There is just something about watching the river that calms the soul — taking in life on the river, life in the river, and life by the river.
The American Queen Steamboat Company, based in Memphis, has given people an opportunity to do just that.
With the Mississippi River flows the heart of America. It’s survived great Civil War battles, storms, floods, and earthquakes. It has been a roadway for canoes, barges, paddle wheelers, and tow boats. It’s been home to Indian chiefs, slaves, Mark Twain, Tom Lee, Boss Crump, a Pyramid, catfish, dinosaurs, and cobblestones. It’s the great geographic barrier that split the country but united the people.
Here in the South river people were brave enough to settle along the ever-changing Mississippi. (Mississippi is from a Native American name meaning “Great River.”)
High upon river bluffs and along the river bottoms the people have changed, communities have changed, terrain has changed, but the river just keeps rolling along.
Several times a year, the American Queen travels from Beale Street to Bourbon Street with a load of passengers from all over the world interested in learning about life on the lower Mississippi.
Many of the guests are celebrating anniversaries and birthdays, or checking a trip on the Mississippi off their to-do lists. Some are traveling with alumni, friends, or spouses; some are children escorting their elderly parents; some travel alone.
Each day the tables, rocking chairs, and swings on the forward deck fill up as people sit with their new friends, sharing a cup of coffee, a meal, a glass of wine, or a cold beer.
For the next several days they will get a glimpse into life on the river. Along the way, history buffs relish the tales of love and war and of pride and promise. They will hear stories of bygone days from the people of the Deep South who live on the bluffs and bayous of the Mississippi. They’ll hear river lore, including colorful stories about river men, in what were once rowdy river towns with definitely sordid histories.
Guests relax as the boat meanders downstream, reading a good book or simply setting their imaginations free as they watch the river go by. The boat pulls into historic ports in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana — places like Greenville, Natchez, St. Francisville. At various places along the way travelers have an opportunity for a drink in a historic saloon in a town that was once wild with gambling, brawling, and brothels.
Days are spent visiting plantations, learning about the trials of flooding, slavery, and “free people of color.” There are also tales of Southern kings whose families settled near the river … the kings of rock-and-roll, the blues, soul, and cotton.
Those who engage the locals may meet manly men who show pictures of the 1,000-pound wild boar they hunted, or watch a fisherman haul in giant catfish. Tourists can hear personal conversion stories of men who are doing life in prison, as they visit Angola, the penitentiary in Louisiana, or they might take advantage of an opportunity to come face to face with an alligator as they explore a swamp.
The more sedentary traveler finds contentment observing the banks of the river, many still unspoiled, as they sip a cold drink outside their stateroom. Passengers from as far away as Australia, New Zealand, and England describe their river observations and experiences as “fascinating” and “mind-boggling.” They often express awe and wonder as they learn a new respect for the “Big Muddy” and the people who claim the shores of the river as home.
Southern hospitality is around every bend in the river and in every corner of the boat, where much of the mostly American crew is from the South. The crew isn’t just friendly in a polite way; they are genuinely outgoing and true hospitality specialists. After traveling from the other side of the world to see the Mississippi River, David Lindsay, 80, from Tasmania, Australia, said he was “enjoying the people the most” on his voyage.
As the boat moves south it stops so guests can visit historic homes draped in Spanish moss, quaint boutiques in small downtowns, and whatever else is within reach of the “hop on-hop off” bus that meets the boat in every port.
Passengers can choose from many cruises, with a variety of themes. The most popular journey links Memphis to New Orleans, but from Memphis, cruises also head north.
This particular cruise ends at New Orleans, where the tourists disembark and the staff and crew get the boat ready to head back north later that day.