The more than 2,300-mile Mississippi River invites travelers to discover its multifaceted heritage, with a vast range of deeply rooted culture, music and history. A cruise is a fantastic way to discover many of the riverfront cities on a single trip, from the comfort of your modern riverboat or traditional paddle-wheeler.
This roundup of top itineraries can help you choose from cruises of various lengths and options for the Lower and Upper Mississippi. Note that all fares are listed as double occupancy (based on two people per cabin); prices also might not reflect taxes, port fees or gratuities. Check with the cruise line before booking.
Here’s a list of the best Mississippi River cruise itineraries you can book in 2023 or 2024.
American Cruise Lines
(Courtesy of American Cruise Lines / www.AmericanCruiseLines.com)
American Cruise Lines operates small ships accommodating between 90 and 180 passengers that are built, flagged and crewed in the U.S. – and it’s the only company in the world operating a 100% U.S.-flagged fleet of riverboats and cruise ships. ACL’s itineraries traverse waterways across 35 states, with 11 itineraries dedicated to the Mississippi River. Cruisers can choose to sail on modern riverboats with a sleek interior design or while away their time aboard classic paddle-wheelers reminiscent of days gone by.
ACL offers variety as well as versatility: This line boasts both the longest and shortest sailings on this list with cruises ranging from 5 to 60 days in length, including The Great United States. This newly announced 60-day voyage spans four major rivers and 20 states, making it the longest U.S. river cruise in history.
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.
Music Cities Cruise: Memphis to Nashville
Length: Eight days
Price: Starts at $3,610 per person
Spend a week getting lost in the sounds of the Memphis blues, rock ‘n’ roll and country music legends on the seven-night Music Cities Cruise. A hotel stay the night before your sailing is included, but embarking in Memphis means you also have the chance to splurge on a two-night pre-cruise package near Elvis’ former home Graceland.
Ports of call 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. Two scenic sailing days feature picturesque views of America’s Heartland along the Mississippi, Ohio and Cumberland rivers as well as Lake Barkley.
This itinerary is available in May and again in July through October in 2023 on one of the line’s new riverboats, including American Serenade, which joined the fleet in 2023. In 2024, available dates for the cruise run from June through November.
Grand Heartland Cruise: St. Paul to New Orleans
Length: 15 days
Price: Starts at $9,455 per person
This 15-day voyage allows you to explore America’s rich history in towns along the Upper and Lower Mississippi River. The immersive voyage covers six states and 12 cities including St. Paul, Minnesota; Dubuque, Iowa; St. Louis, Missouri; Memphis, Tennessee; Natchez, Mississippi; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and more.
Take a step back in time while visiting Mark Twain’s boyhood home in Hannibal, exploring stately historic estates in Natchez and Civil War sites in Vicksburg. At the end of a busy day ashore, you’ll have plenty to chat about with fellow passengers during the evening cocktail hour.
American Heritage – ACL’s traditional paddle-wheeler – and three modern riverboats set off on this journey in October 2023 as well as from August to October in 2024.
Highlights of the Mississippi River Cruise: Round-trip from New Orleans
Length: Five days
Price: Starts at $2,405 per person
Enjoy a complimentary overnight in New Orleans before embarking on your voyage from the Crescent City to sail along the Lower Mississippi River. Ports of call on this cruise include the historic estate of Houmas House in the small Southern town of Darrow, Louisiana. Cruisers will also have a day in Baton Rouge, the capital of the state – and where Cajun and Creole cuisine aficionados will be in culinary heaven with the endless array of offerings in the city.
In the small settlement of Vacherie in St. James Parish, learn more about the origins of Louisiana’s Creole heritage and cuisine: a blend of Spanish, French, West African and Native American cultures.
This shorter itinerary is available in June, November and December of 2023.
Complete Mississippi River Cruise: New Orleans to St. Paul
Length: 22 days
Price: Starts at $14,935 per person
If you want to see the entire Mississippi in one shot, check out this multiweek sailing that begins in New Orleans and ends in St. Paul, Minnesota. Along the way, you’ll sail 1,393 miles, visit 10 states and experience a staggering 20 ports of call as you tour Louisiana and then head northbound to Minnesota.
In the South, walk the battlefields of the Civil War and sample delicious Southern barbecue before listening to the rhythms of jazz, the blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Then, explore the small and larger cities along the upper parts of the river. Remember to take time to gaze out at the picturesque scenery and the rolling farmlands of America’s Midwest before disembarking in St. Paul.
Three of ACL’s modern riverboats sail this itinerary in June and August in 2023 and 2024.
The Great United States
Length: 60 days
Price: Starts at $51,000
This two-month long journey – the longest domestic itinerary ever created – will check all the boxes for U.S. history and Civil War buffs, music and nature lovers, culinary enthusiasts, and beer and distilled spirits aficionados alike as the ship traverses America’s iconic waterways through 20 states and 50 ports of call.
This epic journey showcases the natural beauty and living history of the U.S. from sea to shining sea. The sailing embarks in Portland, Oregon, on the Pacific Coast before traveling east to the Atlantic shore along four major rivers that highlight some of the country’s most stunning coastlines. Upon arrival in New York Harbor, guests will have an unforgettable view coming into port of one of the most iconic landmarks in the U.S.: the Statue of Liberty.
Passengers can follow in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark along the Snake and Columbia rivers; cruise along Ol’ Man River in search of Mark Twain and Elvis; see the vibrant colors of fall during peak season on the Hudson River; and take in the coastal breezes (and fresh seafood) along New England’s rocky coastline.
This curated adventure also includes two flights: Jackson, Wyoming, to New Orleans as well as St. Paul to Portland, Maine, plus a land package through Glacier, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. All-inclusive pricing covers the pre-cruise hotel stay, all flights and hotels between cruise segments, an ACL jacket and gear pack, daily excursions, all meals and beverages, gratuities and port charges, entertainment, and Wi-Fi. The inaugural cruise sets sail on August 14, 2024, and booking is now open.
American Queen Voyages
(Courtesy of American Queen Voyages)
American Queen Voyages – formerly the American Queen Steamboat Company, in a nod to its acclaimed riverboat roots – has expanded to lake, ocean and expedition voyages, in addition to the line’s river cruises. AQV Mississippi River sailings include a pre-cruise hotel stay with transportation to your ship, as well as included shore tours.
These all-inclusive cruises also boast open bars, multiple dining venues, live onboard entertainment, complimentary 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.
Nashville to St. Louis cruise
Length: Nine days
Price: Starts at $4,019 per person
Set sail from Clarksville, Tennessee – a charming city about 50 miles from Nashville – bound for a more than weeklong Mississippi River adventure. The sailing disembarks in the small town of Alton, Illinois, around 25 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, and then you’ll board American Countess, a classic 245-passenger paddle-wheeler, with daily calls on towns in Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri. During the cruise, guests will explore the area’s culture, nature and history, including sites significant to Native Americans and the Civil War. There are two sailings available on American Countess in June 2023 and August 2024, as well as a June 2024 cruise on American Queen.
St. Louis to Minneapolis cruise
Length: Nine days
Price: Starts at $4,069 per person
The Upper Mississippi is Mark Twain territory, so you might have to succumb to a recited passage or two. The line’s traditional paddle-wheelers are on hand to glide you through this hallowed territory, from Alton, Missouri, to Red Wing, Minnesota (docked a little more than 50 miles from Minneapolis).
This cruise stops in small towns like Hannibal, Missouri – featured frequently in Mark Twain’s writings since it’s his hometown – and Bettendorf, Iowa, for a hop-on, hop-off tour. You can also opt for a premium excursion to learn about family-run farms and industrial-level farm operations, beginning with a stop at the John Deere Pavilion in Moline, Illinois. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin, the picturesque town of La Crosse sits along the 3,000-mile Great River Road National Scenic Byway, regarded as one of the most scenic drives in the U.S.
AQV’s two paddle-wheelers, American Countess and American Queen, will sail this itinerary between July and September in 2023 and 2024.
Ottawa to St. Louis cruise
Length: Nine days
Price: Starts at $4,259 per person
For a unique approach to a Mississippi River cruise, consider this itinerary on American Countess sailing from Ottawa, Illinois, to Alton, Missouri (near St. Louis). The voyage highlights the small towns and cities along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers in the Midwest. In contrast to the metropolitan centers, you’ll also cruise past the river bluffs and lush prairies of America’s Heartland.
Before embarking, and once on board the ship, there are several days to explore Ottawa, which sits at the confluence of the Fox and Illinois rivers. Located about 80 miles from downtown Chicago, the city has a vibrant cultural and culinary scene and offers outdoor adventure, including Illinois’ most popular park, Starved Rock State Park. There are four other ports before disembarking the ship, including the towns of Peoria, Havana and Grafton in Illinois and Hannibal, Missouri. This cruise has one scheduled sailing for July 2024 on American Countess.
Viking River Cruises
(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, with its purpose-built ship: the 386-passenger Viking Mississippi. 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” with its distinct Scandinavian design and expansive top sun deck with an infinity plunge pool.
Viking’s mostly all-inclusive fares include a complimentary excursion in each port, destination lectures and performances, beer and wine at meals, free Wi-Fi, specialty coffees and teas, and more. The line offers five itineraries ranging in length from eight to 22 days along the Mighty Mississippi. Pre- and post-cruise extensions can be added to all voyages for an additional expense.
New Orleans & Southern Charms: Round-trip from New Orleans
Length: Eight days
Price: Starts at $3,999 per person
If you don’t know which Viking Mississippi itinerary to choose, start here. A round-trip voyage from New Orleans is convenient for booking flights and offers an excellent opportunity to extend your stay in NOLA. Six guided tours are included across eight days, from the historic estates of Natchez to Vicksburg National Military Park. A stop in St. Francisville gives you the chance to marvel at some of the 140-plus buildings it has on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you extend your stay in New Orleans, plan to sample the local Creole cuisine and take in some of the city’s nightly jazz entertainment. In the morning, grab a beignet and a steaming cup of chicory coffee au lait at the original Café du Monde in the French Market.
This itinerary is available on four dates in December 2023 and on two dates in January 2024.
Heart of the Delta: New Orleans to Memphis
Length: Nine days
Price: Starts at $4,299 per person
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 scenic views of the serpentine river route – perhaps with expert commentary or a local cooking demonstration – and then take time to explore the birthplace of the Memphis blues, which is also a center of civil rights history.
You can book this cruise from April to June as well as November to December in 2023. In 2024, it’s available January through June.
America’s Great River: St. Paul to New Orleans
Length: 15 days
Price: Starts at $12,999 per person
This Viking voyage sails from St. Paul to New Orleans on a two-week trip that calls on 13 ports with one day of scenic sailing. This itinerary combines the best of Viking’s other Mississippi sailings for an all-encompassing Midwestern and Southern experience with 12 guided tours.
Included in the fare is a tour of Graceland; a stroll through small-town Burlington, Iowa, to see Snake Alley, deemed the most crooked street in the world; and a visit to the National Eagle Center of Red Wing, among others. For an additional fee, hop on an airboat ride through the Atchafalaya Swamp in Baton Rouge or tour the Anheuser-Busch Brewery of St. Louis.
Viking offers sailings in June, July, September and October in 2023 in addition to one sailing each month during July, September and October 2024.
[Want to cruise the Mississippi River? See the top cruises on GoToSea, a service of U.S. News.]
You may have seen riverboat gambling ships or are at least familiar with riverboat gambling along U.S. waterways. However, while high rolling on the river sounds like an exciting way to spend a night (or two, or more) while on your riverboat cruise, you’ll have to jump ship to play the slots, roll the dice, spin the wheel or play a hand of Texas Hold ’em. Gambling on cruise ships sailing on internal waters is prohibited by U.S. law.
Gambling on boats in the U.S. is a complicated matter. While you will find some ships sailing along American waterways that are only set up for gambling, they are not carrying passengers from port to port. Most vessels that feature riverboat gambling are now moored, offering sports betting, table games, entertainment, live music and dancing while tethered to shore.
Why Trust U.S. News Travel
Gwen Pratesi has been an avid cruiser since her early 20s. She has sailed on nearly every type of cruise ship built, including the newest megaships, paddle-wheelers on America’s waterways, and an 18-stateroom river ship on the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia. Most recently, she traveled on a small luxury expedition vessel in Antarctica and crossed the notorious Drake Passage twice. She covers the travel and culinary industries, specializing in cruises, for major publications including U.S. News & World Report.