Anyone who’s read a Mark Twain novel knows what it’s like to pine for a riverboat ride on the mighty Mississippi. A relaxed Mississippi River cruise aboard the Natchez steamboat paddle wheeler out of New Orleans is one great way to satisfy that Tom Sawyer urge and along the way learn about one of the worlds busiest ports.
Enjoy these Mississippi River photos taken on a two hour river cruise that leaves from New Orleans and travels both down river and up river — then book a Mississippi River cruise of your own. The Natchez is the only steamboat still operating from New Orleans. The sternwheeler providing river cruises on the Mississippi today is the ninth riverboat to bear the name Natchez — though several earlier versions of the paddle boat were sidewheelers.
After boarding the three-deck sternwheeler at Toulouse Street Wharf behind the Jackson Brewery the first order of business is to decide whether to sit outside on one of the sunny decks, or inside in one of the climate controlled cabins. Either way you’ll enjoy great views and have a truly educational experience. The riverboat’s steam calliope plays a fitting tune to launch your Mississippi River cruise. The steam calliope, which can produce 32-notes, is a uniquely American musical instrument that has been identified with steamboats since 1865.
With plenty of time onboard, I’d also recommend a quick tour of the riverboats engine room and paddle wheel to really appreciate this unique form of transportation. Your next stop may be the cocktail bar for a cool drink or a visit to the optional Creole buffet. A live jazz band contributes to the festive atmosphere. River cruise narration by professional guides adds considerable interest and can be heard anywhere on board the riverboat over a speaker system. Once under way the Natchez leaves the dock and heads down river passing by Jackson Square.
From the riverboat’s top deck you’ll have a great view of St. Louis Cathedral at the back of Jackson Square, the statue of Andrew Jackson in the center of the square, Washington Artillery Park and then—closest to the Mississippi—the Moon Walk. The Moon Walk was named for Mayor Moon Landrieu, under whose administration the riverfront beyond the flood wall was first made accessable to the public in the 1970s.
There’s plenty to see and learn on a two hour Mississippi River cruise. There is history—of steamboats on the river, and of New Orleans itself—and details about the dikes that run hundreds of miles along both sides of the Mississippi to control flooding.
With the Mississippi River several feet above sea level and New Orleans six feet below sea level, the flood walls are necessary. New Orleans, founded in 1718, was badly submerged many times in its early history. You will also see lots of other traffic on the river ranging from ferry boats, such as the Cajun Queen ferry and Creole Queen ferry boats, to ocean going barges A lot of cargo moves up and down the Mississippi river and the tour guide explains the purpose of nearly every ship, boat and barge you see, even down to its current cargo and destination in many instances.
The guide also points out the Chalmette Battle Field where Andrew Jackson and the pirate Jean Lafitte teamed up to defeat the British in the Battle of New Orleans. The Natchez eventually turns around and heads back up river, past the point it started from, providing views of New Orleans from the other side of the boat along the way. The Natchez will once again reverse course just before reaching the bridge known as the Crescent City Connection where US 90 crosses the Mississippi river. This double span bridge began life as the Greater New Orleans (GNO) bridge when the first span was constructed in 1958.
US 90 crosses back over the Mississippi further up-stream near Bridge City on the Huey P. Long Bridge. During Long’s controversial term as Governor of Louisiana, the state built over 2,300 miles of paved roads and 111 bridges. Calling himself The Kingfish, Huey P. Long had plans to become the U.S. President but was assassinated before he could achieve his ambitious goal. After making its final turn the Natchez heads downstream once again to its departure point. As the steam powered sternwheeler approaches the dock you’ll have a riverside view of three major complexes of retail specialty shops, restaurants and entertainment venues. Canal Place, The Jackson Brewery, The New Orleans Riverwalk and the Morial Convention Center now occupy the former site of the 1984 Louisiana World Exposition.
Here also is Woldenberg park with the Aquarium of the Americas which has more than a million gallons of exhibits, including Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico exhibits, an Amazon rain forest and the world’s largest collection of jellyfish. If you’re the type that likes to take a chance, Harrah’s Casino is just a block away at the foot of Canal Street.