Historic Riverboat Paddlewheel Cruises

Paddlewheel boats were first used on China's Yangtze River in the eighth century, when the myriad of wheels on the paddle wheeler were fueled by human muscle alone.  It took a thousand years and a major invention before these cruise ships caught on in the West.

The creation of the steam engine in the 1800's opened the door for paddlewheel cruise ships on rivers of America.  The new engines coupled with the massive wheels, based on the wheels used by water mills, enabled people and goods to be transported more quickly than ever.  The placement of the paddlewheel to the back of the boat protected it from damage at dock and prevented it from being entangled by debris on the move.

The impact of these cruise ships on the Mississippi was enormous.  Without paddlewheel boats, the plantation culture of the Deep South would never have risen, and many of America's greatest cities would never have existed. The memory of these days lingers on in such theater productions as the long-popular musical "Show Boat" with its hit song "Ole Man River."

Today, paddlewheel boats have been replaced as a primary means of transportation. But, cruising on a paddlewheeler still invokes a feeling of nostalgia for the times when these lovely vessels were seen up and down the length of every major river.

Paddlewheel Cruising on the Mississippi

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Stepping on a paddlewheel cruise ship is like stepping back in time to an age where life moved more sedately and style and elegance were priorities.  The cabins on most paddlewheelers are like stately floating hotels, equipped with amenities like oversized windows, sitting rooms, private facilities with showers and/or baths, and antique furnishings.


Many offer themed cruise packages to enhance your 19th-century experience.  Cruise staff dressed in period costumes, showboat-style entertainment, and educational activities round out your step back in time.  The music ranges from Delta blues to gospel to zydeco, and is provided by authentic instruments like the calliope.  In fact, the largest calliope in the world lives aboard a paddlewheel cruise ship. 

Fears of limited eating options may be put aside. Meals onboard are a work of art, with delicious American-style meals and local specialties created to impress any cruise passenger.

While aboard a paddlewheel cruise, you'll have the opportunity to see many of America's most important cities from a whole new angle.  Visit Nashville or New Orleans, St. Louis or Louisville in the context of the ports that made these cities great.  Sailing along the river, you'll see beautiful plantations from the vantage point at which they were meant to be enjoyed.

Paddlewheel Cruises Around the World

Although the Mississippi is famous for its paddlewheel cruises, there are also many other options for travel on these unique ships.  Paddlewheel cruise lines run in other sections of the United States, from New York to Alaska.  You can also drift down the Nile River in Egypt, and experience the major rivers in China, Europe, Australia, and Canada. 

Famed in the United States as part of the cultural history, paddlewheel ships continue to be a comfortable and unique way to travel the world's rivers. A slower yet full experience of scenery, people and enjoyment awaits you on a cruise on one of the new or restored paddlewheel boats around the world.