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Sweet dreams are made of this ... rolling on the Mississippi River with the in-laws of Annie Lennox

Wide and awesome it certainly is. Picturesque and chocolate box it certainly isn't. So if you like your river cruising to be full of picture postcard scenery and hillside castles found on the waterways of Europe, then the mighty Mississippi probably isn't going to be your thing, writes SeaView editor David Simpson.

On the other hand, if, like me, you are into American history, especially the Civil War and what resulted from it, then exploring the sugar plantations with their beautiful antebellum (before the war) homes and the lands where brother fought brother in the most tragic of conflicts, as you cruise from New Orleans to Memphis and beyond, must not be missed.

Queen of the Mississippi
The Queen of the Mississippi is a modern day reincarnation of the transport that plied the river more than 200 years ago This and all pictures ©SeaView Network

The largest river in the United States flows 2,300 miles through the states Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana into the Gulf of Mexico, and cruising even a tiny stretch is a humbling experience, given added authenticity by viewing it from the comfort of American Cruise Lines’ paddlewheeler, Queen of the Mississippi.

The vessel, in service since 2015, is a reincarnation of the transport that plied the river more than 200 years ago, but with modern day comforts including some of the largest river staterooms afloat and cuisine to match anything that I have experienced in more than 35 years of cruising.

Her stern-mounted paddlewheel is not quite traditional, however, being powered by diesel rather than steam, with thrusters providing additional speed. But does that matter?

Our cruise departed New Orleans with 150 guests on board, having spent two nights at the only-average InterContinental Hotel that provided us with a beautiful view of a multi-storey car park from our fifth-floor bedroom window instead of the promised city view from a balcony.

It was difficult to warm to the city given the repeated warnings not the leave the hotel at night, although we did venture next door to the Tsunami Japanese restaurant which, despite its somewhat tasteless name, served delicious cuisine. By day we visited the marvellous National World War II Museum, which is a must-see, as is the neighbouring Confederate Memorial Hall Museum, and meandered around the wonderfully atmospheric French Quarter, also taking in a mule-drawn carriage ride.

New Orleans French Quarter
A mule-drawn carriage ride enhanced the French Quarter experience of New Orleans

But while the city regrettably didn’t live up to our expectations, the cruise did as the Queen transported us into a Gone With the Wind world where we could imagine the wealth of the plantations owners, the misery of the slaves, which was not ignored but not over-played, and how the Civil War changed everything.

After a leisurely night gliding upriver, our first morning was spent at Oak Alley Plantation, just 50 miles out of New Orleans so usually busy with day trippers from the city. Its 300-year-old canopy of live oaks leading to the Greek Revival antebellum home is beautiful to behold, explaining why it is one of the most photographed landmarks in the States.

Oak Alley Plantation
Oak Alley’s 300-year-old canopy of live oaks is one of the most photographed landmarks in the United States, while Houmas House, below, is regarded as the Crown Jewel of the River Road
Houmas House Mississippi

The house itself is surprisingly small by today’s mansion standards, and displayed little in the way of original artefacts, whereas Houmas House, which we visited in the afternoon, had 16 rooms packed to the rafters with period antiques and Louisiana artwork. No wonder it is regarded as the Crown Jewel of the River Road, providing a glimpse of the life enjoyed by wealthy sugar barons in the 1800s.

The 38 acres of lush grounds, including a Japanese garden and age-old oak trees festooned with Spanish moss, are delightful, and nestled away in a secret corner is the art studio of Craig Black, appropriately named Art Noir, brimming with his own spectacular work which he somehow finds time to create while tending the Houmas landscape.

Visits to the Rosedown Plantation in St Francisville, a short drive from the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge, and Frogmore Plantation in Natchez threw further light on the antebellum lifestyle.

But Longwood, our final home call to what would have undoubtedly been one of the most opulent houses of Natchez had it been completed, demonstrated the disastrous consequence of the war. All of the builders quit to fight for the Union, and its owner, cotton planter Haller Nutt, died of pneumonia with his fortune in tatters and only nine of the 32 rooms completed.

Longwood Natchez
The incomplete Longwood mansion demonstrates the disastrous consequence of the American Civil War

Having seen many Civil War battlegrounds on previous visits to the States, one of the major attractions of our cruise was a guided tour of the National Military Park at Vicksburg which commemorates the campaign, siege an defence of the town in 1863. It was a key battle, coinciding with that taking place at Gettysburg, and defeat in both signalled the end for the Confederate forces, although they fought on for two more years, suffering horrendous casualties.

Our tour guide was a mine of information, leading us through 16 miles of battle lines marked with splendid memorials for the soldiers of every state, north and south, who took part in the engagements.

Sun Studio Memphis
A day spent in Memphis featured a city tour including a visit to Sun Studio, the birthplace of Rock ‘N’ Roll

A host of alternative tours were available to those not keen on plantations and the war, and our final day in Memphis offered the opportunity to visit the Graceland home of Elvis Presley, the Peabody Hotel, made world famous by its twice-daily march of the ducks, Sun Studio, the birthplace of Rock ‘N’ Roll, and a drive past the Martin Luther King Museum, the motel where the Civil Rights leader was assassinated in 1968.

The previous day had been quietly spent cruising the Mississippi and relaxing in one of the various lounges, picturing the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn brought do vividly to life by Mark Twain, or trying to spend a few moments on the balcony of our expansive stateroom. This is not as easy as it sounds, given that the heat, even at the beginning of November, was still uncomfortably high, boosted by the humidity.

Two weeks earlier, the dial had hit 100, with 100-degree humidity making the climate almost intolerable.

Thankfully, round-the-clock air conditioning came to our rescue, but we were warned to keep our stateroom French window closed to avoid the room swiftly turning damp, and also to keep out any creepy-crawlies.

Queen of the Mississippi
The cruise was given added authenticity by enjoying the views from the comfort of American Cruise Lines’ paddlewheeler, Queen of the Mississippi
Queen of the Mississippi

Of our 148 companions on the cruise, two were German, one was from Japan and the rest were, unsurprisingly, from all parts of America ... and extremely sociable. They are immediately attracted by an English accent, which means you are never short of conversation, and we had the good fortune to make some wonderful new friends and share a memorable dinner, and even a few hands of bridge, with the mother and father in law of the iconic Scottish soul singer Annie Lennox.

That’s the joy of cruising. You never quite know what is going to happen next.

One final thing ... be prepared to eat. From morning to night, the food is fabulous and plentiful. And the evening meal is even preceded by aperitifs and a fabulous buffet that is a meal in itself.

THE CRUISE: Lower Mississippi River Cruise on American Cruise Lines’ Queen of the Mississippi. March to July and October to December. 8 nights from £4,020pp cruise only. Call 0808 271 4510 or visit Fred River Cruises

GETTING THERE: Fly Virgin Atlantic to Atlanta for a connecting Delta flight to New Orleans. Return Delta flight from Memphis to Atlanta to connect with Virgin flight to Heathrow.

Posted on 22nd February 2019 at 02:56 pm in Cruise News | Cruise Lines |

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