As river cruising booms in popularity, more people than ever before are choosing to explore the world via its waterways. The Mississippi River cuts through America’s Deep South and a river cruise is the perfect way to experience a comforting slice of Southern hospitality; dance in the streets of the city that brought Rock ‘n’ Roll to the world, drink America’s first ever cocktail in the bar that served that very first one and eat Cajun and creole cooked just like Mama used to make.
There’s more to the Mississippi than music and food, but it sure is a pretty good place to start.
Ask any traveller to describe New Orleans and chances are the word ‘vibrant’ will figure in there somewhere. But what else can we expect, from a city that is nicknamed the ‘Big Easy’ and is home to the raucous parades of the Mardi Gras. It is around Mardi Gras time that you will most often hear a Cajun phrase that has become the unofficial motto of New Orleans: “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” or ‘Let the good times roll’.
Embrace New Orleans’ old-school charm with a streetcar ride. Take the St Charles line, home to the oldest continuously operating streetcar in the world, and see the sights of the city from smooth mahogany seats that remain from a day long before plastic seating and aluminium handrails.
New Orleanians take their cocktails seriously and a cocktail tour is one of the most intoxicating ways to see the city, in more ways than one! Drink the Sazerac; America’s first ever cocktail and one that is of course best enjoyed at the Sazerac Bar in the Roosevelt Hotel. Sip a French 75 at Arnaud’s French 75 bar, before finishing your day at the Museum of the American Cocktails. Who says museums are boring?
New Orleans’ drive-through daiquiris are the stuff of legend, however it is the neon-lined promenade of Bourbon Street that encompasses everything you’ve come to expect from the city’s vibrant culture. Visit Maison Bourbon, where non-stop authentic jazz entertains everyone who walks through the doors of the world-famous club. The Old Absinthe House has a history spanning over 200 years and past celebrity patrons include Oscar Wilde, Frank Sinatra, Franklin Roosevelt and Liza Minnelli. You won’t find absinthe here since it was outlawed in the US in 1912, but you will find a place steeped to the rafters with history.
No trip to New Orleans’ French Quarter is complete without a trip to the Preservation Hall; a cornerstone of traditional New Orleans Jazz since 1961. Join the queues that snake along the sidewalk and enjoy intimate, acoustic New Orleans Jazz concerts on any of 350 nights a year.
Jazz music is just one of the many gifts that New Orleans has given the world, with the po’boy sandwich standing out as one of the best of the rest. It was here that the very first po’boy sandwich was constructed from an expert blend of crusty French bread, sliced roast potatoes and gravy rich with the debris of braised beef. Try the original po’boy recipe for the real deal or opt for the equally delicious fried shrimp or oysters topped with all the ‘fixins’. All self-respecting restaurants in the French Quarter will dish up a fine po’boy, but asking a local for their favourite neighbourhood haunt will guarantee the best of the best.
As the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the home of the Blues, Memphis and music go hand-in-hand. Worship at the altar of Aretha Franklin, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, before tasting enough sweet smoky barbecue food to become an expert on the subject of whether succulent pulled pork beats juicy ribs.
Whether you consider yourself a Rock ‘n’ Roll fan or otherwise, no trip to Memphis is complete without making the pilgrimage to Graceland; home of Elvis Presley and the most famous Rock ‘n’ Roll residence in the world. Get an intriguing insight into how The King spent his days with friends and family in the grand surroundings of Graceland, view his expansive awards cabinet, walls lined with gold and platinum records, and glass cases housing iconic sparkling jumpsuits. Petrol heads will get their kicks at the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, home to over 20 vehicles owned by Elvis himself.
Those who prefer strumming their tunes should head to the Gibson Guitars factory, where luthiers have handcrafted some of the finest guitars in the world since the early 1900’s.
Your tour of Gibson Guitars will put you in perfect position to explore Beale Street, the musical mecca that sits at the heart of Downtown Memphis. Musicians have performed here since the 1860’s and the street’s historic bars house a heady mix of blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, R&B and gospel performances. Beale Street is widely reputed to be the at the heart of the Memphis Blues scene, so much so that it was officially declared the Home of the Blues by congress in 1977.
Legends including B.B. King, Willie Mitchell and Isaac Hayes have taken their talents to Beale Street and many of the buildings originally frequented by the nation’s great musicians now invite you to become a part of the history.
Memphis is almost as famous for barbecue food as it is for its music and the city has over a hundred BBQ joints on offer. Slow-roasted pulled pork is piled on bread (must be white to soak up all those smoky juices) and topped with a healthy dose of tangy slaw. When it comes to ribs, avoid the painstaking choice between wet and dry by opting for half and half. A side of smoky barbecue beans is obviously a must. Leonard’s Pit Barbecue is Memphis institution that dates all the way back to 1922 and is still considered one of the best.
Meat overload? Fear not, Memphis locals don’t live purely on a diet of smoky ribs and sweet pulled pork. You will find soul food a-plenty in the city, with fried chicken and waffles, mama’s recipe meatloaf, creamy mac ‘n’ cheese and a side helping of cornbread and collard greens.
With streets named Music Mile and Music Row, and the title of song writing capital of the world, there is little wonder that Nashville has been known as Music City since the 1800’s. Music flows through the veins of the city and you will find live music every day of the year at any of the 130 live music venues that are scattered across its city streets.
Visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the largest popular music museum in the world, or take a tour of the iconic RCA Studio B on Music Row, where the likes of Elvis, Dolly Parton and Roy Orbison have laid down their tracks. The Ryman Auditorium is often referred to as the ‘Mother Church of Country Music’ and stars including Patsy Cline have lit up the stage since 1892. Record your own song in legendary surroundings or watch the stars of the Grand Ole Opry perform.
Nashville is a spiritual home for the many talented song writers who flock to the city to record and you can see them take the spotlight at the world famous Bluebird Café. Leaving their comfort zones behind, a small group of singer-songwriters take the microphone each evening at one of the world’s most renowned listening rooms.
Nashville natives like their tipples sweet. Feeling virtuous? Sip on sweet tea. Got a thing for bourbon? Head to the Jack Daniels Distillery – the oldest distillery in the United States. Sports fans can stock up on Cracker Jacks, peanuts and cold beers to catch an NFL game with the Tennessee Titans or baseball at Nashville Sounds.
Nashville is home to a booming restaurant scene and many consider the barbecue fayre here to be marginally better than that in Memphis. New micro-neighbourhoods are springing up at an alarming rate around the city and each one brings a new flavour; tacos; jambalaya; po’boys; sushi; pizza; pancakes; you will find it all in Nashville. Hot chicken is the city’s trademark dish and there is definite emphasis on the ‘hot’; you’ll need an asbestos mouth to try this speciality.