Mississippi river cruises are a great way to explore the myriad top destinations along the fourth-longest river in the world: the Mississippi River. The Mississippi snakes its way from northern Minnesota to New Orleans for 2,340 miles.
Cruises on the Mississippi River usually include one section -- either Upper or Lower -- of the river for week-long cruises, but it's possible to book a three-week itinerary to take in as much of America's heartland as possible.
Whether you're looking to see where Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) was born, explore Civil War sites or take in the music, food and culture of the South, you'll find a wide variety of Mississippi river cruises that suit your interests.
Mississippi River cruises allow you to discover some of the most iconic cities in the US from the comfort of your ship. You can take a deep dive into America's past, with visits to a variety of important landmarks, battlefields and river towns in a matter of days. But that’s not all there is to this river. Lively ports like New Orleans and Memphis offer plenty of charm and activities for all types of cruisers.
Although each cruise line has its own itineraries, most can be divided into Upper and Lower Mississippi. The Upper Mississippi is the section between St. Paul, Minnesota and St. Louis, Missouri. This part of the river includes a number of dams and locks. The Lower Mississippi is the portion south of Cairo, Illinois and is a great option for music and history lovers.
Itinerary options for a Mississippi river cruise typically include New Orleans to Memphis (or vice versa), Memphis to St. Louis (in either direction) or St. Louis to St. Paul, though there are many variations. Each section holds its own appeal, so your particular interests will help you narrow down which itinerary sounds best to you.
New Orleans, Louisiana: The city of jazz and Creole cuisine is a music and culture hub not to be missed. Its world-renowned French Quarter and Mardi Gras celebrations draw millions of visitors every year. Beautiful architecture and lovely parks round out the experience.
Vicksburg, Mississippi: This city of 21,000 is steeped in Civil War history. It is known for being the site of a key battle that saw the Confederate surrender and lose its last major stronghold on the river. Civil War buffs can visit the abundance of memorials, museums and parks dedicated to it. Other main attractions include the riverfront murals and the Biedenharn Coca-Cola Museum.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana: The capital of Louisiana is a vibrant, multicultural city packed with Antebellum landmarks and a significant arts scene. Its museums offer a wide range of genres, from science to African American history.
Memphis, Tennessee: While most people will know Memphis for its music scene, the city offers lots of other interesting things to do and see, including the National Civil Rights Museum, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, and the historic Elmwood Cemetery. Graceland, Elvis Presley’s private residence, is one of the main attractions here as well.
St. Louis, Missouri: Known for its iconic Gateway Arch, the town offers plenty of things to do for all kinds of passengers, from solo travelers to families. The Saint Louis Zoo, City Museum, Missouri Botanical Garden and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis are just some of the top things to see here.
Given that the river courses through 10 states, there’s not a bad time for a Mississippi River cruise, but a good rule of thumb is to opt for the spring and fall. Cruising the Mississippi River during these two seasons especially will allow you to avoid the extreme humidity and heat of the warmest months in the South, and the coldest days of winter in the Midwest.
However, there are slight differences depending on the section of the river you’re looking to cruise. It’s best to cruise the Upper Mississippi in the spring, fall and summer, when temperatures are milder. This section should be avoided in the winter. The Lower Mississippi is best in the spring, fall and winter. High temperatures and humidity levels make the summer less enjoyable.
There are currently three main cruise lines offering Mississippi River cruises: American Cruise Lines, Viking River and American Queen Voyages. Each offers its own appeal and style, so the best Mississippi River cruises vary from traveler to traveler.
If you want to experience cruising the Mississippi river in a more "traditional" way (but with modern comforts), go for a steamboat; if you’d rather travel in something less traditional, opt for one of the modern cruise ships. In terms of itineraries, all three cruise lines offer a wide range of options.
American Cruise Lines offers a dozen itineraries ranging in length from five to 22 days. Options include round-trip cruises from New Orleans, Lower and Upper Mississippi itineraries, and themed cruises such as Music Cities and Great Smoky Mountains.
Viking has only one ship on this river, the upscale, 450-foot Viking Mississippi. The eight-day New Orleans & Southern Charms is the shortest itinerary available, while the 22-day Grand Mississippi Voyage covers the entire river, from New Orleans to St. Paul.
American Queen Voyages offers a range of nine-day Lower Mississippi itineraries aboard the American Queen, a quaint paddle-wheel steamboat. These are the best Mississippi River cruises for those looking to experience traditional river travel.
Anyone interested in U.S. history, especially the Civil War, will enjoy cruising the Mississippi, as will music fans and Southern food lovers. Theme cruises covering all these areas are a common and popular offering.