Some of our friends told us how much they loved their European river cruises. You can bet that’s on our bucket list! But, for now we’re planning on staying a little closer to home.
We’re thinking of experiencing the most iconic American waterway – the mighty Mississippi!
Is a Mississippi River Cruise Worth It?
A Mississippi river cruise is like being transported back in time to the glory days of this majestic waterway. For an average daily cost between $300 and $500, you’ll be treated like royalty and never regret what you’ll see and do.
Our last vacation was at the Crown Paradise Golden, a Mexican all-inclusive in Puerto Vallarta. Now, it’s a distant memory.
After surviving a once in a century pandemic, we’re itching to get away and do something special. Life’s too short. We’re ready to travel and do something amazing.
How Much Does It Cost to Take a Mississippi River Cruise?
For the ultimate experience, you could cruise all the way from Minnesota to New Orleans (or vice-versa). The overall distance from headwaters to the gulf coast is 2,320 miles (3,730 km). Typically, the river is divided into three segments:
We fell in love with “The Big Easy” many years ago and vowed to return one day. For that reason, we worked out the average costs of some of the most popular river cruises on the lower Mississippi. The itineraries vary and include some amazing sights such as Memphis, southern plantations, and Vicksburg.
Prices will vary depending upon the time of year, reflecting peak and non-peak season rates. More dramatically impacting the fare is your cabin choice.
For instance, the American Queen offers basic inside cabins starting around $237 per night / person. These are much smaller than the ones with balconies.
Why Are River Cruises So Expensive?
River cruises tend to be more expensive due to fewer passengers and high operating costs. Between fuel costs, employee salaries, high quality food and excursions, these aren’t inexpensive vacations.
Even understanding this, I was shocked with the prices. We’ve taken Caribbean cruises, even one through the Panama Canal, that were under $200 a night, some even with balconies! Mind you, these prices are comparable with river cruises in Europe and elsewhere.
So, why are Mississippi river cruises so expensive?
The first thing I had to wrap my head around is you’re paying for an experience unlike any other. While relaxing on a cruise ship is nice (I love it! ), when you’ve been to the various ports before it can get a little blah.
Instead of embarking with 3,000+ strangers, most river boats carry less than 400 passengers. The ratio of staff to guests is higher which should mean much better service. In addition, the staff are American and receive fair wages and benefits, unlike those big cruise ships.
Another consideration, almost everything is included with your fare. This can include your first night’s stay, beverages, deluxe dining and even your excursions. You pay more up front but aren’t “nickel and dimed” as the cruise ships are notorious for doing.
Generally, your first night at a decent hotel is included in your fare. And you’ll likely be staying in a first-rate hotel. This saving needs to be kept in mind.
Unlike a road trip, you only need to unpack once you’re aboard. In addition, the cabins are generous in size and quite comfortable. Ocean going cabins tend to be smaller.
Food and Beverages
Expect amazing food often highlighting regional specialties. If you went to a decent restaurant in town, your meal could easily cost a hundred dollars or more. And, that wouldn’t include the ambiance of the ship or interaction with fellow guests.
In addition, your beverages such as beer or wine are included during mealtimes.
Excursions and Cultural Enrichment
Another aspect to consider, river cruises focus on cultural enrichment and provide a “Riverlorian” sharing stories and local history throughout your journey. Also, complimentary tours are generally provided at each port.
This might include seeing a famous plantation such as Oak Alley. My hubby is fascinated by the Civil War and will be all over the Vicksburg National Military Park excursion.
They do offer premium tours for an additional charge. Costs vary from $20 to $70 which covers the cost of transportation and a guide.
What Makes Mississippi River Cruises So Unique?
You won’t find waterslides, casinos, kids or massive night-time shows on these river boats. Unlike any other vacation, this is the opportunity to relax and absorb what it was like in a different time. Your entire experience will be influenced by the historical significance of this waterway and how it shaped America.
The steam powered paddle-wheeler ruled supreme from 1830 right up to the Civil War. Capable of going both upstream and downstream, it revolutionized travel and the cost of shipping goods. This was the heyday of the south, enabling expansion and prosperity.
The majority of your fellow passengers will be baby boomers. Some are history buffs interested in the Civil war sites. Others intrigued by the plantations dotting the banks, or perhaps enthralled with the adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
With most boats carrying less than 400 guests, you’ll get to know your fellow travelers. The smaller more intimate public lounges are conducive to striking up a conversation and sharing the day’s experience.
Are Mississippi River Cruises Worth It?
Perhaps the best measure are the reviews of previous guests.
After checking with Cruise Critic, I was pleasantly surprised with the favorable ratings for both companies offering these vacations.
American Queen Steamboat Company (AQSC)
The first on my list was the “American Queen”, an authentic paddle-wheeler carrying 448 passengers. With 212 reviews, guests rated them as “very good” with an average of 4.1. Value for the money is 4 out of 5.
American Cruise Line (ACL)
Next was the “Queen of the Mississippi”, a smaller paddle-wheeler with a capacity for 150 passengers. Again, “very good” with a slightly higher rating of 4.2 with 128 reviews. Again, value for the money is 4 out of 5.
In addition, ACL is expanding their fleet with modern riverboats. Without a paddlewheel, these vessels are more efficient, maneuverable and appropriate for costal waters. The new designs include additional features such as 4-story glass atriums, larger upgraded staterooms and other refinements.
Which is the Best Company?
Both companies appear to be well run and provide a memorable experience. According to US Today, both companies are solidly in the top ten.
I’d feel comfortable booking with either company. Your decision may be influenced by the itinerary or being on a specific boat (such as a paddle-wheeler).
On a side note, if you’re a Viking fan, the Viking Mississippi will be launched in August of 2022. This will also be a modern river boat hosting 386 guests.
Lower Mississippi River Sights
The 8-day Memphis to New Orleans itinerary appeals to us. We could fly in and spend a day (or two), see Graceland and other sights.
On AQSC, we’d be sailing on the American Queen, with a veranda, for a cost of $3,999 each. With ACL, we’d be on the Queen of the Mississippi, with a balcony, for $4,605.
Vicksburg was a pivotal battle allowing the Union supremacy of the waterway. As mentioned above, this is a must see for Shannon. I’d rather see an original southern plantation, especially one as famous as Oak Alley. The best part is we can do both!
One of my greatest disappointments when we were in New Orleans was not being able to go on the local paddle-wheeler. Our timing was horrible as it was in dry dock. That’s why I’m even more excited to arrive by water.
I had no idea how interesting a trip down “the Ol’ Man river” might be! The answer to “are Mississippi river cruises worth it” appears to be a resounding yes. That, of course, assumes you’re looking for a unique and enriching adventure.
While we’ve never been on a river cruise, based on our research, it appears the majority of folks really enjoyed it. Right now, we’d sooner stick closer to home, at least until the global threat of COVID has subsided. After being cooped up for so long, it’s worth it to us to spend a bit more for something remarkable.
After an amazing week on the boat, we could then spend some time in New Orleans . That’s the best of both worlds and something to look forward to.