The Tradition of Riverboating on the Mississippi River
Riverboats have cruised the Mississippi to and from New Orleans since Antebellum times, and are as much a part of Southern lore and tradition as cotton and sugar plantations. The first steamboat service began in 1812, and was run by a company begun by Robert Fulton and his partner Robert Livingston. That route was between New Orleans and Natchez, and while it carried passengers, it also carried cargo.
The passenger lounges had rich and luxurious furnishings, and was a favorite mode of transportation for the well to do. Naturally, that crowd attracted a different element, giving rise to the “riverboat gambler” legend. Although riverboats are no longer the chief mode of river travel, you can still experience some of the splender of those colorful days on the Steamboat Natchez. The Natchez offers two hour cruises from New Orleans that feature dinner, dancing, and entertainment.
The Current Natchez
The present vessel is the ninth steamer to bear the name. Her predecessor, Natchez VI, raced the Robert E. Lee in the most famous steamboat race of all time. In 1872, the Natchez and the Robert E. Lee raced from St. Louis to New Orleans, with the Lee under the command of Captain John Cannon, coming in a mere couple of hours earlier. The was some talk of trickery and cheating, mostly from the crew of the Natchez, but the Robert E. Lee remains the winner in all the history books.
The Natchez is actually a steam sternwheeler, launched in 1975, but she is graced with an antique coopper and steel steam whistle and copper bell.
The bell is made of 250 melted silver dollars, and was originally part of the S.S. J.D. Ayres. The Natchez’s steam engines were originally built in 1925 for the steamboat Clairton, as was her steering system. She is 265 feet long and 46 feet wide. If you are near the Jax Brewery when she is in port, you may hear her famous 32-note steam calliope play any number of traditional and contemporary songs, at 10:45 am and 1:45 pm.
A Well Loved Favorite
There are several types of cruises offered. The Natchez is a favorite thing to do among locals and tourists. Riding the Natchez on a fall afternoon is a favorite field trip for New Orleans school children. Taking an evening dinner cruise is a very romantic encounter. You board the Natchez on the New Orleans Riverfront at the Toulouse Street Wharf (behind the Jax Brewery building in the French Quarter). The Dinner Jazz cruises sail at 7 pm, featuring the Dukes of Dixieland who soothe you with their particular brand of jazz as you enjoy a drink at the cocktail bar. Your meal is prepared fresh on board and served buffet style. Such favorites as Chicken Grand Mere, Gulf Fish, Pasta Jambalaya, Southern Fried Chicken, and Creole Bread Pudding are offered. The indoor dining room is as beautifully appointed as a turn of the century restaurant, or you can sit outside on the deck and watch the city go by.
The Harbor Jazz Cruise boards at 11:00, and sails from 11:30 to 1:30. You can tour the museum Steam Engine room at your convenience. The Harbor Jazz Cruise features an optional lunch. Special cruises are offered on Valentine’s Day, Easter Sunday, Mother’s Day, Fourth of July, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve. The evening cruises on the Fourth and New Year’s Eve provide the best venue to watch the fabulous fireworks show presented by Crescent City Countdown Club. The Natchez approaches downtown New Orleans and remains offshore while the Dueling Barges Fireworks blaze over the River. On Family Day, there are adventures for both children and adults, with optional food and beverages, children’s entertainment, trivia quizzes and more.
The Natchez is also a favorite venue for special events, such wedding receptions, and can be reserved for convention functions. Find out more and make reservations at the Natchez website.