How To: River Cruise in the United States

by  Tommy Burson | Jul 23, 2014
Mississippi River
Mississippi River / Willard/iStock

River cruising finally seems to be taking off in the States, with sailings along the Mississippi river in the lead. The appeal, once you think about it, isn't difficult to understand -- it's relatively easy and cheap to get to the various U.S. departure ports, and there's something romantic and simply American about imagining yourself as a character in a Mark Twain novel. Here, some cruise lines that are reconnecting travelers to the rivers of the nation:

American Cruise Lines: With a second paddlewheeler launching for business in the spring of 2015, American Cruise Lines looks to dominate the Mississippi River. Beyond the Mississippi, ACL offers over 14 river cruise itineraries, with special edition offers like a Lewis and Clark cruise and a Mark Twain’s Mississippi cruise. Prices begin at $4,320 for a 7-night Mississippi River cruise from New Orleans to Memphis -- but includes food, complimentary cocktail hours, shore excursions, city tours, and accompaniment to popular attractions. Onboard, guests can enjoy the daily lectures by historians, ecologists, and limnologists, or spend the day dreaming on the balcony of their stately rooms (200 to 600 sq. feet).

American Queen Steamboat Company: As the only authentic overnight paddlewheel steamboat in America, American Queen welcomes cruisers with elegance, dressed in Victorian furniture with the inviting ambiance of an antebellum mansion. American Queen Steamboat Company operates cruises on five rivers throughout the U.S., the most popular being the Mississippi. Many of the sailings have specific themes like country music, ‘50s, or classic summertime, and onboard performers cater to each theme. As with most river cruises, many off-board excursions are included in your fare. During days spent sailing, an onboard historian documents the surroundings and its place in American folklore. Of course, all of this upscale culture comes at a price: 9-day cruises begin around $7,099, depending on specific itineraries and room types.

Editor's note: American Queen Voyages ceased operations in February of 2024.

 Blount Small Ship Adventures: On a cruise, sometimes smaller is better. That means the freedom to steam down rivers alongside wooden canoes and dock in small harbors, getting guests away from the tourist craps. That’s why Blount caps capacity at under 100 passengers on each trip, whereas many river cruise ships carry more than 200. Offering 14 cruises around the U.S., Blount trips venture through the Great Lakes, Erie Canal, and, obviously, the Mississippi, focusing on the historical aspects with complimentary excursions. Prices for Mississippi itineraries start at $1,999 for 8 nights or $4,999 for 16 nights -- but keep an eye out for special offers like getting $250 credit for bringing a friend, solo discounts, and even a room-share program for single travelers.

Avalon Waterways: Primarily a European river cruise line, Avalon Waterways also embraces the American ways by offering its own journey through America’s heartland on the Mississippi. Partnering with American Queen Steamboat Company, Avalon also boards cruisers on the 436-passenger American Queen. But unlike the steamboat company, Avalon combines week-long cruising with several days of touring on land. The America’s Heartland trip from Nashville to New Orleans ($5,279 for 11 nights), for example, features tours in Nashville, Memphis, Natchez, and New Orleans. Hotel stays, along with excursions and most meals, are included in the rate.

Tauck: Voted World’s Best River Cruise Line for two of the past three years, a trip with Tauck feels almost like membership in an intimate club of 130 passengers. Operating river cruises all over the U.S. -- from Alaska to Yellowstone, from colonial villages to sophisticated cityscapes -- Tauck prides itself on the diversity of its itineraries. Each trip is specially curated for guests to reconnect and discover America, whether they're spotting bald eagles or geysers or they're dwelling atop cliffs and sailing past mansions. Beyond sightseeing, expect guidance from local experts, tailored dinners, and entertainment. Prices for a 7 night cruise start around $2,890, depending on the location.

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