WRITER | JEANINE MATLOW
PHOTO | AMERICAN CRUISE LINES
With the luxury of travel comes a great escape. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or a little of both, enticing destinations offer a welcome departure from your everyday world. For those wanting a leisurely paced vacation with a change of scenery and educational opportunities along the way, a Mississippi River Cruise just might fit the bill.
Like many family trips, ours began when my brother, an avid traveler, suggested we take a domestic river cruise instead of another ocean liner for our annual getaway. Since my mother, brother, husband, daughter, and I would be arriving from three different locations, this would be a convenient way for everyone to experience historical sites and other happenings along the way.
It was obvious we were on to something when every person I told about our plans for spring break last year had the same reaction – they expressed curiosity about a Mississippi River Cruise and all it entails. Our eight-day trip to New Orleans began in Memphis, Tennessee, where we spent the night in a hotel before boarding the paddlewheeler America.
Though we knew our teenage daughter would be the youngest passenger on the ship, there was still something for everyone. At the very least, she got to add Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana to the list in her quest to visit all 50 states. She even managed to get in some retail therapy at Grandmother’s Buttons in St. Francisville, Louisiana, an old bank building-turned-gift shop and jewelry studio that was one of the enchanting stops on a tour of the area.
For our multigenerational vacation, we chose American Cruise Lines, which offers a variety of travel options like Mississippi River Cruises. Their authentic paddlewheelers are reminiscent of the days of Mark Twain, who drew plenty of inspiration from the historic waterway. Recent fleet additions include a modern riverboat that also cruises the Mississippi.
“American cruises exclusively along the country’s great rivers and protected coastlines, so our ships are never far from shore. In case of emergency, our cruises are particularly convenient for mature travelers,” says Alexa Paolella, spokesperson for American Cruise Lines.
“Our small ships and all-inclusive curated itineraries are intimate, relaxing, and great for family groups with adult children, parents, and grandparents. Our ships are new and American-built, with huge staterooms, private balconies, elevators, and multiple comfortable lounges and gorgeous sundecks. Ship to shore, we deliver an amazing all-inclusive cruising experience so guests can truly relax and enjoy being together with family and friends.”
This method of travel mainly appeals to baby boomers who enjoy the river cruise experience and all it has to offer. With a maximum of 185 passengers plus crew, this includes hassle-free boarding. Other perks include the fact that passports are not required, and some people can get to the ship by car.
Our Lower Mississippi River Cruise was all-inclusive, with food, cocktails, lectures, entertainment, and some excursions covered in the cost. The local fare often featured fresh seafood, which was even served in some of the breakfast specials. Whether measuring the quality or the quantity, which surpassed what anyone could possibly consume, the dishes did not disappoint. A very accommodating staff met special requests from picky eaters like my daughter.
Traveling along the river was incredibly relaxing, and our spacious room had a balcony to watch the barges and other vessels we passed. The onboard historians were extremely knowledgeable, and you could listen to them from the comfort of your room or hear them speak in person. Music lovers would appreciate the regional performers that entertained in the evenings.
Whether you’re a history buff like my husband or a design aficionado like me, the excursions to museums, plantations, and other locales offered fascinating facts about iconic sites. My husband and brother were especially impressed with the guided tour through the National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Highlights for me were the tours of historic homes such as Longwood, in Natchez, Mississippi, the unfinished dream home of Haller and Julia Nutt. This grand residence was designed for the couple by prominent Philadelphia architect Samuel Sloan and is believed to be the largest octagonal house in the country. Construction began in 1860 but was stopped the following year due to the Civil War.
While the exterior had been mostly completed by that time, the interiors were left entirely unfinished – except for the basement, where the Nutt family would reside until the 20th century. During the tour, we got to see the rooms and hear about their original intention, while learning what they became when construction ended early, leaving the house incomplete.
Another stop featured Rosedown Plantation in St. Francisville, Louisiana, a circa 1835 Greek Revival home with Grecian-style wings that were added a decade later. Situated at the head of a striking 660-foot-long oak allée (a walkway lined with trees or tall shrubs), the exquisite property is quite impressive. The last historic home tour featured the Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, with a Greek Revival-style house that took three years to complete. Enormous 300-year-old oak trees leading to the main residence lure you right to the front door.
After spending the night at our final destination in New Orleans, we were treated to a scenic tour on the way to the airport. From one stop to savor tasty beignets to another that taught us the intriguing history of their cemeteries, the tour guide – like all the others – was passionate and engaging when describing the undeniable charm of the South.