house, and a landing ramp that extends from the bow – letting passengers go ashore where there’s no dock.
Active travelers will appreciate the on-board kayaks and bikes. And guest naturalists, historians, and photographers provide enriching commentary to the voyage.
The first itinerary is a 12-day cruise from New Orleans to Chattanooga or vise versa. Port calls include Mobile and Demopolis Alabama; Columbus and West Point, Mississippi; Decatur and Guntersville, Alabama; the Grand Canyon of the South section of the Tennessee River; and Chattanooga.
Cruisers can also choose to board Niagara Prince in Nashville, Tennessee for an 11-day cruise that visits Clarksville, St. Genevieve, St. Louis, Alton, Havana, Peoria, and Joliet. This voyage includes cruising the Missouri, Tennessee, and Ohio Rivers.
Those with a little more time can sail all the way from Chicago to New Orleans in 15 days.
Mississippi cruises are available during the summer and fares are comparable to ocean cruises.