A bit over a decade ago, the Defever 44 Indian Summer came into our lives. We and the Burnetts had grand plans for long cruises—some of which we actually did and reported in PropTalk. We never got to the Mississippi part of the Great Loop, however. So, when seeking a late-winter respite, Lucy found the Lower Mississippi River Cruise on American Symphony, a river cruise ship launched in 2022 at Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, MD. 

Mississippi river cruise
American Symphony. Photos courtesy of American Cruise Lines

Symphony is small compared to oceangoing cruise ships, but compared to the 44-foot Indian Summer, she’s huge: 328 feet x 59 feet x 12.3 feet. There are some differences other than size, too. For instance, it almost seems there is at least one American Cruise Line employee standing by each passenger to make sure there is no hint of discomfort—and certainly not hunger or thirst. Here and there are scattered bowls of freshly baked cookies. And all navigation and boat handling challenges are handled by the folks with stripey shoulder boards, so passengers can focus on the two dining rooms, several lounges, and the workout facility to shed the calories.

Mississippi river cruise
Riverboats are inherently smaller with fewer guests onboard, making for a more intimate and personalized travel experience.

Our itinerary began in New Orleans; we cruised on American Symphony from New Orleans to Memphis with stops at Houmas House, Baton Rouge, Natchez, and Vicksburg, ending in Memphis. Most river travel was at night, with bus excursions to points of interest during the day. There were tours of old plantations and a catamaran swamp voyage featuring almost-tame alligators, turtles, wild pigs, and racoons. There were guided tours of Civil War battlefields, and time just to walk around and look at the port cities. Museums, particularly devoted to Black history, slavery, and the Civil War brought Mississippi history into perspective. 

On the boat, evening live music, some lectures, a bingo game, and other diversions competed with college basketball on the large-screen in the room and on the Wi-Fi-attached iPad. It was March, you see.

Mississippi river cruise
One of the lounges onboard American Symphony. 

We had envisioned the Mississippi as a pretty straight shot from Minnesota to the Gulf. In reality, the part we saw winds back and forth so sharply that one of the pilots told us he occasionally uses bow thrusters to supplement the turning power pods to get Symphony around a sharp and narrow bend. Occasional narrow spots and frequent tug and barge traffic require constant attention by the pilots. Routinely, we saw tugs pushing as many as eight barges lashed together. Those going upriver seemed barely moving against the five- to seven-knot current. 

In a week on the river, we saw exactly zero pleasure boats, although a 15-foot aluminum skiff was launched from Symphony and ran around outside the moored cruise liner for a few minutes. We were not surprised, since the lower Mississippi sees heavy commercial traffic, both moving and tied along the banks, and the current would make pleasure-boat handling a challenge. One of the pilots told us there are very few marinas where fuel is available for small boats. Symphony was fueled by a small tanker coming alongside in New Orleans and another in Memphis.

Mississippi river cruise
Charlie and Lucy Iliff. 

It was our first cruise-ship experience, and so we have no basis for comparison. Since we are already spending time on the American Cruise Lines website, however, it seems likely that we will be repeat customers. There is nothing quite like being pampered and having no responsibility for a week. 

By Charlie Iliff