7 best Mississippi River cruises


Mississippi River cruises have surged in popularity in recent decades. They are especially appealing to mature travelers looking to enjoy guided tours of top cities and small towns in several Southern and Midwestern states.

Add in regionally inspired cuisine enjoyed aboard a luxurious river ship, plus the camaraderie of other culturally curious travelers, and cruising the most celebrated river in the United States promises satisfaction on multiple levels.

Two major cruise lines sail the Mississippi, which stretches 2,340 miles from New Orleans to Minneapolis-St. Paul: American Cruise Lines and Viking. Each line offers several similar itineraries ranging from eight to 23 days, but the ships themselves differ. Some are retro-inspired paddlewheelers, others sleek modern riverboats. The onboard dining and entertainment, as well as the excursions in port, also vary across the lines.

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We’ve rounded up the best Mississippi River cruises for seniors, history buffs and Americana lovers, so you can find your perfect U.S. river cruise itinerary based on your interests and travel preferences.

Best cruise for Civil War history: Lower Mississippi (round trip from New Orleans)

The steamboat Natchez docked on the Mississippi River in New Orleans’ French Quarter. EDWIN REMSBERG/GETTY IMAGES

The Deep South attracts history buffs with its Civil War battlefields and cemeteries and 18th- and 19th-century mansions guarded by regiments of live oaks. Both cruise lines offer a Lower Mississippi river cruise, sailing round-trip from New Orleans, but only one features multiple excursions geared to those with a keen interest in the 19th-century conflict.

On American Cruise Lines’ eight-day New Orleans to New Orleans itinerary, cruisers can visit Vicksburg, Mississippi, where the National Military Park commemorates the campaign, siege and defense of Vicksburg in 1863. In Louisiana’s capital, Baton Rouge, a guided excursion explores critical locations in the Civil War’s Battle of Baton Rouge and Port Hudson.

Other ports bring to life the pre-war South. In Oak Alley, Louisiana, guests can tour a Greek Revival mansion on a sugar plantation built and maintained by slaves. While no Civil War fighting took place in Natchez, Mississippi, the city is home to hundreds of lavish mansions from the era and the Historic Natchez Cemetery, which dates to 1822.

This itinerary is offered in 2024 and 2025 on four American Cruise Lines ships, ranging from the 150-passenger classic paddlewheeler American Heritage to the 180-passenger modern riverboat American Serenade. American Cruise Lines is known for its regionally inspired cuisine, served with complimentary wine and beer at lunch and dinner, plus complimentary cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and hosted entertainment in the main lounges.

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Some excursions and a pre-cruise hotel stay in the Big Easy are included in the cruise fare. You can book additional day tours for an extra cost.

Related: Best river cruise lines around the world

If you’re especially passionate about Civil War history, look for American Cruise Lines’ special Civil War-themed cruises on limited dates, which allow a deeper dive into the period. These include a nine-day Lower Mississippi itinerary from Memphis to New Orleans (or vice versa).

In addition to visiting monuments and museums, you’ll enjoy onboard lectures and presentations and interaction with other Civil War buffs. These sailings are aboard 150-passenger American Heritage and 180-guest American Melody, American Serenade, American Splendor and American Symphony.

Best cruise for music: Lower Mississippi (New Orleans to Memphis)

Viking Mississippi in Louisiana. VIKING

If you love the musical genres of the South, a Mississippi River cruise from New Orleans to Memphis (or vice versa) should be your choice.

From Crescent City, the birthplace of American jazz, to Memphis, known as the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll, this itinerary celebrates the region’s homegrown rhythms. Both cruise lines offer itineraries between New Orleans and Memphis, but Viking features more excursions and onboard experiences tailored to music lovers.

Viking’s 12-day Heart of the Delta itinerary includes a two-night pre-cruise hotel stay in New Orleans. This allows ample time to enjoy the city’s street musicians and jazz clubs.

In Baton Rouge, you can visit the Capitol Park Museum, which showcases exhibits dedicated to Louisiana’s musical heritage and Mardi Gras traditions. While in Natchez, Mississippi, classical music (played on a 1903 Steinway piano) and Southern cuisine are the stars of the excursion to Lansdowne and Joseph Stone House.

The port call in Greenville, Mississippi, is steeped in the blues with a chance to visit a museum dedicated to hometown legend B.B. King. The grand finale of the cruise is two nights in Memphis, where you can enjoy all things blues, barbecue and Elvis Presley.

Viking is a newcomer to the Mississippi River, and all sailings are aboard the 386-guest Viking Mississippi. The riverboat debuted in 2022 and features a modern Scandinavian design. Itinerary departures are available in 2024 and 2025.

Passengers can enjoy a sun terrace with an aft infinity pool and an Explorer’s Lounge with panoramic forward views of the Mississippi. The Restaurant serves both Southern regional cuisine and global favorites, and the ship welcomes local musicians onboard for evening entertainment.

Related: Meet the only line that cruises from Washington, DC. Here’s where it’ll take you

Best cruise for art and architecture: Upper Mississippi


An Upper Mississippi cruise between St. Louis, Missouri, and St. Paul, Minnesota, provides access to some of the top architectural landmarks and artistic treasures of the American Heartland — from Eero Saarinen’s soaring Gateway Arch to Frank Lloyd Wright’s inimitable Taliesin.

Both cruise lines offer Upper Mississippi sailings from July through September. Viking and American Cruise Lines’ itineraries and excursions are our picks for fans of American art and architecture.

Viking River Cruises’ American Heartland itinerary sails from St. Louis to St. Paul (or vice versa) and runs 12 days with pre- and post-cruise stays in 2024 and 2025. You’ll explore architectural gems aboard Viking Mississippi, itself an example of sleek, Scandinavian-inspired nautical architecture.

Highlights include St. Louis, where you’ll admire Saarinen’s circa-1965 Gateway Arch, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis featuring a 41-million-piece mosaic and the Renaissance Revival-style City Hall. From Dubuque, Iowa, you can head to Spring Green, Wisconsin, to visit Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s private home, studio and school from 1911 to 1959.

After a day in Redwing, Minnesota, known for its pottery studios, you’ll end your journey in the Twin Cities, home to the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Art in Minneapolis and well-preserved Victorian buildings in St. Paul.

Related: River cruise packing list: What to pack when traveling by riverboat

American Cruise Line’s nine-day Upper Mississippi river cruise covers much of the same ground, with a few differences. Sailings are available on the 150-passenger paddlewheeler American Heritage as well as on three sleek new 180-guest riverboats, American Melody, American Serenade and American Symphony. They’re offered between June and late September/early October in 2024, 2025 and 2026.

Beyond the landmarks of St. Louis, highlights include Hannibal, Missouri, where you can visit the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, and Dubuque, Iowa, known for its colorful Victorian mansions. (An excursion to the Field of Dreams featured in the 1989 Kevin Costner movie is also available.)

Winona, Minnesota, boasts some of the state’s most architecturally significant buildings, many featuring the beautiful stained glass for which the city is known. Then it’s off to Red Wing, Minnesota, where you can explore the Pottery Museum before completing your journey in the Twin Cities.

Best extended cruise: Complete Mississippi

St. Paul skyline from Raspberry Island. WALTER BIBIKOW/GETTY IMAGES

Want it all? You can visit 18 ports in six states on a 23-day Mississippi River journey from New Orleans to St. Paul. These itineraries are offered by both American Cruise Lines and Viking, and are perfect for seniors with plenty of time to explore.

American Cruise Lines offers the 23-day Complete Mississippi Cruise in 2024, 2025 and 2026, with sailings available on three 180-passenger modern river ships: American Melody, American Serenade and American Symphony.

After a pre-cruise hotel stay in New Orleans, passengers journey through all aspects of American history. You’ll visit ports known for ornate mansions (Oak Alley and St. Francisville, Louisiana, and Natchez, Mississippi), Civil War battles (Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Vicksburg, Mississippi), music (Memphis and Greenville, Tennessee) and architecture (St. Louis and Dubuque, Iowa). You’ll also call on a historic Missouri trading post in Cape Girardeau (a French river port).

Viking River Cruises’ 22-day Grand Mississippi Voyage, available in 2024 aboard the 386-passenger Viking Mississippi, also embarks in New Orleans and visits 16 ports in nine states as it cruises north to St. Paul, Minnesota.

During this sailing, you’ll overnight in Memphis, so there’s time to fully savor barbecue, the blues and Elvis Presley’s Graceland. A port call in Paducah, Kentucky, lets you explore the National Quilt Museum and colorful street murals.

You can enjoy excursions in Missouri’s most famous big city (St. Louis) and small town (Hannibal) and then visit three ports in Iowa known for their historic architecture and agriculture (including a tour of the John Deere Pavilion). Learn about the Norwegian heritage of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and get to know the eagles and pottery of Red Wing, Minnesota, before disembarking in St. Paul.

Bottom line

History buffs and Americana lovers will find plenty to enjoy on a Mississippi River cruise. Your ship will stop in major cities and lesser-known towns, offering excursions to historic sites and evenings spent enjoying locally inspired cuisine and regional music.

The two cruise lines sailing America’s most legendary river offer itineraries for every interest on ships designed with mature travelers in mind. Whether you want to visit Civil War sites, see top architectural landmarks or enjoy our country’s best-loved musical genres, these two lines will offer a Mississippi River itinerary that will help you do it — in comfort and style as you make new friends on board.

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