Having visited New Orleans for the best part of a decade, I’m more than acquainted with the Mississippi River - that mighty, magical, muddy mouthpiece of America that reaches the Gulf of Mexico right here in the Big Easy.
Yet despite that familiarity, I’ve never explored it, and so it was with some excitement that I boarded the largest steamboat ever built - the American Queen® - for a short river cruise.
She is just one of the American Queen Steamboat Company's fleet of magnificent vessels. American Empress® travels the Columbia and Snake rivers in the Pacific Northwest, while the company's newest steamboat American Duchess™, which is currently being fitted out as a super-luxurious, all-suite vessel - the first of its kind on US Rivers - will also travel the Mississippi and its tributaries.
On my trip, my fellow passengers had spent a couple of days exploring the Crescent City – the food, the jazz and the legendary hospitality – and sad though they were to leave, stepping aboard this gleaming riverboat soon allayed any disappointment.
The vessel is everything you might imagine a centuries-old, high-class steamboat might have been. The opulent interiors start at check-in, with grand pianos, polished wooden fixtures and fresh flowers, while local characters in period dress complete the tribute as all are welcomed aboard.
With a blaring horn, we’re on our way, the vast paddles nudging us forward as we find our cabins. Mine has French doors that open up to reveal a plush Queen bed, velvet sofa and full bathroom completing a very comfortable picture.
It’s not long before it’s time for pre-dinner drinks, with a pianist playing old-time favourites in the lounge, then in the theatre, a taster of the entertainment on offer later. This stage, in the Grand Saloon, is a painstaking reproduction of the famous 19th-century Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC, every inch of elegance and panache on show.
Dinner is an extravaganza, the beautiful dining room coming alive with excitement as servers bring locally-influenced dishes to satisfied diners. Afterwards, a musical show with songs from the Deep South provides a stunning nightcap.
The next day we awake at Oak Alley Plantation, a superb pre-Civil War mansion, where a full tour awaits. Sun streams through the ancient live oaks, and an appetite for lunch on the deck is easily worked up.
In the afternoon, we set sail again. Some people attend talks by the on-board ‘Riverlorian’ about the Mississippi’s history, while others enjoy spa treatments or the fitness room. More still simply relax and take in the evocative riverside views.
The next day, after another full night of socialising, we set ashore at Baton Rouge and explore the state capital and its history with easy, hop-on, hop-off tour buses.
New Orleans once again beckons after one more evening of grandeur, gourmet dining and spectacular entertainment. We leave having experienced the most wonderful time on the Mississippi River, the nest of the old world combining with the new for something completely magical.
You can currently enjoy a cruise on the American Queen from just $2,799 (£2,301) on 11 June, 19 June, 26 June, 3 July, 17 July, 31 July and 7 August. To book your berth on a uniquely American river cruise - and see more promotions - visit americanqueensteamboatcompany.com