December 11, 2023

In American folklore, the Mississippi River likely evokes Mark Twain’s characters of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. But the true appeal of the Southern cities along this more than 2,300-mile river stretches well beyond fictional rascals of the 19th century, inviting modern Americans to discover a multifaceted heritage. From its deep musical roots of country, jazz and bluegrass to a complicated legacy of slavery and the experiences of Black people, the Mississippi confronts visitors with a vast range of culture and history. A cruise is a fantastic way to discover a number of the cities along the Mississippi River on a single trip, from the comfort of your riverboat.

Now more than ever, domestic travel has gained popularity for being accessible and close to home. The CDC recommends but does not currently require COVID-19 testing for domestic air travel; cruise lines, however, must still keep certain rules in place for the health and safety of the passengers they welcome on board. Three main cruise lines ply the waters of the Mississippi River: American Cruise Lines, American Queen Voyages (formerly American Queen Steamboat Company), and river cruise veteran Viking River Cruises, which will christen its first voyage on U.S. rivers in June 2022 on the Viking Mississippi.

There is no single best Mississippi River itinerary, and in fact the plethora of options might surprise you. You could spend five days on the river or up to three weeks; sail full circle from New Orleans or one way from Tennessee to Missouri; cruise along in a modern riverboat or a traditional paddle-wheeler. Travelers looking for an extra hook can also find themed Mississippi River cruises celebrating American music or spirits (bourbon, that is, not ghost stories – though you’ll find plenty of both). Once you’ve sailed the Upper Mississippi, you can then explore the Lower Mississippi for your next river adventure.

With so many choices, here’s a list of the top Mississippi River cruise itineraries you can book in 2022 or 2023. Note that all fares are listed as double occupancy, or based on two people per cabin; prices also might not reflect taxes, port fees or gratuities. Check with the cruise line before booking.

American Cruise Lines

The River Lounge, including plush chairs, coffee tables and a piano in the back.

(Courtesy of American Cruise Lines /

American Cruise Lines operates small ships that are built, flagged and crewed in the U.S. – a relative rarity in the cruise industry. Of the cruise line’s many U.S. voyages, which touch 28 states, 10 itineraries are dedicated to the Mississippi. From brand-new ships with a sleek interior design to the classic paddle-wheelers of your slow-sailing dreams, ACL offers variety as well as versatility: This line offers both the longest and shortest sailings on this list. Complimentary hotel and transportation packages are available from every departure city before your cruise. You can book certain premium packages for added perks such as two nights spent next door to Graceland in Memphis – with VIP tickets and a city tour included in the price.

COVID-19 requirements: American Cruise Lines requires travelers to fill out a pre-cruise health form disclosing your vaccination status, but specific vaccine requirements vary by state and region. In the event a guest is unvaccinated, that passenger could be subject to additional testing, limitations on port visits or excursion options, and minimal notice should vaccination become mandatory before the cruise starts. ACL’s boarding process requires all cruisers to take an antigen test the day of embarkation or (if applicable) when you check in to a pre-cruise hotel. Wearing face masks on board is optional.

Memphis to Nashville music-themed cruise

Length: Eight days
Price: Starts at $3,960 per person (AAR stateroom)

Spend a week getting lost in the sounds of music legends on the seven-night Music Cities Cruise from blues and country capitals Memphis to Nashville (also available in reverse). A hotel stay the night before your sailing is included, but starting from Memphis means you also have the chance to splurge on a two-night stay in the shadow of Elvis near his former home of Graceland. Other ports include Paducah, Kentucky; Dover, Tennessee; and Clarksville, Tennessee, with an overnight in Nashville and an included excursion to a show at the Grand Ole Opry. Jam out on your balcony during two scenic sailing days, which feature the Ohio River, Cumberland River and Lake Barkley. The 190-passenger American Jazz began sailing the Lower Mississippi in March 2021 for its inaugural season and includes private balconies in all staterooms.

St. Paul to New Orleans cruise

Length: 15 days
Price: Starts at $10,840 per person (A stateroom)

The 175-passenger American Melody is also new to the ACL fleet, inaugurated in 2021 and designed to sail the Mississippi River. Spend two weeks traversing the epic Mississippi on a special itinerary called the Grand Heartland Cruise, which departs aboard the American Melody on Nov. 4, 2022 (this itinerary is also offered on select other 2022 and 2023 dates aboard other vessels). This cruise allows you to explore six states and 12 cities including St. Paul, Minnesota; Dubuque, Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; Natchez, Mississippi; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and more. The gorgeous scenery, tours of historic sites and even a visit to Mark Twain’s hometown will ensure you reach your river cruise potential on this adventure.

New Orleans round-trip cruise

Length: Five days
Price: Starts at $2,455 per person (A stateroom)

The 150-passenger American Heritage, formerly called Queen of the Mississippi, received a total redesign for the 2022 season. This paddle-wheeler hosts a succinct four-night sailing – Highlights of the Mississippi River – on July 23, 2022, for anyone looking to add on a quick cruise to their time in the “Crescent City.” Enjoy an overnight in New Orleans, a day in Baton Rouge and a visit to the Houmas House plantation among other interesting stops and excursions. The Oak Alley Plantation tour in Vacherie, Louisiana, is a highlight for many on a river cruise, and this sailing takes you straight there. Completed in 1839, this estate with its iconic arch of oak trees, located about 50 miles outside of New Orleans, is now a National Historic Landmark documenting the slaves who lived and worked here along with 200 years of history. This itinerary is also available on the American Symphony and American Splendor.

New Orleans to St. Paul cruise

Length: 22 days
Price: Starts at $12,510 per person (A stateroom)

If you want to see the entire Mississippi in one shot, check out this standout multiweek sailing that begins in New Orleans and ends in St. Paul, Minnesota. Along the way, you will experience a staggering 20 ports of call as you tour Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota. Walk the battlefields of the Civil War, sample delicious Southern barbecue and explore stops like the quaint town of St. Francisville during the Complete Mississippi River Cruise. The 185-passenger American Splendor – formerly known simply as America – will get you there in style; this ship was recently refurbished for the 2022 season with updates spanning carpeting and furniture to artwork. Three weeks on the Mississippi River isn’t cheap, but this sailing on July 20, 2022, will allow you to see it all. If that cruise is too soon to get on board, sail dates are available to book in September 2022 or in summer 2023 on various other ships.

American Queen Voyages

American Queen Voyages cruise ship on the Mississippi River in New Orleans at dusk.

(Courtesy of American Queen Voyages)

American Queen Voyages – formerly the American Queen Steamboat Company, in a nod to its acclaimed riverboat roots – is sailing into the future with an expansion to lake, ocean and expedition voyages as well as its river cruises. AQV Mississippi River sailings include a pre-cruise hotel stay with transportation to your ship, as well as shore tours. These all-inclusive cruises also boast open bars, multiple dining venues, live onboard entertainment, bikes and more. The cruise line owns four paddle-wheelers to traverse rivers, including the American Countess, unveiled in 2020, and its flagship American Queen, the largest steamboat ever constructed.

COVID-19 requirements: All passengers and crew aboard AQV ships are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The day before boarding, guests must fill out a health questionnaire at their included pre-cruise hotel and take a mandatory antigen test; cruisers are also welcome to provide a negative COVID-19 test taken within two days of embarkation from an accredited third-party. Masks are optional to wear on board unless you’re symptomatic.

Nashville to St. Louis cruise

Length: Eight days
Price: Starts at $3,098 per person (IS – Interior Stateroom)

Set your sights for August 2023 when the American Duchess will set sail from Clarksville, Tennessee, a charming city about 50 miles from Nashville. Bound for a more than weeklong Mississippi River adventure, this sailing ends in the small town of Alton, Illinois, about 30 miles from St. Louis, Missouri. (Riverboat docking locations are sometimes in the closest town to a more touristed city.) An included hotel stay kicks off your cruise, then you’ll board this classic, 166-passenger paddle-wheeler. Cruisers will head through Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, traversing the area’s culture, nature and history, including sites significant to Native Americans and the Civil War.

St. Louis to Minneapolis cruise

Length: Eight days
Price: Starts at $2,698 per person (E – Inside Stateroom)

The Upper Mississippi is Mark Twain territory, so you might have to succumb to a recited passage or two. The new, 245-passenger American Countess paddle-wheeler is on hand to glide you through this hallowed territory, from Alton, Illinois, to Red Wing, Minnesota (docked a little more than 50 miles from Minneapolis). This cruise stops in small, quirky towns like Hannibal, Missouri – featured frequently in Mark Twain’s writings – or Bettendorf, Iowa, for a hop-on hop-off tour. In the Wisconsin town of La Crosse you’ll find the Riverside International Friendship Gardens. Sail in July or September 2022 or in late August 2023 on the American Countess – other dates and ships are also available for this itinerary.

Viking River Cruises

Viking cruise ship under a bridge on the Mississippi River.

(Courtesy of Viking)

Viking is no stranger to sailing Europe’s rivers; the brand is in fact synonymous with river cruising worldwide aboard its dozens of ships. However, Viking River Cruises is a newcomer to U.S. rivers, and its custom-built ship – the 386-passenger Viking Mississippi – will mark that milestone when it sails its inaugural Mississippi River cruise in June 2022. During its first season on sale, Viking Mississippi will offer four itineraries plus a holiday-themed cruise. Looking to carve out its own niche in the American river cruising category, Viking claims it has the region’s “first truly modern cruise ship” given its distinct Scandinavian design and expansive top sun deck with an infinity plunge pool. Pre- and post-cruise extensions can be added to all voyages for an additional expense.

COVID-19 requirements: Viking is rigorous in its health and safety measures, requiring all guests and crew to be fully vaccinated to board, with the strong recommendation that you receive a booster when eligible. Additionally, all passengers are required to take a pre-departure PCR test within 72 hours of traveling to your cruise or an antigen test within 24 hours. Upon embarkation, guests will also be asked to take a saliva PCR test from the comfort of your staterooms. Once a negative result is issued, masks remain optional for the length of the sailing unless conditions change. Up to daily saliva tests could be required by the cruise line – free of charge.

New Orleans round-trip cruise

Length: Eight days
Price: Starts at $3,999 per person (V1 Veranda or FB French Balcony)

If you don’t know which Viking Mississippi itinerary to choose, start here. A round-trip sail from New Orleans is convenient for booking flights and offers the excellent opportunity to extend your stay in NOLA. Six guided tours are included across eight days, from the local history of Natchez to the Vicksburg National Military Park. A stop in St. Francisville gives you the chance to marvel at some of the more than 140 buildings it has on the National Register of Historic Places. Dates in 2022 are sold out for this Southern Charms cruise, but check out 2023 sailings in January and December.

New Orleans to Memphis cruise

Length: Eight days
Price: Starts at $3,999 per person (V1 Veranda or FB French Balcony)

Similar to its round-trip New Orleans Southern Charms itinerary, the Heart of the Delta cruise begins in New Orleans and calls on the same five ports – before sailing through the Lower Mississippi and disembarking in Memphis. Enjoy the scenic views of the serpentine river route – perhaps with expert commentary or a local cooking demonstration on board – and then take time to explore the birthplace of Memphis blues, which is also a center of civil rights history. Guests can experience more time in two headlining cities on this cruise. All 2022 dates are sold out for this itinerary, but there is availability throughout 2023.

St. Louis to St. Paul cruise

Length: Eight days
Price: Starts at $4,499 per person (V1 Veranda or FB French Balcony)

Tackling the Upper Mississippi and inching closer to the expeditions of Lewis and Clark, this Viking sailing dubbed “America’s Heartland” is available in August and September 2023. Cruisers can expect a tour tracing the novels of Mark Twain in Hannibal, Missouri, as well as an unconventional stop in Quad Cities, Iowa, known as the home of the Deere family of John Deere tractors. Other available tours might include a visit to a local Midwestern farm to see what’s involved in putting food on the table. Note that one shore excursion is included per port. Red Wing, Minnesota, another stop, is famed for its footwear company and eagle population, as well as Native American history. End in St. Paul, where you can extend your stay if you wish.

St. Paul to New Orleans cruise

Length: 15 days
Price: Starts at $12,999 per person (V1 Veranda or FB French Balcony)

Viking’s grand Mississippi voyage sails from St. Paul to New Orleans (and the reverse) on a two-week trip that calls on 13 ports with two days of scenic sailing. This itinerary combines the best of Viking’s other Mississippi sailings for an all-encompassing Southern experience that offers 11 guided tours. Included in the fare is a tour of Graceland; a stroll through small-town Burlington, Iowa, to see the “crookedest street in the world”; and a visit to the National Eagle Center of Red Wing, among others. For an additional fee choose to kayak or canoe the Atchafalaya Swamp of Baton Rouge or tour the Anheuser-Busch Brewery of St. Louis. Select summer 2024 dates are available for this popular cruise.

[Want to cruise the Mississippi River? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]

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