Mississippi: the next big thing

Mississippi: the next big thing
By admin


For American literary great Mark Twain, the Mississippi was not just another river. His two classic American novels – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – were all about the high jinks of their spirited young protagonists along this iconic waterway of America's south. Twain even wrote a book called Life on the Mississippi, in which he remarked that it is "not a commonplace river, but on the contrary, is in all ways remarkable". Nautical by nature, the writer's real name was in fact Samuel Clemens – he took his pen name Mark Twain from a term used on the river to measure water depth.

A RIVER RENAISSANCE

People have been cruising the Mississippi for a long time, however during the last few years there's been something of a hiatus, with the two largest river cruise operators trawling the Big Muddy going bust in 2008. But it's now experiencing something of a comeback, with three different companies relaunching cruising on the Mississippi this year: the American Queen Steamboat Company (formerly the Great American Steamboat Company) with the American Queen, American Cruise Lines with Queen of the Mississippi, and Blount Small Ship Adventures with Grand Caribe.

The revamped American Queen, which previously sailed for the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, commenced upper and lower Mississippi sailings in April, and also offers cruises on the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. Features of the 436-passenger paddlewheel steamboat include an opulent two-level Grand Saloon, an elegant two-deck Dining Room, and staterooms and suites appointed with period furnishings and antique touches, many with their own private verandah. And there's a host of voyages to choose from, such as the 10-day St Louis to St Paul and the nine-day Memphis to New Orleans.

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GETTING TO KNOW THE OLD MISS

American Queen Steamboat Company's senior vice president of marketing, Tim Rubacky, said while many travellers were familiar with ocean cruising or river cruising in Europe, steamboating on the great rivers of America was "distinctive and tantalisingly different.

"Our guests experience an America that evokes a simpler time, where an entire town proudly turns out to greet a gleaming white steamboat," he said. "Travellers will enjoy this truly American experience, celebrated by Mark Twain and others, of steamboat voyages on the great rivers of the America's heartland." Departure cities include Memphis (its home port), New Orleans, St Louis, Chattanooga and Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, Blount Small Ship Adventures offers three Mississippi itineraries onboard the 96-passenger Grand Caribe – the eight-day Tennessee Traditions on the Mississippi River, the nine-day Treasures of the Mississippi: Memphis to New Orleans and the 12-day Southern Traces: New Orleans to Nashville. And American Cruise Lines' new Queen of the Mississippi, a 50-passenger paddlewheeler, will embark on its first sailing in August, departing from New Orleans. The riverboat will offer a number of seven, 10 and 14-day cruises along the Mississippi.

WATCH THIS SPACE

River cruising is gathering serious momentum among Australians. According to the International Cruise Council Australasia's latest figures, river cruising passenger numbers grew by 22% to almost 35,000 in 2011, accounting for 6% of Australian cruise passenger numbers.

Home-based chain TravelManagers is one network now selling Mississippi cruises and chairman Barry Mayo said he expected the river to grow in popularity starting from 2013.

"Australians cannot get enough of cruising. As the US is now the top international destination for Australians travelling overseas, Mississippi cruising is set to fire," he said. "This is an excellent way to see the south including New Orleans, Memphis, St Louis and Baton Rouge. One can feel like they are back in the 1920s, meandering along the river with cargo such as cotton, tobacco and sugar."

Australians would love immersing themselves in the history while enjoying the comforts of an exercise room, swimming pool and flat screen TVs in every cabin, Mayo said. "Depending on the trip length and type of cabin, rates range from $US995 ($965) per person to more than $US8000 ($7760) for the most luxurious accommodation."

Elsewhere, there are opportunities for travellers to take a Mississippi river cruise as part of a broader tour itinerary taking in America's south. In its new 2013/14 USA and Canada brochure, Insight Vacations has introduced an eight-day Optional Mississippi River Cruise extension to a couple of its itineraries, sailing on the American Dream. These are the 22-day Rhythms and Flavours of America with Mississippi Cruise and the 17-day Southern Tastes and Dixie Tunes with Mississippi Cruise.

Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au

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