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.

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 Rhine are top choices for many travelers, you don't have to fly to Europe to take a river cruise. You can explore some of the nation's iconic attractions and favorite cities with a Mississippi River cruise. There are a few main cruise lines traveling the Mississippi, with journeys ranging from under 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.

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

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

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

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 the Mississippi itineraries are a newer addition to its wide range of river cruises, offered aboard the new Viking Mississippi ship. American Queen Voyages offers several cruises along the Mississippi on paddle wheel steamboats like the American Queen.

American Cruise Lines has both new, modern riverboats and paddle wheelers, so you can choose your ideal sailing experience depending on your itinerary. These cruise lines all offer similar itineraries along the river, so we recommend looking into the ships and amenities on board and finding what's included in the rate (like pre-departure hotel stays and excursions) to help make your decision.

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

Popular Ports on the Mississippi

You can cruise all the way from New Orleans to St. Paul or Minneapolis along the length of the Mississippi or choose from shorter itineraries spanning a portion of the river. Typically, cruises along the Lower Mississippi travel between New Orleans and Memphis, Tennessee, while ships on the Upper Mississippi sail between St. Louis and the Twin Cities. Highlights at popular stops along the river include Cajun culture in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Civil War history in Vicksburg, Mississippi, music and BBQ in Memphis, and plenty of charming small towns and picturesque views along the way.

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

Mississippi River Cruise Itineraries

Viking River Cruises — America's Great River

Cruise from St. Paul down to New Orleans on Viking's 15-day America's Great River itinerary aboard the 193-stateroom Viking Mississippi, a ship designed just for this river. The journey starts in St. Paul, where guests can explore the Twin Cities, before heading to Red Wing, where they'll learn about the country's national bird at the National Eagle Center. Then, it's on to La Crosse, Wisconsin; Dubuque, Quad Cities, and Burlington, Iowa; and Hannibal, Missouri, the childhood home and inspiration of author Mark Twain. The next stop is St. Louis, Missouri, with attractions like the Gateway Arch National Park and the Anheuser-Busch brewery. In the latter part of the trip, guests can enjoy scenic cruising along the Lower Mississippi and stops in Memphis, Tennessee; Vicksburg and Natchez, Mississippi; and Baton Rouge, Louisiana before finally arriving in New Orleans.

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 portion of the river from New Orleans to Memphis on this eight- or nine-day Mississippi River boat 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 and St. Francisville in Louisiana and Natchez, Vicksburg, and Greenville in Mississippi before a day cruising and the departure port of Memphis, Tennessee. 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 to St. Paul along the Upper Mississippi. Stops along the way include Hannibal, Missouri; Fort Madison, Davenport, and Dubuque, Iowa; and Winona and Red Wing, Minnesota. Several ships cruise this route, including American Melody, inaugurated in 2021, and the upcoming American Symphony. These new sister ships offer large rooms and suites with contemporary furnishings and an upscale feel.

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