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Before joining my seven night cruise aboard ‘American Queen’, a Majestic America cruise travelling from New Orleans to Memphis, I had a few days to take in the sights and sounds of the “Big Easy”.

I started with Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, which is mostly a maze of shops, psychics, restaurants and bars. And then some more bars and some more bars. Deciding to get out of the French Quarter, I joined a City Sightseeing tour, which included a visit to some of the places most affected by cyclone Katrina. It was very sad to see that whole neighbourhoods had been completely wiped out as we drove along street after derelict street. It was then onto enjoying a swamp (bayou) tour and getting up close and personal with some very large alligators!

Stepping aboard the American Queen, a working paddle steamer, is like going back in time. Furnished in the style of an original 1900’s boat, the quiet elegance was just lovely. Expect all the normal facilities of a larger cruise ship on board: fantastic meals, plenty of entertainment during the day and night to keep you busy, a small swimming pool and a gym. Plus I was told if you walk around the promenade deck seven times, you’ve walked a mile….

I was expecting to be the youngest on board but was pleasantly surprised with the age range. Although I did laugh when I couldn’t find the ordinary deck chairs normally available on a cruise…. instead there were some lovely white rocking chairs! I wasn’t laughing for long though as I spent many an hour just sitting and rocking, and watching the “South” go by.

Soon we were leaving New Orleans to the wonderful sound of the Calliope – a large steel piano that uses the steam from the ship to play and can be heard as far as 5 miles away – Amazing!!

For five days we docked at a variety of small towns and enjoyed some fascinating and educational shore excursions. We visited large cotton plantations, antebellum houses, haunted houses, civil war sites and ‘Angola Prison’, Louisiana’s State Penitentiary, which was incredible. We heard all sorts of music; Jazz, Zydeco, Gospel and Blues, and enjoyed some of the great Southern Style cooking like Gumbo and Jumballaya. YUM!! I also learnt to speak ‘Southern’ - “Hey y’all. How y’all doin?”, eat grits - still not sure about them - and immersed myself in the history and culture of the area.

My cruise ended in Memphis, where I visited Graceland and saw the ghost of Elvis. Really, I did…! I also spent a lot of time visiting the various music venues and enjoying some fantastic Blues.

Then it was onto Nashville, the home of country music, where I spent a few days with my uncle while rounding off my tour of music and history. Special mention here to the ‘Honkey Tonks’ in downtown Nashville… I’ve never seen so many cowboy boots and hats in all my life!

I’ve done three river cruises so far - Mekong, the Amazon and now the Mississippi. I definitely prefer the smaller ships as I find that you can really get to the heart of the areas you are travelling through rather than just ending up in a main port with the thousands of other travellers on your cruise. But don’t take my word for it… try a smaller ship for your next cruise… you might find yourself a bit of a fan too. 

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