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Steamboat NATCHEZ

  • Toulouse Street and the Mississippi River, New Orleans, LA 70130 ( Directions ) | P: (504) 569-1401 | F: (504) 587-0708
  • Toulouse Street and the Mississippi River, New Orleans, LA 70130 ( Directions ) P: (504) 569-1401 F: (504) 587-0708
  • Toulouse Street and the Mississippi River New Orleans, LA 70130 ( Directions ) P: (504) 569-1401 F: (504) 587-0708
  • Neighborhood: French Quarter

11am - 1:30pm, 2pm - 4:30pm, 6pm - 9pm cruise times. check schedule

natchez ms riverboat cruise

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Harbor jazz brunch and dinner jazz cruises on the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River. Enjoy a unique visit to the engine room to see the workings of 100-year-old steam engines, it is timeless.

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Steamboat Natchez Cruise – All you need to know

steamboat Natchez cruise

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In this enlightening article, you’ll discover everything you need to know about the beloved Steamboat Natchez cruise, including ticket prices, departure times, how to find discounted tickets online, and so much more!

What types of Steamboat Natchez cruises are available?

How much do steamboat natchez cruises cost.

  • How do you find Steamboat Natchez cruises online?

How far in advance should I make reservations?

What is the best time to experience a steamboat natchez cruise, where does the cruise start, what time should i arrive so i don’t miss the cruise, what will i see during the cruise, how long is the natchez boat ride, is the boat handicap accessible, can we bring pets onto the boat, what is the dress code, what happens in the case of bad weather, travel tips.

Don’t feel like reading ahead? Book your Steamboat Natchez cruise right now.

  • See reviews and prices

The Big Easy is known across the world as an around-the-clock party hub accentuated by a cool blend of music and wild celebrations (did someone say Mardi Gras?). Despite a reputation for adult-focused activities, there is more than enough for the entire family to see and do in this international melting pot. One of the city’s most famous and popular attractions, perfect for guests of all ages, is the Steamboat Natchez Cruise – a unique way to see the shimmering NOLA lights and soak in the smooth city sounds from the water.

By the time you’ve got through this guide, you’ll have discovered everything there is to know about this iconic cruise, with answers to all of the most common questions just a scroll away.

Steamboat Natchez cruises

Before we dive into the prices, we need to understand the different types of Steamboat Natchez cruises on offer. Aboard New Orleans’ only authentic Steamboat, each cruise option promises beautiful views of the city, the lower Mississippi River, and one of the world’s busiest harbors.

No matter which option you choose, as you admire the 100-year-old steam engine you’ll also be provided with a deep insight into NOLA’s vibrant culture and history thanks to a live narration from one of the Steamboat staff.

Let’s take a look at the individual highlights of each option:

Harbor Jazz Cruise

The Harbor Jazz Cruise is all about entertainment! As you marvel at the vistas from the boat’s decks, typical New Orleans jazz music rings in the background. But this isn’t a prerecorded CD or the captain’s favorite Spotify playlist – this jazz is live, authentic, and immersing. Either a jazz pianist or the jazz trio – Duke Heitger and the Steamboat Stompers – will be present on board, helping to create a wonderful, romantic, and intoxicating atmosphere.

There’s also a calliope concert every day at 10:45 am and 1:45 pm. In case you were about to Google it, a calliope is a large, steam-whistle organ which, in this case, sits on the steamboat’s roof.

Dinner Jazz Cruise

With the option of either indoor or outdoor seating, the Dinner Jazz Cruise takes all of the best qualities from the Harbor Jazz Cruise and takes it up a notch with a freshly-cooked, tableside dinner service.

Rather than a jazz pianist or trio, the top-tapping entertainment this time is New Orleans swing music performed by the Grammy-nominated artist, Dukes of Dixieland .

Menu items are subject to change by season and availability, however, some of the common meals ready to tantalize your tastebuds include Paddlewheel Primavera, Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, Bayou Seafood Pasta, Baked Chicken, southern-style Green Beans Almondine, and a finger-lickin’ Bananas Foster for dessert. For the full menu, see Steamboat’s website .

Sunday Jazz Cruise with Optional Brunch

Nothing helps turn a new page after a night out on Bourbon Street like bottomless coffee and a hunger-satisfying brunch – a staple in New Orleans life. In addition to the historical facts shared by the staff, the live traditional jazz, and the Instagram-worthy views from the decks, Sunday cruisers have the option to dig into a hefty brunch. Choose from Shrimp and Grits, Crescent City Eggs, Biscuits and Gravy, Mini Croissants and Biscuits, and a whole lot more. The full brunch menu is available on the Steamboat website.

steamboat Natchez cruise tickets price

The prices of a Steamboat Natchez cruise varies depending on which option you choose and whether or not you elect to participate in the optional meal(s).

Evening Jazz Sightseeing Cruise

Adult: $50.00 Children 6-12: $24.50 Children 0-6: Free

Evening Jazz Cruise with Dinner

Adult: $87.00 Children 6-12: $40 Children 0-6: $19.25

Harbor Jazz Sightseeing Cruise

Adult: $38.00 Children 6-12: $15 Children 0-6: free

Harbor Jazz Cruise with Lunch

Adult: $50.00 Children 6-12: $24 Children 0-6: $10.50

Sunday Jazz Sightseeing Cruise

Adult: $38.00 Children 6-12: $15.50 Children 0-6: free

Sunday Jazz Cruise with Brunch

Adult: $55.00 Children 6-12: $27.50 Children 0-6: $18.25

Regardless of your ticket type, Steamboat offers a full wine list, domestic and local beers, and seasonal, festive cocktails for purchase to those over the age of 21. A Natchez Jazz Punch, for example, will set you back $8, while local brewery draft beers sell for $5.50 each.

How do you find cheap Steamboat Natchez cruises online?

book Steamboat Natchez cruises online

If you don’t know where to look, buying Steamboat Natchez tickets can be confusing, not to mention expensive. New Orleans welcomes nearly 20 million tourists per year, so the competition between tour agencies and sightseeing companies is feisty. Sometimes, two competing travel agents can offer exactly the same activity at drastically different prices, each claiming to have a “best price guarantee”.

How can we compare the Steamboat Natchez website, local businesses, and online ticket sellers like Viator all in one place? Easy: TourScanner! Head to the TourScanner search engine to compare all the different deals on offer. Depending on which dates you’re planning to visit NOLA, you may find discounted tickets in excess of 30%!

There are also deals that include transportation, packages that combine city tours (you’re already there, so you might as well tick off a few of the main attractions, right?), VIP experiences, and more.

  • Compare cruise tickets

Even though the array of world-class attractions in New Orleans is second to none, Steamboat Natchez is a regular bestseller. Technically , bookings can be made at the last minute at the ticket office or on the company website, however, we wouldn’t recommend it, especially in the busier tourist seasons (Mardi Gras and summertime).

The Steamboat is a city highlight that shouldn’t be left to chance, so it’s recommended to book your experience as early as possible. As soon as you’ve locked in your travel dates, the next step should be to compare the cheapest deals available on TourScanner.

best time steamboat Natchez cruise

It’s all a matter of personal preference. A summertime Evening Jazz Cruise with Dinner will allow you to experience New Orleans as it transitions from day to dusk to twinkling night sky, while a day-based cruise gives you the opportunity to soak in ample amounts of sunshine from one of the many viewing decks.

There are both indoor and outdoor areas, so rain, hail or shine, you’re in for a great time.

steamboat Natchez cruises departure meeting point

All trips on Steamboat Natchez start and end at the Steamboat Natchez Lighthouse Ticket Office, which is found where Toulouse Street meets the Mississippi River in the vibrant French Quarter. The docking station is steps away from the Toulouse streetcar station and a short stroll from the historic Jackson Square, a haven for upcoming artists and street performers. Jackson Square is one of the many popular stops on the city’s walking tours .

It’s highly recommended to arrive at least 30 minutes before the scheduled departure times (shown below). The boat is officially open for half an hour before roaring away along its river route. By arriving 30 minutes early, you’ll be able to find the best viewing spots on the boat, explore its historic features, and grab a souvenir from the gift store before the crowds potentially become too overwhelming.

Whatever you do, don’t be late, because the boat will leave whether you’re there or not!

Departure times:

Harbor Cruises (Monday to Saturday)

The Harbor Jazz Cruises departs every day except Sunday. There are two timeslots to choose from. The first Harbor Cruise departure is at 11:30am (boarding at 11am) and the second is at 2:30pm (Boarding at 2pm)

The first Sunday departure is at 11:30am (boarding at 11am) and the second is at 2:30pm (Boarding at 2pm)

Evening Cruises

The nightly dinner cruise departure is at 7pm (boarding at 6pm). Depending on your dinner seating reservation time, you may be required to arrive as early at 5:45pm.

Mississippi river in New Orleans

All Natchez cruises traverse the crescent-shaped lower Mississippi River as the staff point out noteworthy and historical landmarks along the way. There’s arguably no more impressive way to see the city. But it’s not just about what you can see off the boat – the vessel itself is a work of art! Onboard, you’ll have the chance to see a working paddle-wheel and engine room up close, feel like you’ve been thrust back in time with decor reminiscing of the early 1900s, and grab a couple of trinkets at the gift shop.

steamboat Natchez cruise duration

Each of the Natchez cruises lasts for two hours. This excludes special events cruises such as those hosted on Mother’s Day, Christmas Eve, or the Fourth of July.

The boat is suitable for handicapped patrons, however, some areas on the boat, such as the upper deck, are only accessible by stairs.

The company suggests to call their reservation phone line on (504) 569-1401 or send a message on their contact portal before booking if you have any specific questions or concerns regarding accessibility.

According to the New Orleans Steamboat Company’s official website, you may only bring your four-legged friends if they are are a Service Animal as defined by the ADA.

There is no dress code! You’re on vacation, so sit back, relax, and be as casual as you like (within reason, of course). The company does suggest to dress up a little fancier for the Dinner Jazz Cruise, not because of rules or regulations, but simply to fit in with the elegant decor and service provided.

As long as the boat is functional, the cruise will depart! In the event of rain, there is plenty of indoor seating to accommodate the guests.

Cruises are canceled only on the rare occasion that the Coast Guard determines that the river is too dangerous (i.e. during a hurricane).

steamboat Natchez cruise travel tips

  • In the summertime, which is also one of the busiest tourist seasons, New Orleans is hot, humid, and sticky – it is built mostly on swampland, after all. So to avoid feeling like a sun-dried tomato, make sure to always bring a hat, sunscreen, cool clothing, and a water bottle.
  • Make sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before departure time.
  • Ask for a photo in front of the Nachez before boarding.
  • Compare tickets deals online and save money, there are a lot of providers selling Steamboat Natchez cruises online.
  • Compare cruise deals

natchez ms riverboat cruise

New Orleans Steamboat Company

A mixture of old-world charm and modern amenities, this totally renovated stern wheeler, the Riverboat CITY of NEW ORLEANS, set sail in Fall 2020.  The newest paddle wheeler on the Mississippi River features three beautiful decks with stunning décor and a marvelous roof top viewing deck. She offers two-hour daytime cruises introducing you to the Port and skyline of New Orleans with riverfront narration and options for lunch or a Sunday brunch. The Evening Jazz Cruise provides a mystical night on the Mighty Mississippi, and the option for dinner service prepared fresh on board.  It features the Grammy nominated Dukes of Dixieland band, full bar and wine list, for an evening to remember.  When you hear the calliope, it’s time to board!  Private functions on each of the three enclosed decks are available.  Docked at Toulouse Street & the Mississippi River in the heart of the French Quarter. (GPS 400 Toulouse Street)

The Steamboat NATCHEZ is taking some time off for renovations, but her sister vessel, the beautiful Riverboat CITY of NEW ORLEANS, is taking her place on all cruises.  Stay tuned for updates as to when the Steamboat Natchez will return to service. 

Gray Line, the world’s leader in sightseeing, has been showcasing New Orleans to visitors from around the world since 1924. Experience some of the following entertaining and informative tours during your stay in the Crescent City: Swamp & Bayou, Airboat Swamp, Whitney and Oak Alley Plantations, Ghosts & Spirits, Cocktail, City Sightseeing, Cemetery & Voodoo, Garden District and wonderful combinations.  Some tours are seasonal. It’s no wonder these “local experts” receive awards for the most creative tours in the world.  From bus tours to walking tours, and from daytime to nighttime, you can always count on Gray Line New Orleans! (GPS 400 Toulouse Street)

Café Beignet locations serve locals as well as visitors with delicious coffees and the freshest beignets in town along with a variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings. The locations vary in atmosphere from the quaint 334 Royal Street to outdoor patio dining at 311 Bourbon Street in Musical Legends Park. The larger indoor/outdoor location at 600 Decatur Street sports beautiful décor and an opulent bar. Everyone enjoys the spirit of New Orleans at Café Beignet. Listen to the sounds of the Steamboat Willie Jazz Band at the Bourbon Street location and a variety of live music at the other locations. Watch for the newest 2020 location on Canal Street.

is a full-service special event company that produces the level of excellence. demanded by its top clients throughout the country. From convention and association events to local celebrations, is the answer to a perfect event.  Parades, custom tours, transportation, unique dinners and private parties are just the beginning. This Company will welcome your group to the real New Orleans

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natchez ms riverboat cruise

River Boat Tours in Natchez, Mississippi

Natchez, Mississippi, is the oldest settlement in Mississippi. Natchez is a city full of history, with ornate antebellum mansions and its historic downtown; 14 of the beautifully landscaped antebellum mansions are open to the public to walk through and visit. A visit to historic downtown Natchez requires no transportation as you can walk everywhere. Downtown houses many restaurants, old-world style shops, and the riverwalk along the Mississippi River, and you can take a riverboat tour on the Mighty Mississippi.

Natchez Dinner Jazz Cruise

Head to the historic town of Natchez, Mississippi, and board the Natchez Steamboat for a dinner cruise and Mississippi River tour. This two-hour dinner cruise paddles along the banks of the Mississippi and includes a buffet dinner and live jazz music. Sit outside along the deck to enjoy the scenic views of Natchez and the banks of the Mississippi River. Enjoy breathtaking views of the city of Natchez during your dinner cruise. Price and availability vary.

Natchez Dinner Jazz Cruise 400 N. Peters St., Suite 203 New Orleans, LA 70130 800-233-2628

Mississippi Queen

Board the Mississippi Queen for a Mississippi Riverboat tour that lasts anywhere from three to 12 days. See the sights of the Mississippi along the shores of New Orleans, Natchez, and Gulfport. The Mississippi Queen houses a swimming pool, deck, and fitness room for guests, as well as a salon, theater, and several bars for your Mississippi riverboat tour enjoyment. The Mississippi Queen holds 1,000 passengers and cruise lengths vary. Choose to embark in one city and disembark in any of the others. Contact the cruise line for more information regarding ports, prices, and availability.

Mississippi Queen P.O. Box 60046 New Orleans, LA 70160 504-522-2551

Natchez Harbor Cruise

The Steamboat Natchez takes you on a daytime cruise from the French Quarter up the Mississippi for a riverboat tour of the banks of the river and their accompanying cities, such as Natchez. The tour offers live narration about the different ports along the cruise and also an optional creole lunch. The steam room is museum quality and is open for visitors to tour during their cruise on the Mighty Mississippi. Price and availability vary.

Natchez Harbor Cruise 400 N. Peters St., Suite 203 New Orleans, LA 70130 800-233-2628

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About the Author

Tiffany Raiford has several years of experience writing freelance. Her writing focuses primarily on articles relating to parenting, pregnancy and travel. Raiford is a graduate of Saint Petersburg College in Florida.

Photo Credits

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Natchez River Cruises

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America’s Great River

  • Explore St. Louis' arts scene
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  • Learn Civil War history
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  • Visit the Quad Cities

Heart of the Delta

  • Enjoy the music of Memphis
  • Get a taste of Cajun cuisine
  • Discover Civil War history
  • See the historic homes of Natchez

New Orleans & Southern Charms

  • Enjoy Cajun and Creole cuisine
  • Indulge in New Orleans' music
  • Learn the history of Vicksburg

Historic Mississippi River Cruise

  • Explore the antebellum of Natchez
  • Visit historic Civil War sites
  • Discover Oak Alley's historic charm
  • Visit charming ports and cities

Lower Mississippi River Cruise

  • Admire the diversity of New Orleans
  • Discover the cultures of the delta

Grand Heartland Cruise

  • Visit mansions and art galleries
  • See the Gateway Arch and St. Louis
  • Visit Natchez’s antebellum homes
  • Experience Memphis' musical legacy

Top Natchez Travel Destinations

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Natchez Trips by Departure Date

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Natchez MS (Mississippi)

Cruise port schedule, live map, terminals, news.

Natchez MS cruise port

Region Canada and USA Rivers

Local Time 2024-07-22 17:01

Port Natchez MS cruise ship schedule shows timetable calendars of all arrival and departure dates by month. The port's schedule lists all ships (in links) with cruises going to or leaving from Natchez MS, Mississippi. To see the full itineraries (ports of call dates and arrival / departure times) and their lowest rates – just follow the corresponding ship-link.

9 July, 2024
18 July, 2024
22 July, 2024
23 July, 2024
25 July, 2024
30 July, 2024

Natchez MS is a Lower Mississippi River cruise port, only city and county seat of Adams County (Mississippi, USA) with population around 16,000 and total area approx 36 km2 (14 ml2). Located on Mississippi River across from Vidalia (Concordia Parish, Louisiana), the town was prominent in the antebellum years as a center of cotton planters and trade along the river.

Natchez is approx 140 km (90 ml) southwest of Jackson (Mississippi's capital city located near state's center) and approx 137 km (85 ml) north of Baton Rouge Louisiana . Natchez is state's 25th-largest city and was named after the Natchez Indians who inhabited much of the region from early-8th-century AD until the French colonial period.

By 1988 winter, the National Park Service founded Natchez National Historical Park around the Melrose mansion. William Johnson House was added inthe city a few years later. Downtown's historic district has been often used by Hollywood in the antebellum period as the backdrop for feature films. In 1993, "The Adventures of Huck Finn" by Disney was partially filmed here. The 1982 TV movie "Rascals and Robbers: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn" also was filmed in Natchez. The TV mini-series "Beulah Land", as well as individual weekly shows of "The Mississippi" TV drama, starring Ralph Waite, and parts of the TV mini-series "North and South" were also filmed in the city. In and around Natchez was filmed John Wayne's "The Horse Soldiers". In 2007, after renovating a historic hall, the US Courthouse was opened in Natchez. The city also has a Museum of African American History and Culture.

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The Meandering Traveler

A Travel Blog with Travel Tips and Interesting Facts

Top Attractions in Natchez for Mississippi River Cruisers Part 1

The Towers in Natchez, MS. Photo by Susan J. Young.

Fast forward from the 1800s to 2022. Arriving at Natchez, MS , by riverboat, cruisers see much of the same Mississippi River scenery that Mark Twain did from a 19th century steamboat. But what are the top attractions?

What should travelers see and do ashore?  Here’s Part One of our two-part series about what to see and do in Natchez.

Exploring by Riverboat

First, a bit about “getting there.” Natchez is a popular port of call for Lower Mississippi river cruises. Many voyages sail roundtrip from New Orleans or between New Orleans and Memphis, TN .

In addition, for consumers seeking the “full shebang” on the Mississippi River, some voyages sail more than 1,100 miles between New Orleans, LA, and St. Paul, MN .

American Queen Voyages' American Duchess, one of the line's vessels. Photo by Susan J. Young

Two veteran Mississippi River “sailors” are American Cruise Lines (ACL) and American Queen Voyages (AQV). New in June 2022, Viking River Cruises will start sailing the Missisippi River as well.

Tour operators also offer guests options on some of those cruises. For example, Tauck offers an 11-day “Life on the Mississippi” vacation on AQV’s American Duchess .

For the full range of voyage options (including sailing dates, itineraries, pricing, accommodations and add-ons), contact your travel advisor or read the Important Note from Pavlus Travel at the end of this story.

Our focus instead with this blog is “the destination.” We hope to offer helpful tidbits and suggestions for shoreside fun.

So, here’s Part One of our two-part blog series about “Top Natchez Attractions for River Cruisers.” Check back next week for Part Two.

1. Top Attractions: Natchez Under the Hill 

Most river cruise vessels arrive at Natchez Under the Hill, nestled below soaring riverside bluffs. The city itself is atop the bluffs.

In the 19th century and early 20th centuries, this area was — to put it bluntly — a seedy area that bustled with gambling, drinking and brothels.

Today, it’s a relatively quiet, lovely spot for a riverside stroll. Plus, you’ll also find a few places to dine, enjoy a brew or shop.

Natchez Under the Hill, once a seedy enclave of vice, is now a great spot for a stroll. A few retail establishments welcome cruise guests. Photo courtesy of Visit Natchez.,

To reach Natchez’s downtown, there are two options. Active travelers might enjoy hiking up the hill and walking into the city.

Most travelers, though, will opt to board the cruise lines’ “on-off” or shore excursion motorcoaches. That makes for an easier journey to the top and beyond. Shuttles and taxis can be arranged too.

2. Top Attractions: Grand Village of the Natchez Indians 

Natchez’s historical and cultural influences are eclectic. Long before French explorers arrived, indigenous Natchez Indians lived in the Natchez area.

Not far from downtown Natchez is the 128-acre Grand Village of the Natchez Indians. If you go, you’ll see three prehistoric native American mounds and a museum.

Separately, the area’s Natchez Trace Federal Parkway is now a scenic highway under the auspices of the U.S. National Park Service. This trace (or trail) was a footpath originally used by the Natchez Indians and other native American tribes.

Natchez Trace Parkway. Photo courtesy of Visit Natchez

Centuries ago, trappers/fur traders also used the trace to bring goods to/from Mississippi River vessels. Today, the parkway is a lovely drive with pretty eco-scenery ( see photo above ).  Hiking trails and a designated biking trail also await.

Viking Shore Excursion

When it begins cruising in June , Viking River Cruises plans to offer a “ Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, Emerald Mound and Fort Rosalie ” shore excursion; that’s just one of many shore excursions it will offer for Natchez.

Over three or so hours, this shore trip will provide an enticing look at the history and culture of the Natchez people. The first stop will be along the Natchez Trace.

Cruisers will visit Emerald Mound , North America’s second largest temple mound, likely a  political and ceremonial center.

Afterward, Viking’s guests will visit the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians (see one of the site’s huts in the photo above). They’ll view a special presentation, followed by a guided museum tour. Cruisers can expect archaeological insight and exhibits.

The tour then concludes at Fort Rosalie ( see next section ). In this area, cruisers will learn about the dispersal of the Natchez people from their ancestral homeland.

3. Top Attractions: Fort Rosalie Site & Lovely Rosalie

In 1716, France established Natchez as a settlement. From Natchez Under the Hill, visitors can either walk up/climb or take a shuttle/motorcoach to reach the Fort Rosalie site .

While nothing really remains of the French-era fort, the U.S. National Park Service maintains the site. As a result, you’ll find a riverside path, signage with historic information, parkland and picnic tables.

It’s a great starting point for a hike with stellar Mississippi River views.

Rosalie is nestled atop the bluffs in Natchez, MS. Photo courtesy of Visit Natchez.

Rosalie, Gorgeous Lady on the Bluff 

Not far away is Rosalie, an elegant historic mansion close to the bluffs ( see photo above ). Built in 1823 for Peter Little , a wealthy cotton broker, the structure will “wow” visitors. Among its architectural features is a gorgeous, four-column Tuscan portico.

On July 13, 1863, during the U.S. Civil War, General Ulysses Grant came to town. He took possession of Rosalie for his Union Army headquarters. The following month, General Walter Gresham took over from Grant in Natchez.

Today’s visitors can thank Gresham. Why? The general arranged for many of the owner’s furnishings to be stored in the attic. Also, he assigned guards to protect them.   

Thus, travelers taking a tour will see many original furnishings and decorative items. The preserved Rosalie plantation mansion is lovingly maintained by the Mississippi State Society, Daughters of the American Revolution . It’s open for guided tours by guides wearing period clothing.

4. Top Attractions: Natchez Visitor Reception Center

Looking again at Natchez’s eclectic historical timeline, first came the Natchez Indians, then the French. They were followed by the Spanish and British.  In 1817, Mississippi became a U.S. state. 

The southern U.S. cotton boom and sad slavery era of the 1800s followed. Then, in 1861, Mississippi seceded from the U.S. and joined the Confederate States of America . At war’s end, Mississippi once again became part of the United States.

Wow, that’s a lot of historical twists and turns!

To help put things in perspective, we’d recommend a quick stop at Natchez Visitor Reception Center (see photo below). Fortunately, this center is often a scheduled stop on those “on-off” motorcoach tours.

Natchez Visitor's Center. Photo courtesy of Visit Natchez.

We’d suggest going inside, checking out the exhibits, grabbing brochures and asking questions of staff. In addition, cruisers can purchase select historic home tickets at the center. River lines too, obviously, offer excursions that include historic home tours.

Natchez Pilgrimage Tours 

Another spot to stop if you’re interested in tickets for historic homes is Natchez Pilgrimage Tours’ office at 211 Main Street. What’s special? During certain times of the year, Natchez offers “pilgrimages” — with ticket packages that include entry to two or three different historic homes or sites.

Now in its 90th year, the pilgrimages typically are in spring and fall. For example, this year’s Fall Pilgrimage is set for September 24 through October 21, 2022.

The next Spring Pilgrimage is March 11 to April 11, 2023. For more information, visit Natchez Pilgrimage Tours at the link provided above.

A group participating in a "pilgrimage" tour listen to a guide in period clothing at Hope Farm in the Natchez area. Photo courtesy of Visit Natchez.

Some historic Natchez homes/sites are open for touring year-round or much of the year. Others, though, are normally not open to the public, but do welcome visitors during the annual pilgrimages.

5. Top Attractions: Natchez in Historical Photographs

We love many attractions in Natchez, some we’ve visited repeatedly. Among our favorites? It’s Natchez in Historical Photographs .

Travelers will gaze at 500-plus historic photos and feel they’ve “stepped back” in time. All were taken by local, professional photographers between 1845 and 1910. These photos visually captured the essence of Natchez life “back in the day.”

Natchez in Historical Photos attraction. Photo courtesy of Visit Natchez.

This amazing photo collection is on the second floor of Stratton Chapel. That’s behind the Natchez Presbyterian Church  on Pearl Street. An elevator is available.

The photos reflect scenes of the young and old, rich and poor. They also showcase people of diverse ethnic backgrounds. For instance, you’ll see images of society belles, shopkeepers and workers in the field.

It’s also fun to look at the photos of young children decked out in their finest attire.

Gazing at this collection, you’ll also see a mix of city sites, magnificent homes and farm scenes. Of interest to river cruisers are the shots of Mississippi River steamboats laden with cotton bales.

Simply put, an hour here is a bit akin to entering a time warp. A $5 donation is requested for admission.

6. Top Attractions: Octagonal, Unfinished Longwood 

When it comes to historic structures, Natchez has a diverse portfolio. Many are listed on the National Register of Historic Sites and open for visitors to tour. Some date from the French, Spanish or English Colonial periods.

While s ome other southern towns or cities (such as Vicksburg) suffered significant devastation during the Civil War, that didn’t happen in Natchez. I n 1862 after the fall of New Orleans, Natchez surrendered to the Union Army.

Longwood, Natchez, MS. Photo courtesy of Visit Natchez.

One of the “must see” sites in Natchez — included in many cruise line tours — is the humongous, unfinished Longwood, a grand octagonal villa.

Planned as a 30,000-square-foot mansion, Longwood was designed by a Philadelphia architect for Haller and Julia Nutt. The couple were members of Natchez’s “planter elite” society.

Challenging Timing

However, the couple’s timing in building a new home wasn’t good. Construction began in 1860. But rising Civil War political tensions in 1861 halted the work. So, beyond the first level (mostly completed), the rest of the structure above is unfinished.

Adding insult to the family’s situation, local residents began calling the unfinished mansion “Nutt’s Folly.” However, the Nutt family lived on that first floor until the 20th century.

Also, we must say that Longwood’s exterior looks impressive. On guided tours of the home’s interior, visitors will first see that lower level, which has a few lovely rooms to view.

But when the guide leads the tour group upstairs, the tour gets really interesting. On that second level and above, all that visitors will see are bare walls, exposed beams and wooden structural elements ( see photo below ).

A view of the upstairs, unfinished section of Longwood in Natchez, MS. Photo courtesy of Visit Natchez.

Think of a “snapshot in time.” That’s because this part of the mansion appears exactly as it did when construction stopped in the 1860s. Outside, though, there are magnificent porches, which are accessible from that unfinished interior space.

Today, the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez cares for the large structure and its outbuildings. Cruise lines often offer shore excursions to Longwood.

For example, American Cruise Lines’ guests can book the line’s complimentary shore excursion, “ Historic Longwood Exploration .” It’s just one of many excursions that ACL offers for Natchez port calls on multiple itineraries.

7. Top Attractions: The William Johnson House 

Natchez has done much to preserve its rich African-American and Creole heritage. Did you know that many “free blacks” worked as skilled tradesmen during the French and Spanish periods? Yes, that’s true, and it happened long before the British arrived.

One historic, downtown Natchez site with fascinating history is the William Johnson House, operated by the U.S. National Park Service.  Admission is free.

As a free man of color prior to the Civil War, William Johnson (1809-1851) bought this home and lived here with his family. While Johnson had started life as a slave, he was freed at age 11.

The Barber of Natchez

Known as the “The Barber of Natchez,” Johnson owned a local barber shop. In addition, he purchased other structures and 2,000 acres of land outside Natchez.

Well-respected locally,  Johnson also was a banker of sorts — loaning money to others. 

Interesting tidbit? Visitors are often surprised to learn that this free man of color also owned slaves. Here’s a link to the NPS site if you’d like to read more.

William Johnson House in Natchez, MS. Photo by U.S. National Park Service

Exhibits and Recreated Living Quarters

Heading into the William Johnson House, you’ll first enter the downstairs exhibit space (see photo above). There’s also a bookstore here. Upstairs, the U.S. National Park Service has done a nice job of recreating the Johnsons’ furnished living quarters.

Park service rangers will tell visitors about about Johnson’s life story and the home’s history. Fortunately, Johnson kept a diary.

He wrote faithfully in that diary between 1835 and 1851. He talked about everyday life in Natchez — everything from a search for a lost cow to a local visit by former President Andrew Jackson.

8. Top Attractions: Museum of African-American History/Culture

We’d also pop into the Natchez Museum of African-American Culture and History . It’s located downtown inside the 1905-era, former U.S. Post Office building on Main Street.

Natchez Museum of African-American History. Photo courtesy of Visit Natchez.

As a National Literary Landmark, the museum’s exhibit hall is dedicated to Richard Wright , author and Natchez native. With many simple, interesting displays, the museum is home to African-American memorabilia, photographs, books and artifacts.

Here too cruisers can learn about Forks of the Road  just outside the city. No building remains, but this notorious site was once the site of the South’s second largest slave market.

Recently, the U.S. National Park Service , which maintains the small, grassy site, installed free-standing exhibits and wayside panels at Forks of the Road.  They explain what happened here regarding the domestic slave trade era.

Melrose and Plantation Life

To learn about plantation slave life in the 1800s, one good option is Melrose , a Natchez historic mansion. What’s unique is that, unlike many other mansion sites, this one has intact slave cabins.

Melrose was constructed around 1845 for John McMurran , a Pennsylvania native and Natchez attorney. Today, it’s operated by the U.S. National Park Service.

NPS suggests a 2.5-hour visit to get the “full picture” at Melrose. That includes a guided mansion tour plus a self-guided tour of a slave cabin — allowing time to read the exhibits in the cabin.

9. Top Attractions: The Towers

The Towers in Natchez, MS, is an antebellum home which has been lovingly restored.. Photo by Susan J. Young.

Another one-of-a-kind, historic home is The Towers, built over several centuries. Huge pre-Civil War Oak trees surround the mansion.

For river cruisers, it’s interesting to know that many of the mansion’s structural elements show signs of peg construction and barge-board elements. That type of construction was found in historic river vessels that transported furs from Natchez.

The Towers has evolved in its look over the years. In 1826, a second Neo-Classical construction phase added a colonnade of square columns. For instance, you’ll see some of those still visible on the porches.

In an 1858-era update, The Towers received an Italian villa-like, Renaissance Revival façade; that also created a pair of third-story tower rooms. However, a 1920’s storm sizably damaged those upper tower rooms, which were then removed.

Recently, owners Ginger and James Hyland have restored and rebuilt those two towers.

Collection of Beaded Purses on the walls inside The Towers in Natchez, MS. Photo by Susan J. Young.

River cruisers often visit The Towers for tours (and sometimes lunch). We’ve been privileged to enjoy two tours that the affable Ginger has conducted.

She’s an owner who takes enormous pride in the mansion and every little detail of its interior furnishings and decorative items.

Collections Galore

Tour participants will see antique furniture, antique laces at every window and amazing collections of items. For example, one wall is totally filled with small “hanging” beaded purses ( see photo at right ).

Aviation buffs should head for the first floor’s rear door. Here they’ll find a display area that’s a tribute to Ginger’s late father, L. A. (Buzz) Hyland.

His claim to fame? He was among the men credited with inventing radar.

That feat impressed Howard Hughes,  who hired Hyland to run Hughes Aircraft Company. Hyland retired as that company’s chairman of the board in 1983.

Ginger honors her father with a display that includes much aviation and aerospace memorabilia. If you go, look for the award that Hyland received from NASA.

Diverse Tours

The Towers offers many types of tours such as “Decorative Arts Tours” or “Jeweled Christmas Tours.” All showcase the home and its spectacular décor and collections. You’ll find Easter and Passover tours too.

For guests cruising on American Queen Voyages, one premium shore excursion ($79 per person) is the “ Home Hosted Visit with Ginger and James .”

Cruisers will arrive at The Towers, where the owners will greet them and guide them around.  That’s followed by a sampling of southern comfort foods on the mansion’s sunny, enclosed back gallery.

10. Top Attractions: More to Come

This concludes Part One of our two-part look at Natchez, MS. Stay tuned for Part 2 next week, focusing on these additional sites:

  • Natchez’s historic Jewish temple, Temple B’nai Israel ;
  • The elegant historic mansion, Stanton Hall ;
  • More historic homes and mansions including Monmouth, Dunleith, Texada , the House on Ellicott Hill and others;
  • Downtown Natchez and the Antique District;
  • Sites that reflect new downtown investment by the Tate Taylor Company; and
  • Attractions beyond Natchez such as the Windsor ruins and the Delta Music Museum & Arcade

View from the bluffs of Natchez to the river below. Photo courtesy of Visit Natchez.

For more information on Natchez, MS, and what to see and do in the city or its environs, visit

For information about Mississippi River Cruises (itineraries, pricing, accommodations, departure dates and so on), contact your travel advisor.

Important Notes from Pavlus Travel

  • This blog site is editorial in nature. It’s designed for “basic, general information” about travel; it’s not  designed to provide specific pricing nor is it staffed by travel advisors.
  •   So, please don’t use the Reply Section below if you’re asking for cruise or land pricing, travel dates, accommodations, brochures or other specific requests.
  • That said, we are most happy and eager to assist you. Here’s how…
  • If anything does tweak your interest in the story and you DO have questions about specific  cruise lines, itineraries, pricing, brochures, savings, dates of travel, accommodations, accessible options and so on, please contact us at   800-528-9300.
  • Or  visit us online at Pavlus Travel’s official agency Web site;  t here you can “live chat” with us online too!
  • Thanks for reading!

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Susan J. Young

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Which plantation home in Natchez is maintained by the DAR?

Also do you still have a riverboat tour of the upper Red River? A couple I know had taken it years ago and said it was beautiful to see.

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Hi Linda. It’s Rosalie, mentioned in that section of the story… Sorry but I’m not familiar (as a writer/editor) with the Red River trips. I’d suggest asking your travel advisor or, if you don’t have one, Pavlus (see Important Note from Pavlus for contact info). Thanks for your note.

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Please send schedules, accommodation and price info on MSY/MEM

Since this is an unstaffed general blog site, please see the important note from Pavlus Travel after the end of the story. They will be happy to assist with those types of questions related to individual travel information, based on your needs, origin city, itineraries desired, type of accommodations desired and fares. Thanks

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EDITOR’S NOTE TO READERS: Be sure to read Part 2 of this Natchez blog series, where Frogmore in Louisiana is mentioned as one shore excursion option beyond the City of Natchez itself; in that piece, we talk briefly about Frogmore and provide the website link to their site. That said, here’s additional information we kindly received from Lynette at Frogmore:

“Nineteen historical buildings dating from 1790’s to 1900 are a restored tribute to Frogmore Cotton Plantation & Gins, a modern 1,800-acre working cotton estate with a computerized farm and gin.

As you arrive at the computerized cotton gin, the owner will meet you and escort you through the gin and cotton farm operations. Participate in picking cotton and removing the seeds and tour a rare, steam engine gin listed on the National Register of Historic Properties.

Be seated in the hand-hewn log cabin and listen to narration and the vocalist’s songs highlighting the history of southern plantations, including the Constitution, Emancipation Proclamation, and accurate statistics of the enslaved and planter families.

After an enlightening overview of the historical Frogmore owners, explore the cotton fields and authentic cabins to learn the origin of southern cuisine, the day-to-day operations and how their labor force evolved into sharecropping, a way of life for 100 years. Enjoy a complimentary beverage as you browse an original plantation store.”

Lynette, I have posted some of this within our Part 2 blog about Natchez. That’s where we talk about activities “across the river.” While we had already mentioned Frogmore there, I did add in some of these gleanings to give readers a bit more detail. Thanks for writing. We appreciate your comments.

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Interactive world cruise map, home | cruise ships | port expenses | hints and tips, natchez ms usa.

Passengers disembark at the Natchez Riverfront, which is located at 1 Harbor View Drive, Natchez, MS 39120.

Natchez is a city located in southwestern Mississippi along the Mississippi River. With a population of just over 15,000 people, it is one of the oldest cities in the United States and is known for its rich history, stunning antebellum architecture, and its vibrant cultural scene.

One of the city's main attractions is its historic downtown area, which is home to a variety of historic buildings and homes, many of which date back to the antebellum era. Visitors can take a stroll through the city's charming streets and admire its beautiful architecture, or stop by one of the local museums to learn about its history and culture.

Natchez is also surrounded by beautiful natural scenery, including the Mississippi River and the nearby bluffs and forests. Visitors can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, such as fishing, boating, and hiking, or simply admire the stunning views of the rivers and the surrounding countryside.

Additionally, Natchez is known for its vibrant cultural scene, with a variety of museums, theaters, and galleries showcasing local artists and exhibitions. Visitors can experience the city's cultural heritage by visiting local venues, such as the Natchez Museum of African American History and Culture, which showcases the contributions of African Americans to the city's history and culture, or the Natchez Opera Festival, which takes place each year and features a variety of musical performances.

For food lovers, Natchez is home to a variety of local restaurants and food stalls that serve up traditional Southern dishes, such as fried catfish, BBQ, and jambalaya. Visitors can sample some of the city's famous dishes and enjoy a taste of the local culture.

Overall, Natchez is a charming and historic city that offers a unique blend of culture, history, arts, and natural beauty. Whether you're looking for a relaxing getaway or an exciting cultural experience, there's something for everyone in Natchez, Mississippi.

There are several excursions you can take from Natchez, Mississippi, USA:

Natchez Trace Parkway: A scenic drive that follows the 444-mile Natchez Trace from Natchez to Nashville, Tennessee, through forests, hills, and rolling meadows.

Longwood: A historic mansion built in the mid-19th century, Longwood is one of the largest octagonal houses in the country and is known for its elaborate interiors.

Rosalie Mansion: A historic mansion built in 1823 that offers tours and provides an insight into life in Natchez during the antebellum period.

William Johnson House: A historic house museum that was once home to a free black man who was a barber and businessman in Natchez during the 19th century.

Melrose Estate: A historic mansion and former cotton plantation, Melrose Estate is a National Historic Landmark and offers tours to visitors.

Natchez City Cemetery: A historic cemetery dating back to the 1820s that is the final resting place for many prominent citizens of Natchez and is considered one of the most significant cemeteries in the South.

Natchez Under-the-Hill: A historic district located at the foot of a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River and once served as the center of commerce and entertainment in Natchez during the 19th century.

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natchez ms riverboat cruise

The 7 Best Mississippi River Cruises for 2024

T he more than 2,300-mile Mississippi River invites travelers to discover its multifaceted heritage, with a vast range of deeply rooted culture, music and history. A cruise is a fantastic way to discover many of the riverfront cities on a single trip, from the comfort of your modern riverboat or traditional paddle-wheeler.

The following Mississippi River cruise itineraries can help you choose from cruises of various lengths and options for the Lower and Upper Mississippi. Note that all fares are listed as double occupancy (based on two people per cabin), and that they might not reflect taxes, port fees or gratuities. The itinerary availability listed is also subject to change.

American Cruise Lines

American Cruise Lines operates small ships accommodating between 90 and 180 passengers that are built, flagged and crewed in the U.S. – and it's the only company in the world operating a 100% U.S.-flagged fleet of riverboats and cruise ships. ACL's itineraries traverse waterways across 35 states, with 11 itineraries dedicated to the Mississippi River. Cruisers can choose to sail on modern riverboats with a sleek interior design or while away their time aboard classic paddle-wheelers reminiscent of days gone by.

ACL offers variety as well as versatility: This line boasts both the longest and shortest sailings on this list with cruises ranging from eight to 60 days in length, including The Great United States. This inaugural 60-day voyage spans four major rivers and 20 states, making it the longest U.S. river cruise in history.

Complimentary hotel and transportation packages are available from every departure city before your cruise. You can book certain premium packages for added perks, such as two nights spent next door to Graceland in Memphis – with VIP tickets and a city tour included in the price.

Music Cities Cruise

Length: Eight days

Price: Starts at $3,610 per person

Spend a week getting lost in the sounds of the Memphis blues, rock 'n' roll and country music legends on the seven-night Music Cities Cruise. A hotel stay the night before your sailing is included, but embarking in Memphis means you also have the chance to splurge on a two-night pre-cruise package near Elvis' former home Graceland .

Ports of call include Paducah, Kentucky; Dover, Tennessee; and Clarksville, Tennessee, with an overnight in Nashville and an included excursion to a show at the Grand Ole Opry. Two scenic sailing days feature picturesque views of America's Heartland along the Mississippi, Ohio and Cumberland rivers as well as Lake Barkley.

2024 dates: In 2024, there are two available itineraries in September and November.

Grand Heartland Cruise: St. Paul to New Orleans

Length: 15 days

Price: Starts at $9,455 per person

This 15-day voyage allows you to explore America's rich history in towns along the Upper and Lower Mississippi River. The immersive voyage covers six states and 12 cities including St. Paul, Minnesota ; Dubuque, Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri ; Memphis, Tennessee; Natchez, Mississippi; Baton Rouge, Louisiana ; and more.

Take a step back in time while visiting Mark Twain's boyhood home in Hannibal, exploring stately historic estates in Natchez and Civil War sites in Vicksburg. At the end of a busy day ashore, you'll have plenty to chat about with fellow passengers during the evening cocktail hour.

2024 dates: American Heritage – ACL's traditional paddle-wheeler – and three modern riverboats set off on this journey from August to October in 2024.

Complete Mississippi River Cruise: New Orleans to St. Paul

Length: 22 days

Price: Starts at $14,935 per person

If you want to see the entire Mississippi in one shot, check out this multiweek sailing that begins in New Orleans and ends in St. Paul, Minnesota. Along the way, you'll sail 1,393 miles, visit 10 states and experience a staggering 20 ports of call as you tour Louisiana and then head northbound to Minnesota.

In the South, walk the battlefields of the Civil War and sample delicious Southern barbecue before listening to the rhythms of jazz, the blues and rock 'n' roll. Then, explore the small and larger cities along the upper parts of the river. Remember to take time to gaze out at the picturesque scenery and the rolling farmlands of America's Midwest before disembarking in St. Paul.

2024 dates: Three of ACL's modern riverboats sail this itinerary in May, June and August in 2024.

The Great United States

Length: 60 days

Price: Starts at $51,000

This two-month long journey – the longest domestic itinerary ever created – will check all the boxes for U.S. history and Civil War buffs, music and nature lovers, culinary enthusiasts, and beer and distilled spirits aficionados alike as the ship traverses America's iconic waterways through 20 states and 50 ports of call.

This epic journey showcases the natural beauty and living history of the U.S. from sea to shining sea. The sailing embarks in Portland, Oregon , on the Pacific Coast before traveling east to the Atlantic shore along four major rivers that highlight some of the country's most stunning coastlines. Upon arrival in New York Harbor, guests will have an unforgettable view of one of the most iconic landmarks in the U.S.: the Statue of Liberty .

Passengers can follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark along the Snake and Columbia rivers; cruise along Ol' Man River in search of Mark Twain and Elvis; see the vibrant colors of fall during peak season on the Hudson River; and take in the coastal breezes (and fresh seafood) along New England's rocky coastline.

This curated adventure also includes two flights: Jackson, Wyoming , to New Orleans as well as St. Paul to Portland, Maine , plus a land package through Glacier , Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. All-inclusive pricing covers the pre-cruise hotel stay, all flights and hotels between cruise segments, an ACL jacket and gear pack, daily excursions, all meals and beverages, gratuities and port charges, entertainment, and Wi-Fi.

2024 dates: The inaugural cruise sets sail on August 16, 2024.

360 Kiosk Email : Tips on Trips and Expert Picks

Viking River Cruises

Viking is no stranger to sailing Europe's rivers; the brand is synonymous with river cruising worldwide aboard its dozens of ships. However, Viking River Cruises is a newcomer to U.S. rivers, with its purpose-built ship: the 386-passenger Viking Mississippi. Looking to carve out its own niche in the American river cruising category, Viking claims it has the region's "first truly modern cruise ship" with its distinct Scandinavian design and expansive top sun deck with an infinity plunge pool.

Viking's mostly all-inclusive fares include a complimentary excursion in each port, destination lectures and performances, beer and wine at meals, free Wi-Fi, specialty coffees and teas, and more. The line offers five itineraries ranging in length from eight to 22 days along the Mighty Mississippi. Pre- and post-cruise extensions can be added to all voyages for an additional expense.

New Orleans & Southern Charms: Round-trip from New Orleans

Price: Starts at $3,999 per person

If you don't know which Viking Mississippi itinerary to choose, start here. A round-trip voyage from New Orleans is convenient for booking flights and offers an excellent opportunity to extend your stay in NOLA. Six guided tours are included across eight days, from the historic estates of Natchez to Vicksburg National Military Park. A stop in St. Francisville gives you the chance to marvel at some of the 140-plus buildings it has on the National Register of Historic Places.

If you extend your stay in New Orleans, plan to sample the local Creole cuisine and take in some of the city's nightly jazz entertainment. In the morning, grab a beignet and a steaming cup of chicory coffee au lait at the original Café du Monde in the French Market.

2024 dates: This itinerary is available on select dates in February, November and December.

Heart of the Delta: New Orleans to Memphis

Length: Nine days

Price: Starts at $4,299 per person

Similar to its round-trip New Orleans Southern Charms itinerary, the Heart of the Delta cruise begins in New Orleans and calls on the same five ports, before sailing through the Lower Mississippi and disembarking in Memphis. Enjoy scenic views of the serpentine river route – perhaps with expert commentary or a local cooking demonstration – and then take time to explore the birthplace of the Memphis blues, which is also a center of civil rights history.

2024 dates: In 2024, this cruise is available in February, March, April, May, June and November.

America's Great River: St. Paul to New Orleans

Price: Starts at $12,999 per person

This Viking voyage sails from St. Paul to New Orleans on a two-week trip that calls on 13 ports with one day of scenic sailing. This itinerary combines the best of Viking's other Mississippi sailings for an all-encompassing Midwestern and Southern experience with 12 guided tours.

Included in the fare is a tour of Graceland; a stroll through small-town Burlington, Iowa, to see Snake Alley, deemed the most crooked street in the world; and a visit to the National Eagle Center of Red Wing, among others. For an additional fee, hop on an airboat ride through the Atchafalaya Swamp in Baton Rouge or tour the Anheuser-Busch Brewery of St. Louis.

2024 dates: Viking has availability for this itinerary in July, September and October.

Want to cruise the Mississippi River? See the top cruises on GoToSea , a service of U.S. News.

FAQ Module : Travel - Top Mississippi River Cruises FAQs

Why Trust U.S. News Travel

Gwen Pratesi has been an avid cruiser since her early 20s. She has sailed on nearly every type of cruise ship built, including the newest megaships, paddle-wheelers on America's waterways, and an 18-stateroom river ship on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia. Most recently, she traveled on a small luxury expedition vessel in Antarctica and crossed the notorious Drake Passage twice. She covers the travel and culinary industries, specializing in cruises, for major publications including U.S. News & World Report.

You might also be interested in:

  • The Top River Cruise Lines
  • The Top All-Inclusive Cruises
  • Cruise Packing List Essentials
  • The Top Cruise Insurance Plans

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Natchez Balloon Festival photo scene on new Visit Mississippi cab in London

Published 10:22 am Monday, July 22, 2024

By Sabrina Simms Robertson

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International travelers may spot a photo of the Natchez Balloon Festival on the wrap of a new Visit Mississippi taxi cab.

Director of Tourism for Visit Mississippi Rochelle Hicks shared a photo of Mississippi Development Authority Director Bill Cork and his wife Nina getting ready to take a spin in the new taxi cab in London, England on her LinkedIn page on Sunday.

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The taxi cab features a scene familiar to those in the rural city of Natchez, with an iconic aerial view of the Mississippi River, Natchez water tower and hot air balloons.

“(Visit Mississippi) has several with scenes from all over the state but that’s ours,” Interim Director of Visit Natchez Lynsey Gilbert confirmed.

This marks the 39th year of the hot air balloon festival in Natchez, scheduled to take place on Oct. 18 and 19.

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Thinking About a Mississippi River Cruise? There’s One Big ‘If.’

Though operators are building ships, and towns are investing in landings and other infrastructure, fluctuations in the river’s flow, exacerbated by climate change, are hampering sailings.

The stern of a riverboat with American bunting decorated on its side floats on a river behind green shrubbery on the coastline.

By Rowan Moore Gerety

Rowan Moore Gerety spoke to civic leaders, cruise passengers and several cruise-industry businesses focused on the Mississippi River.

Tom Trovato and his wife, Trish, paid more than $20,000 and waited two years to experience Viking’s inaugural cruise up the Mississippi River. Leaving in September 2022, it was supposed be a two-week excursion from New Orleans to St. Paul, Minn., a trip of some 1,800 miles.

They never got past Memphis.

Low water levels, caused by drought, narrowed the river’s main shipping channel to allow only one-way traffic, first stalling their boat, the Viking Mississippi, and then ultimately aborting the trip.

Though they got a full refund, the Trovatos, who live in Surprise, Ariz., have no plans to try again.

“If I live to be 125, it might be on my bucket list,” said Mr. Trovato, 79.

The Mississippi River is central to American identity, with all the contradictions that entails. It’s an artery that sustained Indigenous cultures for thousands of years — “Mississippi” derives from the Ojibwe for “great river” — and it marked the frontier from which Lewis and Clark set out to find a route to the Pacific. The river’s alluvial deposits and deep waters formed the basis of prosperity for generations of farmers, and brought perdition to vast numbers of enslaved people who toiled along its banks and feared little more than being “sold down the river.”

For many people, particularly baby boomers reaching their retirement years, a cruise along the Mississippi River is a dream trip. But it’s becoming harder to make it come true. Though operators are building new ships, and towns and cities are investing in infrastructure to welcome boat traffic, cruises on the Mississippi face mounting challenges from an increasing number of droughts and floods.

Decades of forest and wetland destruction, dam construction and dredging have added to natural fluctuations in the Mississippi’s flow. Now climate change has only heightened the river’s tendency for dramatic seasonal shifts in water levels, frequently rerouting ships and causing delays.

Just late last month, in St. Paul — the final port for the Trovatos’ original itinerary — rising Mississippi River levels forced the closure of shoreline roads , bridges and parks . The river rose 20.17 feet above its banks before cresting, the seventh major flood in St. Paul since 2010, according to the National Water Prediction Service, and the eighth highest crest recorded.

Farther south, Memphis had made its $40 million Beale Street Landing the centerpiece of a larger redevelopment of parks and trails snaking along six miles of Mississippi shoreline. Last year, more than half of the 128 scheduled cruise ship landings there were canceled, mostly because of low water levels that made it impossible for the boats to reach the dock.

In July 2021, an overnight passenger riverboat visited Kimmswick, Mo., for the first time in 125 years, when the 341-foot American Duchess docked at its new landing. The town was expecting the cruise industry to boost tourism in the area. But the American Duchess was also the last cruise to dock there. There hasn’t been enough water for boats to come back until recently: The Viking Mississippi was finally scheduled to land in Kimmswick on Monday, but this time, the water was too high.

“We’re just seeing climate impacts stack up,” said Colin Wellenkamp, the executive director of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative , a coalition of local governments along the river. “We used to see them every 10 to 15 years, now we’re seeing them where they just don’t quit.”

‘Demand’s not going anywhere but up’

Despite the pandemic, when most travel worldwide was at a costly standstill, bookings on river cruises in the United States rose 25 percent from 2019 to 2022, according to data from AAA, the automobile owners’ group that also tracks air and cruise travel. An analysis by the market research firm Grandview Research in 2022 projected continued growth of more than 20 percent a year for U.S. river cruising through 2030, largely on the strength of the Mississippi River cruises.

River cruising “took off first in the European rivers, but it’s always been really built on American travelers,” said Charlie Robertson, an owner and chief executive of American Cruise Lines , the dominant operator on the Mississippi. Both American and Viking , a major player in Europe and Asia, are already booking Mississippi cruises into 2025, and building new ships to serve this market. Though the parent company of the third Mississippi cruise operator, American Queen Voyages, declared bankruptcy earlier this year, citing difficulties recovering from the effects of the pandemic, American Cruise Lines purchased all four paddle wheelers in its fleet.

“Demand’s not going anywhere but up,” Mr. Wellenkamp said. “Everybody wants to see the historic Main Street, and everybody wants to see this ecological icon Mark Twain wrote about.”

In Kimmswick, the new landing had local leaders dreaming of a return to the town’s roots as a key stop for Mississippi steamboats. After years spent building sandbag levees to protect Kimmswick — three major floods threatened the downtown since 2015 — and building a landing to accommodate 40-foot swings in the river’s flow, drought severe enough to threaten the town’s economic prospects seemed unthinkable.

“​​How can you be a river-facing city if you don’t have any riverboats?” said Phil Stang, Kimmswick’s mayor.

Powerfully unpredictable

The Mississippi basin extends to 32 states and two Canadian provinces, moving a staggering 600,000 cubic feet of water a second into the Gulf of Mexico. Even in its historic state, it could be powerfully unpredictable, with flows that oscillated by as much as 60 feet in the space of a season. T.S. Eliot called the river “a strong brown god — sullen, untamed and intractable.”

Today, much of the river has been remade as a maritime highway, with locks, levees and revetments designed to control its flow and stop floodwaters.

“When the river wasn’t leveed, it would flood 100 miles back into farmland,” said Lee Hendrix, who got his start as a deckhand on a towboat in 1972 and has spent the last 50 years working on the river . “Now, the levees don’t allow that.” As a result, the river’s swings are growing more intense. “It’s undeniable that it’s more volatile in terms of how rapidly it can rise and fall,” Mr. Hendrix said.

He spent last summer sharing Mississippi lore and trivia with passengers as the American Queen’s onboard “Riverlorian.” As the boat sailed past sandbars that went on for miles, he found himself grateful to be in a position with no responsibility for logistics. “There were a lot of docks we couldn’t get to,” he said.

Planning can blunt the impact of these disruptions — American Cruise Lines doesn’t schedule its tallest boats to sail the upper Mississippi, where sailing under some bridges during high water is impossible. The boats themselves are changing, too, to designs that can slip beneath low bridges, motor upstream against strong currents and get to shore in shallower waters. “Our basic design parameter is that if the tow boats can go, we can go,” said Mr. Robertson, the chief executive. “Because the Army Corps will move heaven and earth to allow the towing industry to keep moving.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers runs patrol teams and a dredging operation to maintain a navigable channel at least 300 feet wide and 9 feet deep. In recent years, the Corps has added more structures along the riverbanks called “chevrons” that allow high water to better flush out sediment that blocks the channel. Nevertheless, drought conditions have extended seasons when dredging is required.

“While we’re dredging less, our crews are out there on the river for a longer time,” said Shawn Sullivan, the strategic planning coordinator for the Corps’ St. Louis district. “I don’t know what normal is anymore.”

Carefully timed trips

Carol Coletta leads Memphis River Parks Partnership , the nonprofit that manages Beale Street Landing. The group anticipates a $700,000 revenue shortfall from landings this fiscal year, and is looking for ways to modify a second landing that can welcome boats even when the river is at its lowest. “We have to anticipate that this could persist,” Ms. Coletta said, “and if it does persist, then we cannot count on boat dockings for revenue.”

For cities smaller than Memphis, the hit can be much deeper. “If you’re a town of 800 people and a boat of 250 shows up, you’re going to feel that in your economy,” said Mr. Wellenkamp, of the Cities and Towns Initiative. “We have cities that 20 percent of their economy is captured from the riverboats stopping in, and we have cities where 60 percent of the economy is captured from riverboats stopping in.”

Cindy Anderson, who owns the travel agency USA River Cruises, says she’s gotten more careful in advising customers when to visit the region. “We have people ask us, and I say, ‘Springtime is fabulous,’” she said. Vendors have shifted their offering, too. The whole Mississippi, from St. Paul to New Orleans, was a popular itinerary Ms. Anderson used to sell year round; now it’s only available for a few months in the summer.

“That’s a very long and expensive cruise to book if you have to cancel it,” she said.

Even as cruise traffic on the Mississippi has grown, Ms. Anderson says much of her business has shifted to the Columbia River, in the Pacific Northwest, where large dams and meltwater from high peaks modulate seasonal changes in flow.

“We don’t have any water issues on the Columbia River — it never closes down, it never floods,” she said.

Ms. Anderson compared the unpredictability of Mississippi River itineraries to European rivers, many of them crisscrossed by historic bridges that offer little clearance for cruises to pass when waters are high. There, operators often ferry passengers between segments of a trip on chartered buses. But, Ms. Anderson said, most guests will expect refunds for an itinerary full of transfers by what cruise operators often call “motor coach.”

“Because they didn’t really get a cruise, they got a bus trip,” she said.

Follow New York Times Travel on Instagram and sign up for our weekly Travel Dispatch newsletter to get expert tips on traveling smarter and inspiration for your next vacation. Dreaming up a future getaway or just armchair traveling? Check out our 52 Places to Go in 2024 .

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