Some people view the Mississippi River as just a river. They look it as a geographic feature of extraordinary size, but as nothing more than a collection of facts and figures. Some travel companies that specialize in trips on or along the Mighty Mississippi view it as more than that. They see it as a destination unto itself and an integral part of their business plans.
At American Queen Steamboat Company, we like to take a different view. We acknowledge that the river is an amazing natural wonder and that it is a tourist destination in its own right. But we also believe that it is far more than just that. As operators of the grand American Queen, the largest riverboat ever conceived, we recognize that the river, the experience of sailing with us, Southern cuisine and the culture of the region are all intimately intertwined. For both us and our guests, the Mississippi is not just a river; it is a cultural thread through the heartland of America that has influenced the nation in ways both large and small.
Expect a Slower Pace on Mississippi River Cruises
If you’re used to ocean cruising, then you are most certainly in for a surprise. Cruising the famed Mississippi River is far more relaxed and moves at slower pace. While travel time between port visits may be a bit shorter than you’re used to, there is plenty of time to kick back and unwind. Picture yourself ensconced in a plush chair in the American Queen’s Mark Twain Gallery, playing cards by the light of the Tiffany lamps and laughing with new friends, the essence of the Mississippi River is felt as a soothing background. When dining on classic Southern dishes imbued with a contemporary flair, the culture of the river tantalizes the taste buds. As the American Queen sails into the sunset, the pulse of the river and its long history is in the back of each guest’s mind. The Mississippi is not a winding body of water for us; it is a personality all its own that whispers its secrets to all those who travel along it.
Deciding on a Mississippi River Cruise Itinerary
Lower Mississippi River Cruises: The Lower Mississippi River is the river of legends. It is the river of centuries-old shaded oak trees, elegant Antebellum plantations, cotton fields and Civil War memorials. River cruising through the rich history and cultural diversity of the Old South is like taking a step back in time. Sugar cane is still grown just as it was a century ago and lovingly restored mansions grace the Great River Road. From the sidewalk cafes and jazz clubs of New Orleans’ French Quarter to the barbecue hotspots and soulful blues of Memphis and everywhere in between, the Lower Mississippi region is a beautiful celebration of modern day attractions and timeless southern traditions.
Upper Mississippi River Cruises: The Upper Mississippi River pulses through the heart of America offering hidden gems around each bend of the river to fuel your sense of discovery. Perhaps no person defined the world’s view of America’s greatest river more than the legendary Mark Twain and his beloved literary characters; Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher are still alive and well in Hannibal, Missouri, Samuel Clemens’ boyhood hometown. Cruising along the Upper Mississippi aboard our classic, steam-powered vessel carries you past peaceful fields of gold and soaring bluffs to storybook American towns and vibrant, bustling cities. Whether you are a fan of nature’s raw beauty and wildlife or an enthusiast of history and culture, the upper reaches of the Mississippi from dynamic St. Louis to the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul will surely pique your interest and capture your heart.
Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland River Cruises: On these river cruises, you’ll discover America’s cultural quilt in the cities and towns of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. From Civil War battlefields, forts and homesteads to quaint Main Streets and friendly smiles, this region will welcome you with open arms and enrich you with its storied history. Cruising along the Cumberland River takes you past forest-covered hills into Bluegrass Country and brings to mind old tales of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. The Ohio River is a quite simply a kaleidoscope of big cities and small towns showcasing the best of American ingenuity and courage while the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers are a reminder of the wilderness that had to be conquered to expand a nation. Whether you are cruising through the deep wilderness, or headed to big cities for exciting attractions like the Grand Ole Opry® and Churchill Downs, adventure awaits by the mile.
Get in a Mississippi River State of Mind
But you don’t have to be on the river to see its influence. We encourage you to learn more about the Mississippi River in Literature, as the historic framework is a great way to get in the proper state of mind before joining us on one of our Mississippi River cruises. We’ve mentioned in prior blogs the profound impact that the Mississippi had on Mark Twain, one of America’s most cherished authors. From his stories about river pilots to his books about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, we can’t imagine his literature without the silent, looming presence of the river he so loved. However, Twain was only one of many authors to weave the charms, history and presence of the river into their works, both directly and indirectly. Many poems, short stories and novels would either lose their focus or simply wouldn’t have been written had it not been for the existence of the Mississippi River. Authors touched by the river are among the most notable of their time.
For example, Tennessee Williams’ experience of living in New Orleans brought the river into the atmospheric environment he created for works such as “A Streetcar Named Desire,” where the main character is a dockworker. Stanley spends an inordinate amount of time in a brewery by the river. William’s regional influence was so profound that festivals pay tribute to his genius.
Francis Parkinson Keyes absorbed the river water into her pen and inked novels that are intricately intertwined with the Mississippi such as River Road and Steamboat Gothic thanks, in part, to living in the French Quarter. Kate Chopin also lived in New Orleans after growing up in St Louis. In both cities, the Mississippi River was the dominant economic, geographic and cultural force. Her novels and stories feature the river as a backdrop that occasionally intrudes upon daily life, such as one character that “worries about whether the levees will be able to contain the flooding Mississippi.” Other authors, such as Alice D. Nelson and Grace King, have incorporated the culture that sprung up around the Mississippi over the centuries into their works detailing the struggles of individuals raging from mixed race children to an old woman selling pralines in New Orleans’ Jackson Square.
But perhaps one of the authors with the best grasp on how to work into his stories the leisurely flow of the Mississippi and the society it spawned is William Faulkner. The Tulane website notes that Faulkner “is a highly regarded Southern author who could arguably be said to have been influenced by the Mississippi River with such works as The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying.”
Enjoy Small Town Charm and Authentic America
We let the recipes, music and stories of the river weave their way through each of our cruises because we know the river is more than just a rushing sheet of water flowing from the lakes of the North to the warm Gulf of Mexico. It is more than the charming towns, quaint villages and sophisticated cities that line its banks. It is more than vistas across cotton fields, oaks hugging steep bluffs and levees protecting verdant farmland. It is more than the great plantation homes, hoop skirts and scent of sweet magnolia blossoms that epitomize the beauty of the South. The Mississippi River is who we are and we welcome the opportunity to share her with you.