As much as I can be a cranky pessimistic cynic, sometimes even I can get caught up in the romance of history. Which can get frustrating because it almost always lets me down. Which in turn annoys my inner pessimist into whispering, why did you expect otherwise?
Unfortunately, I had this experience in New Orleans. For some reason, I thought a historic steamboat ride along the Mississippi River would be great. Doesn’t it sound great? It wasn’t. In fact, if it wasn’t for some very bad luck, it would have been a very boring trip. It is not often one can say bad luck made something better… Read on to see what I mean!
What is the Steamboat Natchez?
Steamboat Natchez is billed as “New Orleans only authentic Steamboat”. As I later learned, that does not mean it dates to the 19th-century. The current Steamboat Natchez is the ninth of her name, meaning the current steamboat a replica. I admit it – I got thrown off by the use of the word “authentic” and I was expecting to set foot on the original boat. Yes, I know – it doesn’t really make sense when you think about it. But there it is.
What cruise options are there?
Steamboat Natchez offers various cruises up and down the Mississippi River, departing daily from New Orleans’ French Quarter. The company offers a two-hour jazz cruise both during the day and at night. You also have the option to have lunch or dinner on the boat. If you choose not to eat, you can spend the two hours wandering around the three levels (except the dining room). Keep in mind, though, that there are hundreds of people on this boat, so…good luck getting a chair!
Do I recommend the Steamboat Natchez?
Before I answer that question, let me tell you about my own experience. I arrived at the dock a bit before 2pm, half an hour before sailing time. There were hundreds of people in line already. The line was a bit slow to move and I soon saw why. The company had a photographer taking people’s photo before boarding! Luckily, for my sanity, it started to rain which put a stop to that nonsense. They rushed everyone through the line and onto the boat as fast as they could.
If we expected to be dry on the boat, we were quickly disabused of that notion. The rain teased us by stopping for a little bit but as we left the dock, it began to pour. It rained for most of the two hours we were out on the river. Sometimes it was light rain but it was mostly torrential and sideways. It got to a point that I gave up trying to stay dry.
Once I embraced the wet, it freed me to explore. I think I was one of very few people who did as everywhere I went, clumps of people were futilely trying to stay dry. I got so many strange looks as I meandered past! The uniqueness of the situation was what allowed me to enjoy this boring boat cruise. I had wanted history and vistas but since I wasn’t getting either, I instead embraced the once in a lifetime experience of being on an “authentic” steamboat on the Mississippi River during a severe thunder storm!
There really wasn’t a whole lot to see on the boat other than the Engine Room. Here, I was able to check out a few moving parts and read some signs. The steamboat also had a few bars and a gift shop, but beyond that, the entertainment was the jazz performance (which only occurs for half the trip) and the narrative describing the sights along the Mississippi River. And those sights feature massive ships and barges, a sugar factory, and a few other equally as exciting things. No vistas.
It’s a working port, Kendra, what did you expect? While I did know it was that, I was also expecting what Steamboat Natchez was selling: charm and history. None of that was there. It was the river equivalent of exploring an industrial park. After about an hour, the boat turned around and retraced its route back to the French Quarter.
So, back to the question – do I recommend a steamboat ride on the Mississippi River? Not really. And especially not at the ticket price. If you want to say you’ve taken a boat ride on the Mississippi, take the $2 ferry from the French Quarter to the other side of the river. There, you can check out the neighbourhood of Algiers. At least you’ll get some pretty historic houses to look at.
Tips, if you still insist on going
- Check online for coupons to reduce the cost of a ticket.
- Arrive at least a half hour in advance to be able to get a good spot.
- If you’re trying to decide if you want to eat lunch/dinner on the boat, I strongly recommend you read the reviews on Trip Advisor first. They are rather illuminating.
- Check out the company’s website, in particular their history page. Who in their right mind would describe the antebellum plantation era as “placid”?! I’m really annoyed I gave them my money, based on that alone.