Travelling the Mississippi by Steamboat

By: Samantha Crespo

February 20, 2014

So, you want to see the Mississippi Steamboat. There’s a romance to it – that slow dance down the river; a grandeur – in the vessels, and the personalities they conjure (right, Mr. Twain?), and you get that added layer of musicality. Memphis also gives you the rare opportunity to travel aboard an authentic paddle-steamer, so we’ll begin there.

Luxury holidays on the American Queen


First, a primer: Most modern riverboats aren’t true paddle-steamers – they’re likely diesel-powered with paddles for show. That’ll do if you only care about the view (more on that below). But if it’s the ideals you’re chasing, and you have several days and good taste, board the Memphis-based American Queen.


Paddlestreaming | Life on a Mississippi Steamboat

Life on board the American Queen is ever-glamorous © American Queen Steamboat Company


The American Queen accommodates about 430 passengers on three- to 11-day holidays along the upper and lower Mississippi River. A typical lower Mississippi itinerary runs about nine days from Memphis or New Orleans, with land excursions in each and in-between ports like Mississippi’s Civil War-tinged Vicksburg and Natchez, dotted with antebellum plantations. With each itinerary, land excursions and on-board entertainment are themed, so you’ll visit Graceland on an Elvis-themed cruise and, if you’re lucky, catch Joyce Cobb (Memphis music maven) performing on the Delta Blues cruise.


The American Queen | Life on a Mississippi Steamboat

Take a land excursion to Graceland, and let an Elvis tribute artist serenade you as you sail, on one of the American Queen’s Elvis-themed cruises. Here, “godmother” Priscilla Presley christens the vessel © American Queen Steamboat Company


The American Queen was built in 1995 but sailed her first season for the American Queen Steamboat Company in 2012. Meaning she’s gleaming-new and modernised only as you’d want her to be: Her twin steam engines date to 1927, though they’re augmented by contemporary thrusters. Her design and décor – Tiffany lamps, velvety chaises, filigree woodwork – suggest the past, but spoil you silly (think: five-course dinners featuring regional specialties, nightly entertainment in the Grand Saloon, beds made with fine linens, and an onboard spa).


The American Queen | Life on a Mississippi Steamboat

Choose from the American Queen’s staterooms and suites, some with private verandas © American Queen Steamboat Company


View the American Queen’s available cruises here, which include airport transfers, accommodation and even some attraction passes to help you discover Memphis before you board.


Sightseeing tours with Memphis Riverboats


If you want the river view and lore without the multi-day commitment, opt for Memphis Riverboats. Offering 90-minute sightseeing tours that depart daily at 2:30 p.m. in March, April, September and October; daily at 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. May through August; and on weekends at 2:30 p.m. in November, there are plenty of options to choose from. These vessels aren’t authentically steam-driven, but they resemble the real thing (and anyway, you’re going to be trained on the incredible views of the Memphis skyline, river barges, historic bridges and landmarks such as Tom Lee Park). Meet at Beale Street Landing (251 Riverside Dr., Memphis) an hour before your departure to buy tickets and board.


The American Queen | Life on a Mississippi Steamboat

There’s nightly entertainment in the American Queen’s Grand Saloon (patterned after historic Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC) and a “riverlorian” accompanies every cruise to share tales of “Ol’ Man River” © American Queen Steamboat Company


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Have you experienced the Mississippi Steamboat? Are you more of a multi-day tourist or a quick-tripper? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


Written by Samantha Crespo


Samantha Crespo

Samantha Crespo is a native of Florida, which she believes set her up to be a career tour guide. (It helps that she’s keen on playing tourist in her own town and beyond – Ensenada, Mexico, and Nafplio, Greece, are favourites – though she feels most at home in the American South.) Since 2005, Samantha has mixed pleasure with business as a travel writer and editor. She admits to squealing when assignments call her to listen to live music in her adopted hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, or to discover new campgrounds with her husband and daughter. Get her insider's perspective on exploring Memphis in her book, 100 Things To Do in Memphis Before You Die.

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