I’ve been on several boat trips—a barge cruise in France, a Danube River cruise, a sail along the Nile—and always the accommodations have been lovely. Sometimes very lovely. But it took a Mississippi River cruise from Memphis to New Orleans with American Cruise Lines to reach luxurious.
“Stateroom” doesn’t adequately describe the accommodations on the American Symphony that are more like a midsize hotel room. Lots of closet space—check. Flat-screen TV—check. Vases of fresh flowers—check. Private balcony—check. Sumptuous robe—check. It was so comfortable that we almost hated leaving it. But food and excursions beckoned.
The gourmet meals were fortunately accessible by the half-portion because multiple types of edibles are available around the clock. More snacks are accessible in multiple lounges than in your neighborhood 7-Eleven. Return from an excursion and a candy basket welcomes you back. In your room a delicious pastry awaits you on your dresser. Warm cookies show up every day at 10 and 3. And a menu separate from the dining room is available from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Sky Lounge. A daily cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres precedes dinner. Heaven forbid you should go to dinner actually hungry—not that that seemed to hinder anyone. This was not exactly a spa vacation. Yes, there is a fitness room, but as one crew member said, “It’s the cleanest room on board!”
I’m accustomed to complimentary wine and beer available at meals, but here all manner of alcohol is available all day. You gotta love a cruise that offers Baileys with your morning coffee. If you’re a teetotaler, this might not be the cruise for you. We were way beyond the “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” rule. Bloody Marys abound in the morning, and the 3 o’clock lecture features a rum punch.
And with all of this, no tipping. Several times my husband and I said to each other: “Why in the world would every crew member be so gracious when they’re not even getting tipped?”
At the introductory meeting, Christian, our cruise director, described all of the on-board activities and shore excursions available, using the word “enrichment” about five times during the half-hour presentation.
Multiple excursions are offered daily from walking tours of the different cities to visits to myriad museums, historic homes, national parks, gardens, plantations, cultural outings, and outdoor adventures. On board there are daily lectures, interactive games galore, guest speakers, music, and multiple places to just get away from it all to read, isolate, socialize, or just ponder life. Every night there is entertainment from ’50s and ’60s sing-alongs to blues band, C&W combos, comedians, and more.
You can be as social or anti- as you like. The option at every meal is to dine alone or with others, and everyone was friendly, interesting and well-traveled. And, of course you can do as much or as little as you like. The alfresco upper deck is a delightful place to read or just watch the river world pass by. And if you’re anything of a Civil War buff, this trip resembles heaven. Every town involves a Civil War museum, Civil War history, military encampments, and Civil War forts. Once back on the boat an assortment of lectures on the Civil War are on offer. Other options have wider appeal.
The most appealing to me? The Great River Outdoor Adventure. Driving the ATV around the Double C Ranch seemed innocuous enough at first. We initially saw a herd of cows cavorting in the countryside, forming a very close welcoming committee—literally as we were able pet them from the vehicle.
Next stop: an archery range. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment as I killed that “bear”—three hits out of three. We also stopped to pet Fred, a very imposing 1,700-pound Brahma bull. He’s friendly, we were told, although the woman who got a tad more than nudged in the crotch was none too happy. Then onto fly-fishing and tomahawk-throwing. Not my forte. I wanted to go back to the archery range.
Initial summary of the ATV adventure: I couldn’t read the notes I took. Then I couldn’t even take any. Then Mackenzie instructed us all to put the ATV into 4-wheel-drive and we started flying over treacherous terrain, through deep mud puddles, up and down steep ravines. At this point just surviving the ride was the goal—to heck with the notes—but what an exhilarating experience.
Another non-Civil War getaway? The Cajun Pride Swamp Tour. Instructions ahead of time? If your hat or phone falls into water, don’t retrieve it. No one needed to be reminded twice as the waters were alive with alligators. And why not? The captain feeds them marshmallows from the boat.
We also stopped to view a herd of wild pigs on the shore—as well as an array of adorable raccoons rewarded for showing up when called with some cornmeal. Alligators obligingly ate their marshmallows alongside. It was more zoolike than most wildlife encounters until the captain opened a gate leading to a perch attached to the boat. From there he fed the alligators chicken, which he encouraged them to jump up out of the water to retrieve, which they willingly did. I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone else on board knew how to steer the boat.
For more information: https://www.americancruiselines.com/cruises/mississippi-river-cruises/lower-mississippi-river-cruise
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