Imagine cruising down the Mighty Mississippi while listening to a live jazz band featuring some of the finest New Orleans performers including Louis Armstrong and Fats Domino. This is exactly what we encountered during our recent trip to the Crescent City as we took the Natchez dinner cruise aboard one of the few remaining active steamboats in the nation.
Traveling along the Mississippi River may not sound like the most appealing way to spend a Saturday evening, especially when you listen to stories about the reputation of this river not being the cleanest river around. However, when you climb aboard the historic Natchez Steamboat and have the opportunity to enjoy a buffet dinner while relaxing to the sounds and sights of stereotypical New Orleans this becomes a much more satisfying option.
We really enjoyed our experience with Steamboat Natchez and want to share some of the key aspects that went into the three hours that we spent aboard this vessel.
What You Need to Know
Come aboard and let us show you hospitality…Steamboat Style!
This is the tagline by Steamboat Natchez but of course you will want to know if they can meet their words! With a variety of cruises and packages to choose from, I am sure there will be something here that will fit with your schedule. If you are taking a trip to New Orleans, I would consider adding one of these options to your itinerary.
Cruise Schedule and Prices
- The Harbor Jazz Cruise runs twice daily at 10:45AM and 1:45PM and the duration is two hours. A casual buffet is available for an additional cost if you are interested in grabbing a bite to eat. Price – Daytime Jazz Cruise Only is $29.50 for adults and $12.25 for children. The price including buffet is $40.50 for adults and $20.25 for children.
- The Sunday Jazz Brunch Cruise runs twice every Sunday at 11:30AM and 2:30PM and is again two hours. You can choose to cruise without food or add the brunch option to your journey along the Mighty Mississippi. Price – Sunday Jazz Cruise Only is $29.50 for adults and $12.25 for children. The price including brunch buffet is $40.50 for adults and $20.25 for children.
- The Dinner Jazz Cruise is the two hour cruise that runs every night between 7:00PM and 9:00PM. The dinner portion is optional and two different seatings are available (6:00 – 7:15PM and 7:45PM – 9:00PM). This is of course the cruise we experienced and will be reviewing below.Price – Evening Jazz Cruise Only is $46 for adults and $21.50 for children. The price including buffet is $77 for adults and $34 for children.
Regardless of whether you pre-purchase tickets online or simply pay on the day, all visitors are required to visit the ticket office located inside the lighthouse building located directly in front of the docking area at Toulouse Street and the River in the French Quarter.
New Orleans is famous for having awesome cuisine but I have to say we left the Natchez dinner cruise feeling just a little underwhelmed by the quality of food available. I had read several reviews prior to taking this cruise indicating that everything about the cruise was awesome except for the food but we both went into the dining experience with an open mind. Unfortunately we left disappointed but we certainly didn’t let this spoil the rest of our evening cruise.
The setting for the dining experience is awesome. The interior of the steamboat is equally as impressive as the outside, with all the tables set perfectly and ready for guests to be seated. We were seated by the window and had the early 6:00PM-7:15PM reservation which I honestly think is the best choice given that you will likely finish eating before the steamboat actually leaves port.
Our waitress offered us drinks with tea and coffee complimentary, or a variety of alcoholic beverages and soft drinks available for purchase. She also informed us the dinner buffet was open and we could help ourselves. Let’s take a look at what was on the menu for our dining experience onboard the Steamboat Natchez.
Dinner Jazz Buffet
Southern fried catfish was one of the premium items on the menu along with both pork loin and strip loin of beef. Neither of us are huge fans of catfish, especially when it is fried in cornmeal but this was one of the better concoctions we have sampled. I really enjoyed the pork loin which was blackened in a creole seasoning and served with a creole mustard sauce.
Penne quattro formaggi, garlic mashed potatoes, creole creamed spinach and a steamboat salad comprising of onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and mixed greens were additional items on the menu.
My overall opinion on the buffet was that it lacked the real New Orleans flavor we have come to expect in NOLA restaurants.
I completely understand when preparing bulk amounts of food that it is difficult to please everyone, but I think some of the menu items could have been replaced with some more stereotypical New Orleans items such as red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo etc.
The bread pudding covered in a white chocolate sauce was probably the highlight of the whole meal but as I mentioned we were just a little disappointed with the overall quality available.
Cruise Along the Mississippi River
The Steamboat Natchez has three decks for visitors to walk around and find their perfect viewing spot to relax on the evening cruise.
We spent the majority of the time on the top deck, notably because it offered the best panoramic views of the city and surrounding banks of the Mississippi River but also because of the close proximity to the live jazz band performing blues and jazz classics.
We took our seats around 6:55PM just a few minutes before the sound of the steamboat horn bellowed across the city and the captain announced we were ready to depart.
The journey down the Mississippi River takes you about seven miles downstream passing some iconic landmarks such as the Domino Sugar Plant until the boat makes a 180 degree turn and begins heading back upstream. Passing by St. Louis Cathedral en route downstream was also really cool as it is illuminated with the rest of Jackson Square and the French Quarter in the foreground.
As you wind around the crescent shaped Mississippi, you begin to appreciate why the city of New Orleans is nicknamed as such.
With a lot of traffic on the Mighty Mississippi, you will encounter numerous signals made by the Natchez steamboat to indicate the direction the vessel is heading.
The real highlight is on the return leg back to New Orleans as you have the opportunity to marvel over the gorgeous night skyline. Of course New Orleans is no New York City skyline, but with the hotel skyscrapers among others it is still pretty impressive. Add to that the Crescent City Connection bridge which is actually another landmark where the steamboat turns around before docking in the port by the French Quarter.
Inside the Steamboat Natchez
While taking the two hour cruise, guest aboard this vessel are invited to head down to the first level and explore the engine room to see the mechanics behind how this steamboat still runs up and down the Mississippi. Of course we couldn’t resist this temptation so we headed down during the second half of our cruise and we were amazed at what we saw.
Neither of us are engineers but it was pretty spectacular to see two large reciprocating steam engines that generate up to 1600 horsepower and help churn the red paddle wheel that stereotypically represents this vessel.
Two huge boilers named Thelma and Louise create the steam pressure and although visitors cannot enter the room where they are housed, you can still catch a glimpse of their size as you pass by to the engine room.
Steamboat Natchez offer a very unique experience along the Mississippi River. I would strongly recommend anyone taking this cruise but probably consider whether you want to purchase the accompanying buffet or opt to eat elsewhere. There is such a myriad of amazing restaurants in and around New Orleans, so the disappointing food experience temporarily left a sour taste on our overall experience and probably convinced us that on a return cruise we would opt for just the cruise itself.
Do not let the food experience convince you that this cruise is not worth the price because that is far from the truth! This was one of the most relaxing and romantic ways to spend a Saturday evening by gently cruising along the river listening to awesome music under the light of the crescent shaped moon. With the gorgeous New Orleans skyline awaiting your return journey, you can certainly enjoy a memorable experience on the Mighty Mississippi!
Disclaimer – We would like to thank the New Orleans CVB for hosting us on this trip, and Steamboat Natchez for providing complimentary tickets for the Jazz Dinner Cruise. These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.