Steamboat paddle-wheeling up the Mississippi

Last year, we booked another bucket list dream trip, this time for a Mississippi River cruise on the American Queen.  Last week, we flew with friends, Mac and Loretta, to New Orleans a day ahead of embarkation.  Loretta knows good food and where to find it, and we said please make reservations wherever she wanted to go.  We ended up in the Garden District at the Commander’s Palace and ate like royalty.  The next morning, we all walked to Jackson Square.  We only had a few hours to look around before we would be boarding the American Queen.  So we succumbed to the humorous solicitations of George to climb into his carriage and allow his trusted mule Sugar Daddy to carry us around the French Quarter.  We had a blast!  Before hoofing it back to the hotel, we wandered the French Market and paused to sit and devour beignets in a corner café. 

It was a hot and steamy river walk.  We sighed in the hotel air conditioning for a quick lunch before trekking out to the dock where we expected a long line to board the steamboat.  We were pleasantly surprised to find no line and easy boarding.  We were in our cabin in minutes and our luggage was already there, ready for us to unpack.  We decided to explore the Mark Twain library and sitting room, the ladies parlor with settees and tea service, the men’s lounge with a huge mounted fish (big-mouthed bass?) and bear, the Front Porch with refreshments, tables and chairs and a swing. 

Rick and I sat on our balcony in the stern with the paddle wheel churning white foam and read.  Reading for pure pleasure is a luxury, and I dove into Lee Sandlin’s The Wicked River, a bon voyage gift from my agent, Danielle.  It’s packed with facts and river lore, a biography of the Mississippi before it was “tamed” with levees and locks and dredged of the sawyers and preachers (trees) that could so quickly sink the smaller boats that once traveled downriver.  The Mississippi River is wide and caramel colored.  It looks so calm, but appearances can be deceiving. 

We docked at Natchez and boarded the hop-on-hop-off bus.  There was much to see and we had to pick-and-choose.  We by-passed the Rosalie Mansion in favor of the Visitors Center with a film about the town, then boarded another bus for a ride to the William Johnson House (closed) and on to Magnolia Hall for a tour.  Then on again and off to Stanton Hall.  Natchez is a lovely town with history, nature and river trails, all of which will have to wait for another trip.

Next port of call was Vicksburg.  While Rick and Mac went off to the battlefield, Loretta and I boarded the bus and road around town before getting off at the Anchuca Mansion.  Jefferson Davis gave his last public address from the balcony of this grand home which is now a beautiful B&B.  We didn’t wait for the bus, enjoying the walk to the Old Court House Museum. 

Helena was an even smaller town.  After a quick visit to the Delta Cultural Center, we rode to St. Mary’s Catholic Church and walked to Fort Curtis, then to the Moore-Hornor House and on to the Pillow-Thompson House and Helena Museum (which had an amazing exhibit of Thomas Edison memorabilia the Smithsonian would love to grab).  We waited out front in the shade of a crepe myrtle for the last bus to the American Queen. 

Considering the leisurely pace on the river, the week was carrying us on white water.  We disembarked in Memphis and had a city tour with the final stop at Graceland.  Rick has been an Elvis Presley fan for years, along with almost every other human on the bus (who could sing some of his songs and did).  Unlike some of the stars of today, Elvis Presley’s home was not ostentatious and enormous.  It was a home, large and southern, with one section turned into a trophy room and museum of his movies and performances, an out-building recording studio and firing range.  A separate building across the street held his car collection, and he had two airplanes (not an entire fleet like John Travolta).  What impressed me most was how generous Elvis Presley was and how many charitable organizations he supported.  I also didn’t realize how many Gospel albums he recorded (and bought three when I did).  

We thoroughly enjoyed our river adventure. We’d like to go back again someday, rent a car and drift north through all those charming little river towns with their beautiful antebellum homes, lovely magnolia and crepe myrtle lined streets, local museums and friendly citizenry – and soak in the history.