Unmissable Excursions On A Mississippi River Cruise
As part of a recent river cruise trip, Charli May was lucky enough to visit some of the Lower Mississippi’s most interesting ports of call. Sailing out of New Orleans with American Cruise Lines, she was given the opportunity to experience some of the exciting, complimentary tours offered as part of a Lower Mississippi River cruise.
Here are the top four excursions she experienced during her time in the USA.
New Orleans marked the start of our journey, as we enjoyed a pre-cruise stay in this bustling city. This was the port of call I was most excited about visiting, as the colourful, music-orientated nightlife is famous all around the world. Our pre-cruise stay was completely self-guided, so after transferring to the hotel, we took it upon ourselves to explore the area and find the famed Bourbon Street.
Bourbon Street was as bustling and full of music as we expected. Jazz clubs, restaurants with live bands and classic rock bars line the streets, with patrons spilling out of the cramped spaces to bring the party onto the streets. Each building is lined with the typical wrought iron balconies, which make Bourbon Street look just as beautiful as it is lively. For an authentic New Orleans experience, we enjoyed a drink at a live music bar, as a classic rock tribute band played songs from the 70s and 80s, before heading back to the hotel.
New Orleans was also the final port-of-call on our round-trip cruise and concluded with a guided city tour. This allowed us to see all of the sights we couldn’t during our initial overnight stay. Our journey through the “Big Easy” took us to the popular French Quarter with its famous stately mansions, cast iron balconies and many Jazz Clubs. We also visited Jackson Square, a historic park in the heart of the city, home to the iconic St. Louis Cathedral. After the tour, we had plenty of time to enjoy some of the local cuisine, including chicory coffee and sweet beignets from the renowned Café Beignet.
Atchafalaya Basin Tour
The Atchafalaya swamp tour was definitely my favourite excursion of the whole trip. The excursion started with a narrated coach tour from where we were docked in Baton Rouge to Henderson for the basin tour. The local guide on board the coach was extremely knowledgeable and gave a fascinating insight into the towns we passed through, as well as a general history of Louisiana.
Once we arrived at the visitor centre, we were given our choice of tour boat. I opted for the open-sided boat, as I wanted the best views, but there is a high-sided option as well. The tour lasted around an hour, led by a local guide who talked us through the abundant plant and wildlife species indigenous to the area. We also learnt about the locals living on houseboats and helping to protect America’s largest and most complex wetland.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see any alligators, but we did see many of the native birds who call the swamp their home including heron, osprey and cormorants.
The state capital of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, is a melting pot of historical sights, political buildings and prodigious university campus. Our excursion started with an hour-long guided bus tour around the city. Narrated by a local guide, the tour gave a comprehensive overview of the historic landmarks of the town. We passed by the striking Gothic-revival Old State Capital building, 18th century Magnolia Mound Plantation house, Old Governor's Mansion, typical suburban streets and the sprawling Louisiana State University complete with 100,000 capacity stadium and live tiger mascot.
The tour was followed by free time to visit the Capitol Park Museum, located opposite the new Capital building modelled on the Empire State Building. Usually closed on Mondays, the museum was open only to American Cruise Lines guests, which made for a leisurely experience and gave the excursion an extra-special feel. The museum is full of diverse displays detailing all aspects of Louisiana’s history, industry and culture from the Civil War and Mark Twain to the Jazz age and the infamous Mardi Gras. From here, we were transferred back to the ship just before dinner. The ship is moored in Baton Rouge for two nights, meaning you also have plenty of time to explore the sights or nightlife on your own as well.
The Oak Alley plantation tour was the excursion I was most looking forward to during my trip. The sprawling canopy of live oak trees and stunning antebellum home which we glimpsed as we arrived did not disappoint. After a 30-minute coach ride from the vessel to the plantation, we had around two and a half hours to explore the mansion house, slave quarters, Civil War exhibit, blacksmith shop and sugarcane fields. Included in the excursion was a 35-minute guided tour of the ‘Big House’, which detailed the lives of the original owners and briefly touched on life for a slave.
The two hours we had was plenty of time to explore the house and grounds, and to take a look around the reconstructed slave houses. Included as part of our excursion, we were also treated to a complimentary Mint Julep cocktail. The vibrant green drink is a traditional southern tipple made from bourbon and mint syrup and was the perfect way to end the excursion.
You can visit all of these ports of call, and more, on American Cruise Lines’ Lower Mississippi and New Orleans Round-Trip itineraries. Call our friendly team on 0800 954 0064 to discuss the itineraries available and plan your Mississippi River cruise.