What to Know About Mississippi River Cruises — From the Cruise Lines to Top Itineraries

See small towns and bustling cities by boat on a Mississippi River cruise.

A Viking river cruise on the Mississippi River
Photo: Rottet Studio/Courtesy of Viking

River cruises are a great way to see the world — you can visit several waterfront destinations and watch the scenery pass by from cozy accommodations and top-deck lounges on intimate luxury ships. And while rivers like the Danube and the Rhine are top choices for many travelers, you don't have to go abroad for a memorable river cruise. You can access some of the nation's iconic attractions and favorite cities right from the Mississippi River.

There are three main cruise lines traveling the Mississippi, with journeys ranging from less than a week to more than 20 days. Spring and fall are the best times of year to take a cruise along the river, as you'll avoid the summer heat and winter chill and enjoy more pleasant weather while you take in the surroundings.

Curving road along the Mississippi River near Brainerd, Minnesota in the fall.
Willard/Getty Images

Here's what you need to know about Mississippi River boat cruises, from choice itineraries to popular stops.

Mississippi River Cruise Lines

There are three main cruise lines that offer itineraries along the Mississippi River: Viking River Cruises, American Queen Voyages, and American Cruise Lines. Viking is known for its luxury river, ocean, and expedition cruises to incredible destinations around the world, and trips aboard its 193-stateroom Viking Mississippi adhere to the same standard of service.

American Queen Voyages offers several itineraries along the Mississippi — one along the Upper Mississippi, another on the Lower Mississippi, and one that also sails a portion of the Ohio River — on its signature paddle-wheel steamboats. The company's flagship, the American Queen, is said to be the world's biggest steamboat.

The interior of the Grand Suite on the American Melody
Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

The itineraries on American Cruise Lines feature either modern riverboats or old-school paddle wheelers, so you can choose your ideal sailing experience.

All three cruise lines offer similar itineraries along the river, so we recommend looking into the ships, the amenities, and what's included in the rate (like pre-departure hotel stays and excursions) to help make your decision.

Popular Ports on the Mississippi

You can cruise all the way from New Orleans to Minneapolis, or you can sail shorter segments of the river. Typically, cruises along the Lower Mississippi sail between New Orleans and Memphis, while cruises on the Upper Mississippi sail between St. Louis and the Twin Cities.

Passengers on the Upper Mississippi may get the chance to hop off and explore Mark Twain's childhood home in Hannibal, Missouri, stroll the streets of Iowa's oldest city (Dubuque), or marvel at sacred bluffs in Red Wing, Minnesota. Along the Middle Mississippi, there's Paducah, Kentucky, a UNESCO-designated Creative City, and Chester, Illinois, the birthplace of Popeye the Sailor Man.

On the Lower Mississippi, you'll find Cajun culture in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Civil War history in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and music and BBQ in Memphis.

The American Melody on the Mississippi River
Courtesy of American Cruise Lines

Mississippi River Cruise Itineraries

There are many itineraries to choose from between the three major Mississippi River Cruise lines, but here are our top picks.

Viking River Cruises: America's Great River

Cruise from New Orleans all the way up to St. Paul on Viking's 15- or 17-day America's Great River itinerary aboard the 193-stateroom Viking Mississippi, a vessel designed just for this river. The journey starts in New Orleans and stops in Baton Rouge; Natchez and Vicksburg, Mississippi; Memphis; and St. Louis, where passengers can explore attractions like Gateway Arch National Park and the flagship Anheuser-Busch brewery. From there, it continues on to Hannibal, Missouri; Burlington, Davenport, and Dubuque, Iowa; La Crosse, Wisconsin; and Red Wing, Minnesota, where travelers can learn about America's most recognizable symbol at the National Eagle Center. In between action-packed stops, there's plenty of time to take in the scenery from your veranda or the boat's several public viewing areas.

Interior of the Lounge on board the Viking Mississippi River Cruise
Rottet Studio/Courtesy of Viking

American Queen Voyages: New Orleans to Memphis

Sail along the Lower Mississippi from New Orleans to Memphis on this nine-day cruise, which starts with a complimentary stay in New Orleans and a second day to enjoy the Big Easy. Then, it's on to Nottoway Resort and St. Francisville in Louisiana and Natchez, Vicksburg, and Greenville in Mississippi before a day of cruising through the Delta and disembarking in Memphis. There are a few different paddle-wheel riverboats that cruise this route for American Queen Voyages — find the specific ship for your journey when you select a date.

American Cruise Lines: Upper Mississippi River Cruise

This eight-day cruise starts in St. Louis and sails along the Upper Mississippi to St. Paul. Stops along the way include Hannibal, Missouri; Fort Madison, Davenport, and Dubuque, Iowa; and Winona and Red Wing, Minnesota. Several riverboats cruise this route, including American Melody and American Symphony, inaugurated in 2021 and 2022, respectively. These sister vessels offer large rooms and suites with contemporary furnishings and an upscale feel.

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