What to know about cruises on the Mississippi River – from cruise lines to the best itineraries

River cruises are a great way to see the world. You can visit multiple waterfront destinations and take in the scenery from comfortable accommodations and upper deck lounges on intimate luxury vessels. And while rivers like the Danube and Rhine are top choices for many travelers, you don’t need to fly to Europe to take a river cruise. You can explore some of the country’s iconic attractions and favorite cities with a cruise on the Mississippi. There are a few major cruise lines that travel the Mississippi, with trips ranging from less than a week to over 20 days. Spring and fall are the best times of year to cruise along the river, as you’ll avoid the summer heat and winter chill and enjoy more pleasant weather while enjoying the surroundings.

A Viking River Cruise on the Mississippi River

Studio Rottet / Courtesy of Viking

Here’s what you need to know about boat cruises on the Mississippi, from top routes to popular stops.

Related: The 10 best river cruise companies

Winding road along the Mississippi River near Brainerd, Minnesota in the fall.

Winding road along the Mississippi River near Brainerd, Minnesota in the fall.

Willard/Getty Images

Mississippi Cruises

There are three main cruise lines that offer itineraries along the Mississippi River: Viking River Cruises, American Queen Voyages, and American Cruise Lines. Viking is known for its luxury river, ocean and expedition cruises to incredible destinations around the world, and the Mississippi itineraries are a new addition to its wide range of river cruises, offered aboard the new viking mississippi boat. American Queen Voyages offers several cruises along the Mississippi on paddle wheel steamers like the american queen.

American Cruise Lines offers both new riverboats and modern paddle steamers, so you can choose your ideal sailing experience based on your itinerary. These cruise lines all offer similar itineraries along the river. We therefore recommend that you research the ships and amenities on board and research what is included in the rate (such as hotel stays and excursions before departure) to help you make your decision.

The interior of the Grand Suite on the American Melody

The interior of the Grand Suite on the American Melody

Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

Popular Ports on the Mississippi

You can sail from New Orleans to St. Paul or Minneapolis along the Mississippi or choose from shorter routes covering part of the river. Typically, cruises along the lower Mississippi travel between New Orleans and Memphis, Tennessee, while ships up the Mississippi sail between St. Louis and the Twin Cities. Highlights of popular stops along the river include Cajun culture in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Civil War history in Vicksburg, Mississippi, music and barbecue in Memphis, and many charming little towns and scenic views along the way.

The American Melody on the Mississippi River

The American Melody on the Mississippi River

Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

Mississippi Cruise Routes

Viking River Cruises — The Great American River

Cruise from St. Paul to New Orleans on the 15-day Viking route on the Great American River aboard the 193 cabins viking mississippi, a ship designed only for this river. The journey begins in St. Paul, where guests can explore the Twin Cities, before heading to Red Wing, where they will learn about the country’s national bird at the National Eagle Center. Next up is La Crosse, Wisconsin; Dubuque, Quad Cities and Burlington, Iowa; and Hannibal, Missouri, the childhood home and inspiration of author Mark Twain. Next stop is St. Louis, Missouri, with attractions such as Gateway Arch State Park and the Anheuser-Busch Brewery. In the final part of the trip, guests can enjoy a scenic cruise along the Lower Mississippi and stop in Memphis, Tennessee; Vicksburg and Natchez, Mississippi; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana before finally arriving in New Orleans.

Interior of the lounge aboard the Viking Mississippi River Cruise

Interior of the lounge aboard the Viking Mississippi River Cruise

Studio Rottet / Courtesy of Viking

Voyages of the American Queen — New Orleans to Memphis

Cruise along the Lower River from New Orleans to Memphis on this eight or nine-day Mississippi boat cruise, which begins with a free stay in New Orleans and a second day to enjoy the Big Easy. Then it’s on to Nottoway and St. Francisville in Louisiana and Natchez, Vicksburg and Greenville in Mississippi before a day’s cruise and the departure port of Memphis, Tennessee. There are a few different paddlewheel riverboats that sail this route for American Queen Voyages – find the specific vessel for your trip when you select a date.

American cruise lines — Cruise on the upper Mississippi

This eight-day cruise begins in St. Louis and sails to St. Paul along the upper Mississippi. Stops along the way include Hannibal, Missouri; Fort Madison, Davenport and Dubuque, Iowa; and Winona and Red Wing, Minnesota. Several ships navigate this route, including American melodyinaugurated in 2021, and the next American Symphony. These new sister ships offer large rooms and suites with contemporary furnishings and an upscale ambience.

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