Why Historic Mississippi Riverboats Continue To Be A Beloved Pastime In The South

Bon voyage!

American Queen Voyages Lower Mississippi
Photo: American Queen Voyages

The Mississippi River has long been a character all its own in the South, brought to life by the words of Southern writers and musicians, as well as through those who have traveled it. The river runs over 2,300 miles and spans 10 states, with a popular stretch running from Memphis to New Orleans. During the early 1800s, steamboats began running up and down the mighty Mississippi, offering a new kind of access to all the towns and ports in between.

The History of Riverboat Cruises on the Mississippi

What started as a shipping venture became a pastime for people to explore the South. The river offered a peek into the culture of the places it flows through. You could explore the roots of jazz, blues, and country, as well as the small towns of the pre- and post-Civil War eras. The many ports-of-call offer the ability to tour and experience a sliver of the South, each with a different view into the area's history. For good or bad, the Mississippi knows the South better than anything else, and the riverboat has always acted as a translator.

Following the first legendary steamboats, such as the Natchez, the industry boomed with thousands of riverboat cruises. Now, you won't find near as many boats floating the Mississippi River, looking like tiered white wedding cakes adorned with red trim.

What Cruise Experiences Are Still Offered Today

The use of the steamboat, which can only run at a speed of around 15 miles-per-hour, has given way for more modern and efficient boat travel. However, there are still day cruises, casino cruises, and even multi-day experience cruises that pay homage to the historic custom.

The tradition continues to survive in the South with a timely point-of-view. American Queen Voyages recently marked its 10th season on the Mississippi River with new experiences (such as events with chef and biscuit queen, Regina Charboneau) on its flagship paddlewheeler, American Queen. Its Lower Mississippi River itineraries have included nine-day journeys that sail between Memphis and New Orleans, with ports-of-call in Vicksburg, Natchez, St. Francisville, Baton Rouge, and more. Additional riverboat options that remain on the Mississippi River include American Cruise Lines and Viking River Cruises, amongst others.

While the historic view of the river might appear differently than a hundred years ago, a ride on a Mississippi riverboat still feels like a step back in time.

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