Our Trip On The Only Paddlewheel Steamboat In New Orleans

While in New Orleans, you have your pick of paddlewheel boats to go on a trip down the Mississippi River. However, only one of those boats will be a honest to goodness steamboat, like the ones from the days of Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain.

The Steamboat Natchez departs for several two-hour tours daily from its dock right behind the Jax Brewery building on Decatur St.

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There are three different trips you can take on the Steamboat Natchez. There’s the standard Harbor Jazz Cruise which departs twice daily on Monday – Saturday:

Departures Monday – Saturday:
Boarding 11:00am; Cruising 11:30am – 1:30pm
Select Seating time when optional lunch buffet is selected; 11am-12pm (arrive approximately 10:45am) 
or 12:15pm-1:15pm (arrive no later than 11:15am)

Boarding 2:00pm; Cruising 2:30pm – 4:30pm
Select Seating time when optional lunch buffet is selected; 2pm-3pm (arrive approximately 1:45pm) 
or 3:15pm-4:15pm (arrive no later than 2:15pm)

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They also offer a nightly dinner cruise with two seatings:

Boarding 6:00pm; Cruising 7:00pm – 9:00pm
Select Seating Time: 6:00pm-7:15pm (arrive approximately 5:45pm)
or 7:45pm-9:00pm (arrive no later than 6:30pm).
(Cruise leaves promptly at 7:00pm regardless of Seating Time.)

The Steamboat NATCHEZ decks, engine room, and bars will be open for your enjoyment either before or after dinner depending upon your seating time. Included in the dinner jazz ticket price is the steamboat cruise, buffet dinner, and jazz band entertainment, as well as applicable taxes. Gratuities and alcoholic beverages aren’t included in the price of the ticket.

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On Sundays, instead of the jazz cruises, they offer two sailings of the jazz brunch cruise:

Sunday Departures:
Boarding 11:00am; Cruising 11:30am – 1:30pm
Boarding 2:00pm; Cruising 2:30pm – 4:30pm

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We opted for a 2PM sailing of the harbor jazz cruise. We booked with the concierge from the W Hotel since then I could charge it to the room and earn additional Marriott Rewards points when paying with my SPG AMEX.

At the concierge’s suggestion, we opted out of the lunch because, in his words, “There are so many places to eat in New Orleans, do you really want to spend one meal eating from a buffet on a boat?” I couldn’t argue with that logic. As it was, we ended up grabbing some Mexican food at a local place before the sailing because we spent the morning touring Mardi Gras World and ended up with less time than we wanted to get to the dock.

The Steamboat Natchez is exactly what they call her, a steamboat. It’s something they’re very proud of and you’re invited to head down to the bottom deck and check out the engine, built in 1925, in action during your tour.

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The dining room is the largest room on the steamboat and this is where the buffet meal is served as well as the location of the jazz band and one of the three bars onboard.

Natchez Dining Room

The two-hour cruise leaves from the dock and heads down-river. We stopped by one of the bars to get some drinks and a piece of king cake for the trip. For the tourists, they put a baby in every slice, which is just wrong, but what could we do?

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(Note from Sharon: The baby looks like it’s drowning in a sea of king cake, doesn’t it?)

Shortly after leaving, you’re treated to a view of Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral that you’ll only get from the water.

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As you travel a bit further down the river, there’s a building that catches your eye, not because of the building which used to be an old rice mill, but because of the message that is graffitied on the structure: “You Are Beautiful.”

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You can’t miss the next big building you pass on the river. The massive Domino Sugar refinery.

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If you haven’t realized it by this point, this is not a scenic boat cruise. The Mississippi River is still a major driver of the economy of New Orleans. At any moment, there can be cruise ships, freight barges or paddlewheel boats, or possibly all three. There are no fancy developments on the river; instead there are docks, factories, warehouses. When we got to the halfway point, we decided to head into the dining room and listen to the jazz band for a while.

The video is not from our trip but gives you an idea of the type of music they usually play on board. I heard some people complain it was too slow and not the type of jazz they were expecting but the music fit the atmosphere and time period perfectly.

Before we knew it, we could see downtown New Orleans in the distance.

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We headed up to check out the gift shop, but there wasn’t much there to interest us. It was even too “tacky tourist souvenirs” for our tastes. Just like that, our trip was over.

Recap

There’s no denying that steamboats played a crucial part of New Orleans economic development. Having a quick (for the time) way to move goods and people up and down the Mississippi river forever transformed America.

While it’s not the most exciting or scenic trip you’ll ever take, getting to ride on one and see how one of these boats function on the river gives you a glimpse of what it was like to travel over a century ago. The day cruise wasn’t bad because we went in October and even then it was hot sitting outside. I couldn’t imagine being out there during the heat and humidity of the summer months. For the evening cruise, I don’t know how much there would be to see at night, even considering there’s isn’t all that much to see during the day. While I’m sure the food is fine, we found plenty of great places to eat during our trip and unless you have no other choice I’d suggest eating either before you get on board or after the trip is finished. Why spend half of your time on the boat standing in line for a buffet?

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

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