American Queen Steamboat Company guests can explore port cities via a hop-on, hop-off bus. // © 2014 American Queen Steamboat Company
Feature image (above): In Sleepy Hollow, New York, American Cruise Lines’ guests might visit Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s historic estate. // © 2014 Alamy
As cruising on American rivers expands, river cruise lines are paying close attention to the ports identified by passengers as favorites in comment cards and discussions with the cruise director onboard.
We outline eight top port picks below. Some of the choices may seem predictable, while others might surprise you. All included ports have outstanding attributes that range from iconic status to picturesque appeal and strong historical associations.
Founded by John Jacob Astor at the mouth of the Columbia River, Astoria is famous as the 1805 winter home of the Lewis and Clark expedition. The recreated Fort Clatsop is at the heart of the history of American expansion westward, and history buffs tend to linger, imagining the incredible scenery nearby as it was revealed to the 19th century explorers.
Baton Rouge, La.
Baton Rouge, as the capital of Louisiana, has a rich history colored by French, Spanish, Cajun and Creole culture, plus impressive architecture. Some cruise calls on the Mississippi coincide with the days the outdoor markets of Baton Rouge are open. The markets are crammed with delicious regional specialties — hot and sour pickles are just one example — along with very impressive art and crafts.
Cincinnati is the original home of Delta Queen Steamboat Company, and it has a very long history with river cruising, a beautiful riverfront park and great shopping in the downtown area (that is also very close to the river). Fountain Square, the symbolic center of Cincinnati, is usually occupied by crowds enjoying music, food and local celebrations. There are excellent museums in the historic Mount Adams and the adjacent Eden Park, along with very interesting dining options that include floating restaurants on both the Ohio and Kentucky sides of the Ohio River.
Natchez is a true Southern U.S. destination. It is highly rated by both international and American visitors for its many attractions, including more than 600 antebellum homes, moss-hung trees and amazing food and drinks. Celebrity chef Regina Charboneau hosts American Queen Steamboat Company guests on an optional tour to her home that fills up very quickly. Guests also flock to family-owned Biscuits and Blues.
New Orleans is inseparable from the Mississippi, with its lacy iron balconies and famous French Quarter. Voodoo Museum, the beautiful Garden District and the tide of music and fabulous food that runs through the New Orleans all make the city a perennial favorite among river cruisers.
The elegantly restored river town on the Ohio River prompted Ted Sykes, president and COO of American Queen Steamboat Company, to remark that Paducah is the kind of place that actually draws guests to river cruising. The Kentucky city is one of seven UNESCO Cities of Crafts and Folk Art. National Quilt Museum and LowerTown Arts District are centers for potters, painters, jewelry makers and fiber artists as well as the many visitors who come to see and shop.
Sleepy Hollow, Mount Pleasant, N.Y.
This picturesque landmark on the Hudson River is immortalized in author Washington Irving’s stories, particularly “The Headless Horseman,” who is rumored to be buried in the village’s Old Dutch Church burying grounds. River cruisers also appreciate a visit to Sunnyside (Irving’s home) and Phillipsburg Manor (with its recreation of 17th and 18th century life).
St. Paul, Minn.
The northernmost port for many Mississippi River cruises, St. Paul gained popularity with Garrison Keillor’s popular “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show, which just passed its 40th year of radio broadcasting from the city. With a vibrant Artists’ Quarter and a tradition of hosting performances by French and European jazz greats, St. Paul is an arts-and-culture city that pleases river cruisers.
Vancouver, the homeport on the Columbia River for American Queen Steamboat Company, was incorporated as a city long before Washington became a state. It has a rich Native American and Western history, but among the things guests most enjoy are the artisan brewers and winemakers who have colorful names, such as Burnt Bridge Cellars, A Beer at a Time, Confluence Vineyards and Amnesia Brewery.