Exploring America: Mississippi steamboat cruises take travelers through the heartland of history

They say that travel is about the journey, not the destination. While there’s plenty of room to argue that destinations really do matter, there’s no disputing that going on a journey is one of the most enriching experiences you can have. When it comes to travel in America, perhaps the greatest journeys to be taken are steamboat cruises on the Mississippi. Riding the current of this remarkable artery through America’s heartland will show you an unfolding story that covers centuries of history, much of which has played a central role in making the country what it is today.

For a journey down the Mississippi, how you travel is an important factor. Traveling by steamboat on the river itself provides not only spectacular views, but an element of history. Instead of driving roads adjacent to the river, you’ll be plying the same waterways that river traffic has followed for hundreds of years.

To add to the atmosphere, there’s nothing that can quite compare with a steamboat cruise. These floating pieces of architecture can instantly transport you back in time, as you travel the same way people did during the heyday of Mississippi river cruises. One of the most distinctive vessels travelers can choose is the American Queen, the largest flat-bottomed paddlewheel steamboat ever built. It’s the boat of choice for Tauck’s Life on the Mississipi experience, which was planned and created in partnership with filmmakers Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan.

Mississippi steamboat cruises can take in a lot of territory, but one of the best sections to explore takes you down river from Memphis, Tennessee, to New Orleans, Louisiana. These are just some of the sights and experiences to enjoy as your riverboat churns down the “Mighty Miss”:

* Memphis, Tennessee: This city’s complex history makes it a great place to get context for a southward cruise on the Mississippi. Learn about the role it played during the Civil Rights era, with a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum. Memphis is also a blues mecca, and you can explore how it shaped the early beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll at Sun Studios, where Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and B.B. King made famous recordings.

* Vicksburg, Mississippi: This famous trading port was of incredible importance during the Civil War; in fact, President Lincoln said that it was a “key” without which the Union couldn’t win the war. Vicksburg National Military Park takes you back in time to the July 4, 1863 battle that gave the Union control of the Mississippi River. The U.S.S. Cairo, a Union ironclad gunboat sunk in 1862 and later raised from the Yazoo River, makes for a fascinating visit as well.

* Natchez, Mississippi: Natchez is home to some 500 pre-war buildings, which makes it easy to immerse yourself in a bygone era. Tauck’s steamboat cruises includes a lecture and visit to Forks of the Road, site of one of the South’s most notorious slave markets, providing added insight into a complex era of American history.

* New Orleans, Louisiana: There’s no place in America quite like New Orleans. A visit to the city brings together history, art, music and culinary delights to showcase the unique culture that make it so unique. Stroll down Bourbon Street, take walking tours of the Waterfront and Warehouse Districts, and enjoy jazz and creole cooking at famed establishments like Arnaud’s.

By booking a Mississippi steamboat cruise, you’ll get unique access to experiences like these, as well as saving as much as 40 percent over the cost of booking it all on your own. If you’re eager to see some of America’s most unique sights and historical places, a journey down the Mississippi river is one of the very best ways to do so. For more information and an ebrochure, visit Tauck online.