Cruising the Mighty Mississippi!

The fastest growing cruise market, river cruising, is getting bigger, better, more popular and more luxurious. Once only a hobby held by the upper-class looking for a cultured look at Europe and Asia’s important cities, now anyone can sail up or down rivers all around the world in style and comfort.

If you’ve ever been on a river cruise then you already know what to expect…immaculate ships, a friendly atmosphere, delicious food, and incredible excursions. But for those of you yet to sail, come along with me as I explore river cruising right here in our own backyard…on the Mighty Mississippi River!

You read that right! You can travel on a luxurious steamboat with a preeminent river cruise company and experience the history, culture, traditions, and American authenticity that can only be found along the shores of the Mississippi River. You can also river cruise from New Orleans to Minneapolis, St. Paul, or Pittsburgh and major cities along the way like St. Louis, Memphis, Louisville, and Cincinnati.

In March, I boarded The American Queen, a steam-powered paddle wheel riverboat that carries on the tradition of the elegant 19th century steamboat travel to see what all the excitement was about.

What makes the American Queen different from most of the river boats in existence today is that a true steam engine is used to drive the paddle wheel. This steam engine is the same as engines of the past century. The stern is powered by four steam cylinders. 28,000 pounds of steam is generated each hour to power the boat. There is a team of officers and crew licensed by the US Coast Guard that operate the ship 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

With the knowledge and efforts of these dedicated steam boaters, overnight paddlewheel passenger adventures continue to glide along on America’s rivers.

The American Queen is the largest steamboat ever built. It holds 417 passengers and 172 crew. It’s 420 feet long and has 6 decks. The river ship staterooms are a little smaller than their ocean ship counterparts, but they’re not short on luxury comforts.

Here’s a look at my stateroom. It was located on the 4th deck and had French doors that opened out to the veranda. I enjoyed sitting on the deck, watching the many tugboats and other ships pass us along the river. It was also a great spot to see the beautiful sunsets each evening. 

Fun Fact: The American Queen is the only ship in their fleet that has a calliope. It is powered by steam. They tend to be very loud and can be heard for miles.

Since the pitch of each note is largely affected by the temperature of the steam, accurate tuning is nearly impossible; however, the off-pitch notes (particularly in the upper register) have become something of a trademark of the steam calliope.

As we left each port, the pianist played various tunes on the keyboard! I loved hearing the sounds of the calliope, so I would go to the back of the ship to listen as we headed out on our journey.

One of the most interesting aspects of river cruising is that it’s similar to a land tour. When you wake each morning, you can open your door to the veranda, and walk out to get a glimpse of the scenery on both sides of the river. And because the ships are smaller, they dock in small towns and the local tour will begin just a few steps away from the ship.

Our first stop was Nottoway Plantation in White Castle, Louisiana. The house is Greek revival and was built for John Randolph in 1859. It’s the largest antebellum house in the south with 53,000 square feet of space. The mansion’s massive white columns and grand balconies stand guard over the Mississippi River, while on the north side, the spectacular three-story Rotunda overlooks sweeping, oak-draped lawns.

We were greeted by this couple dressed in period clothing who gave us a guided tour of the home. There are many original furnishings and artwork throughout. It was quite impressive!

Today Nottoway Plantation is a bed and breakfast and a venue for events like weddings.

In the afternoon, we sailed further up the Mississippi River to meet our crew for a Cajun Swamp Tour. Our native captain, Ben, was the real deal…homegrown in the Bayous of Southern Louisiana. With his thick cajun accent and slapstick humor, he took us back to the early days of the Louisiana bayou by telling us stories about life on and around the Manchac Swamp.

We sailed under moss-draped cypress trees and through lush vegetation. We also saw many American Alligators😳 swimming alongside our boat. We even came upon a small graveyard from years ago.

Fun Fact: Alligators like marshmallows. 😂

Our next stop was Natchez, Mississippi. Founded in 1716, this charming town is one of southeastern USA’s hidden gems and is the oldest city on the Mississippi River.

It was first inhabited by the Natchez Indians and French Explorers who shared the land. By the 19th century, it was home to a bustling river port and more millionaires than any other city in the nation. With such a long, rich history, it should come as no surprise that Natchez is home to more than 1,000 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including homes dating to the late 1700’s.

St. Mary’s Cathedral is one of these historic structures. It was built in 1842 and is the only cathedral in the state of Mississippi. Look at the altar and ceiling! It’s stunning!

The city is known for its elegance, hospitality, and impressive preservation of history, which can be found on every street corner throughout the town.

We enjoyed visiting some of their antebellum homes, churches, museums and meeting the locals! There’s no other town in the Magnolia State that compares to Natchez.

While in Natchez, we met Regina Charboneau, renowned chef, restaurateur, and cookbook author. She is also the new culinary ambassador for American Queen voyages.

Regina is best known as the “Biscuit Queen of Natchez”. People travel long distances to taste her biscuits.

She mixes traditional French culinary training with tricks passed on through generations of Southern bakers to create a layered, rich biscuit that is better frozen first to be at its flaky best.

The dough will seem rough and the butter too chunky at first, but that’s one of her secrets. She uses a tea towel to move and manage the dough until it rolls out smoothly.

We enjoyed her “Biscuit 101” class and WOW…they were so delicious!!😋😋    

Fun Fact: Regina has been cooking professionally for over 4 decades. She’s owned and operated several restaurants around the US (Biscuits & Blues in San Francisco), King’s Tavern and Twin Oaks Bed & Breakfast. They also run Charboneau Rum Distillery. She really enjoys connecting with her guests so she recently opened the cooking school in Natchez.

As the American Queen culinary ambassador, she will be on several sailings hosting cooking classes that spotlight local cuisine! How about joining her? What a fun addition to any sailing!

After learning how to make biscuits from Regina, the “Biscuit Queen of Natchez”, my son and I decided to try them ourselves!

These are a culinary delight! The best! 😋 Layer after layer of mouthwatering goodness!!! 😋😍

Regina, thanks for teaching me about your specialty. I know you would love mine!😍😋

After our “Biscuit 101 Class”, we headed out to explore Stanton Hall, another historic home in Natchez. When you first get a glimpse of Stanton Hall, it will boggle your mind to know that builder, Frederick Stanton, paid $83,000 to build this opulent, Greek Revival-style home, which occupies an entire city block.

Stanton was an Irish immigrant and had originally named the house Belfast. Stanton was a wealthy planter and cotton merchant. The house was built in 1857 and is noted for its scale, outstanding marble mantles, and large pier mirrors that give the double parlors infinite appeal. For a brief time, the house was home to Stanton College for young ladies and the name was then changed to Stanton Hall. Today the house is owned and maintained by the Pilgrimage Garden Club.

We ended our visit in Natchez with a quick stop at the award winning restaurant known as Fat Mama’s Tamales to of course try one of their specialties…a tamale. Pretty tasty! It’s worth a stop if you are in Natchez!

Next week, I’ll share a little bit more about the other cities and towns that I visited along the Mississippi River. Stay tuned for part 2!

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Hi I'm Lisa, founder of XOOM Tours

And I believe, whole-heartedly, that YOU deserve a travel journey that wows you every step of the way. I’m here to design just that, just for you.


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