The call of the Mississippi is hard to deny. The Ol’ Man River has been immortalised in literature, art, film and song, from the heart-warming harmonies of Johnny Cash and Big Bill Broonzy to the adventures of Huckleberry Finn as penned by Mark Twain.
This seeming familiarity tugs on a deepest sense of nostalgia; the soulful music, spirited cities and rich history that springs to life on its sprawling banks stir even more. But it’s the sound of paddle wheels churning through those winding, silty waters that completes the scene.
The only way to navigate this iconic American river is onboard the American Queen – the only authentic overnight paddle-wheel steamboat in the USA.
To step on board is to step back in time, to the most romantic era in cruising. A far cry from the modern river boats powering up and down Europe’s waterways, this historic mode of transportation maintains the warm and inviting ambiance of a delightful, antebellum boutique hotel.
Period antiques, chandeliers, polished wood and upholstery channel Victorian charm across six sweeping decks, complete with white, wooden rocking chairs on the ornamental front porch, a gentlemen’s card room and a ladies’ parlour – fainting couch and all.
The American Queen doesn’t sing without the gleaming convenience of modern comfort though. And while the pristine cabins with hotel-style bathrooms and flat-screen TVs, the spa services, WiFi and pool add a contemporary twist, the theatre is where it most shines through.
Night after show-stopping night, talent takes to the stage in the posh, two-story Grand Saloon wonderfully reminiscent of an intimate, 19th-century opera house.
By day, history steals the show. Daily lectures from a dedicated “Riverlorian” as well as a line-up of guest historians provide colourful and entertaining context to the history of the paddle-steamers, the legendary Mississippi and the passing landscapes and cities – as well as their connections to many famous American figures.
Such astounding insights on local culture and heritage prove the perfect launching point once those red paddles stop spinning and the vintage steam engines fall silent; pulling into port brings the chance to step on dry land for a cultural discovery in the flesh.
Soulful stops. Top 5 Soulful Southern Stops in the USA
Prefer to drive? The Best Road Trippin' Routes in the USA
The most renowned port cities of the Lower Mississippi are also beaming icons of the Deep South: the character-laden streets of jazzy New Orleans, and Memphis, the soulful and melodic stomping ground of Elvis.
But this portion of the river snakes its way to many vibrant ports, through cotton fields and sugar cane plantations, past centuries-old towering oak trees, Civil War memorials and impeccably restored colonial mansions.
Along the northern reaches of the Upper Mississippi, trailing through the nation’s Heartland, many all-American hidden gems and quintessential beauties await discovery, from the dynamic atmosphere of St Louis to the picturesque twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The beauty of travelling the Mississippi propelled by steam is this: it offers a glimpse of America past and present, from the charismatic perspective of one of its most celebrated rivers – one that few have experienced beyond the pages of a book, the composition of a painting or the sweet caress of a sweet-sounding harmony.
So why not do it in heritage style on a true southern belle? The Mississippi is calling.
For the latest deals on travelling to the USA, browse our great range of offers online, visit your local Escape Travel or call 1300 556 855.