Jump aboard a paddlewheeler and experience a whole new America along its rivers.
WORDS Simon Webber
America looks very different when you’re exploring it via its rivers – especially when your mode of transport is a classic paddlewheeler. The splash of the wheel is the soundtrack of your journey along waterways that range from the Snake River to the Mississippi, where you will encounter dramatic scenery, visit fascinating sites, meet inspiring people and discover superb food and wine.
It’s a slower pace, a different angle, and the chance to gain a deeper understanding of America. And as you will discover, each river region has its own unique flavour and charm.
THE LOWER MISSISSIPPI RIVER
From the home of Elvis Presley to the hustle and bustle of the vibrant New Orleans, you can explore America’s fascinating, historic south, along the Lower Mississippi river. This is a region where the people are famed for being friendly, where exploring culinary innovation is an adventure in and of itself, and where culture thrives in riverside metropolises.
American Queen Voyages offers five itineraries along the Lower Mississippi river, each lasting nine days, with the top itinerary travelling from Memphis to New Orleans aboard American Queen. Here, you might explore the King of Rock and Roll’s Graceland mansion in Memphis; visit Vicksburg’s port – a major battle site during America’s Civil War; or admire historic homes and architecture of a bygone era in the quaint town of St. Francisville.
For culture lovers, a must-do is visiting New Orleans’ French Quarter – the city’s oldest neighbourhood – where you will get to taste, smell and experience the Creole, Cajun and other diverse cultures and cuisines.
THE UPPER MISSISSIPPI RIVER
Where a bend in the river is often a prelude to the unveiling of an inspiring view, the Upper Mississippi river is a natural wonder. An American Queen Voyage on the Upper Mississippi river will see you surrounded by lush, verdant landscapes, classic river towns, and an abundance of wildlife you can spot from your cruise. With a choice of a 16-day itinerary, or two nine-day itineraries cruising between St Louis and Minneapolis.
Venture into the region that inspired many of great American writer Mark Twain’s novels, such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. You will feel like you have stepped into one of Twain’s stories as you wander through the town of Hannibal, one of eight ports on this tour. As you cruise further north, the land becomes more wild as you take in the scenic views and curl up to read a literary classic.
Highlights of the voyage include St Louis, with its iconic Gateway Arch, theatres, museums and beautiful botanic gardens; a walk or a cycle in historic Cape Girardeau, Missouri, another place of inspiration for Twain; and the chance to explore the home of Ulysses S. Grant, America’s 18th President, who worked to implement Congressional Reconstruction and remove slavery.
THE COLUMBIA AND SNAKE RIVERS
Head to America’s Pacific Northwest and cruise the Columbia and Snake rivers to see hills swathed in pines and spruce, drop in on celebrated vineyards, stand atop volcanoes, soak in hot springs, and discover Native American legends.
“As you cruise further north, the land becomes more wild as you take in the scenic views and curl up to read a literary classic.”
It’s a region of stunning natural beauty, ancient culture, and quality seafood and wine. You’ll retrace the path of explorers Lewis and Clark; stand on the peak of Mount Hood, the highest summit in Oregon; explore Hells Canyon, America’s deepest gorge; and visit mighty waterfalls. And you’ll cruise these spectacular waterways aboard the American Empress, a 360-foot paddlewheeler that can house 217 guests, making it the biggest overnight riverboat west of the Mississippi. Like all American Queen Voyages vessels, it offers space and comfort, excellent service, an exciting program of Broadway-quality entertainment, and a range of enrichment activities, should you ever tire of soaking up the views from the deck.
American Queen Voyages offers three itineraries in the region, including the nine-day Portland to Spokane journey. At the starting point – the port of Vancouver, in the city of Portland – you can discover the history of the fur trade, sup on seafood at the water’s edge, and visit the Portland International Rose Test Garden to discover why this is called the City of Roses.
From here, you’ll cruise to the port of Astoria, the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, and where sea lions bask on the docks. You’ll visit The Dalles – once home to gunslingers and gold miners – at the end of the Oregon Trail. There’s also a chance to explore dramatic landscapes, including the mighty 186-metre Multnomah Falls, and cruise past idyllic scenes of hills dotted with cherry trees and vineyards.
If you like good wine, you will love this itinerary. Washington and Oregon produce some world-class drops – from The Dalles to the Walla Walla Valley to the Lewis-Clark Valley wine region – and you’ll get the opportunity to visit wineries, both up-and-coming and established.
THE CUMBERLAND AND TENNESSEE RIVERS
The American south is like a country within a country, bursting with unique character and charisma. Here, you’ll explore a part of the world where old-fashioned civility and hospitality have not gone out of style, visit picture-perfect small towns perched on riverbanks, and immerse in Civil War history galore.
As you cruise the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers, which wind their way through serene gorges and past the dramatic Great Smoky Mountains, you’ll find your paddlewheeler travels at just the right pace. Sitting on the deck, mint julep in hand, as you watch the landscape unfold is a special southern kind of bliss.
American Queen Voyages offers seven itineraries along these rivers, including the Chattanooga to Memphis trip, a 12-day journey aboard the American Countess or Duchess. The tour starts in Chattanooga, in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, where you will not be able to resist singing the Chattanooga Choo Choo as you visit the entertainment district of the same name, located by the old railway station.
American history buffs will be in their element on this voyage. In Decatur, Alabama, you’ll visit the Old State Bank, whose 22-inch-thick vault walls provided refuge during the Civil War. In Savannah, Tennessee, you can visit the site of the Battle of Shiloh, one of the best-preserved battlefields in the US. In serene Dover, Tennessee, you’ll hear stories of a violent Civil War past. And in Paducah, Kentucky, named after the Padouca Indians, you’ll explore a town that has tales to tell from the First Peoples to the Civil War and the fight for civil rights. The voyage ends in the blues capital of Memphis, where you can discover some musical history. After visiting Graceland, take a stroll down Beale Street, the Home of the Blues.
AMERICAN QUEEN VOYAGES
Experience the charms of Memphis to the diverse culinary world of New Orleans, aboard American Queen Voyages. Cruise the Lower Mississippi River on either the American Queen in 2023. Starting from $4,295 all-inclusive pp, now is the time to book your American dream holiday. Departing every second Sunday from 5 Mar through to 11 Jun, and 3 Sep, 22 Oct, 5 and 26 Nov and 10 Dec. Call 1800 076 290 or head to aqvoyages.com.au.