Cruise vacations are deeply intertwined with the experience of being at sea, and rightfully so, as cruises are generally affairs that take place on the ocean. However, cruises can take place on other bodies of water, including rivers, provided the river is large enough to accommodate a ship that might meaningfully be called a “cruise ship.” One river that is definitely large enough is the Mississippi River, and there are plenty of cruises that sail along it. Mississippi River cruises take a number of different forms: they can be long or short, take place in a large ship or a small ship, cover most of the river or only a small portion, and so on. A Mississippi River cruise can also emphasize different things; some Mississippi River cruises are essentially quick sightseeing trips, whereas others are primarily slow, leisurely trips down the Mississippi. In this article, we sort out all you need to know about Mississippi River cruises.
There are two companies that offer Mississippi River cruises that are actually like cruises as you normally think of the term: American Queen Steamboat Company and American Cruise Lines. Both companies operate a large ship that runs up and down the Mississippi, and bother offer cruises that take several days and stop at various ports along the river. American Queen Steamboat Company operates a ship called – what else? – the American Queen, a vessel that can hold well over 400 passengers. The ship is decorated in the style of the American Victorian era, although the amenities are modern, and it even has some of the features of the larger ocean liners that cruise vacationers have become accustomed to, like a spa and a gym.
American Cruise Lines operates the Queen of the Mississippi. (It also operates five other ships, but only the Queen of the Mississippi is used for cruises along the river.) The Queen of the Mississippi isn’t as large as the American Queen (it can hold up to 150 passengers) and it doesn’t have a gym on board, but it has its own draws, like the largest staterooms on the Mississippi River. Both the American Queen and the Queen of the Mississippi traverse basically the entire span of the river and offer a wide variety of different cruises. Most trips tend to last about a week, although the American Queen has one voyage that lasts 10 days. While there are round-trip options available with either company, there are perhaps not as many possibilities as you’d expect, considering that it is fairly inconvenient (or at least it takes some careful planning) to take a vacation that ends in a location far away from where it begins.
The only other company that operates Mississippi River cruises, with “cruises” being used to mean “multiple-day trips with a boat on which you sleep,” is Riverboat Twilight, which offers one- and two-night cruises that travel between Le Claire, Iowa and Dubuque, Iowa with a couple stops in between. The rest of the companies that operate “cruises” offer day trips or sailings that take only a few hours. Spirit of Peoria has full-day trips that take nine hours on the middle-upper part of the Mississippi (St. Louis to Grafton, Illinois), and two other companies, Creole Queen and Natchez, are based on the southern end, in New Orleans. They sell short trips that offer good views of the city, and live music is often played on board.
As you can see, Mississippi River cruises are by no means uniform in style. They can be an entire vacation or a simple afternoon on the river. They can cost thousands of dollars, or only a small fraction of that. So, if you want to spend some time on the Mississippi River, as basically anyone who has read The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin does, and you want this time on the river to take the form of a cruise, there is probably something out there for you.