The Best Riverboat Tours To Take On Your Next Visit To New Orleans

Despite New Orleans (NOLA) being largely known for its Mardi Gras parties, Bourbon Street beverages, beignets, and po'boys, there's so much more to this dynamic city. That's especially true if you see it from the perspective of its neighbor, the mighty Mississippi River. The city's proximity to water is part of how it became such a storied metropolis, so visitors should know how vital these waterways are. What better way to experience that history than by traveling on the river itself?

For the most part, the riverboat tours you take in New Orleans will either be on the Steamboat Natchez or the Creole Queen Paddlewheeler. Both of these paddleboat riverboats are esteemed parts of NOLA's tourist culture and provide a wide range of tour options. There are numerous ways to take on and experience the grand, muddy Mississippi, so let's dive in to our list of your best options.

Creole Queen Historic Cruise

Hop on board the Creole Queen Paddlewheeler, and you can learn all about three centuries of history found in New Orleans. Enjoy the sights along the river as a local historian revels in the city's storied past. You'll hear about how NOLA was founded by the LeMoyne brothers, how the French Quarter area came to be and you'll be reminded of all those details you forgot in school about the Louisiana Purchase.

You'll feel like royalty during a ride on the Creole Queen with its bright red paddlewheel and ivory paint. From the deck, you'll get views of the city and the surrounding areas that you'll never forget. You can even get bottomless mimosas for an additional fee for a slightly more upgraded experience.

This tour option also includes a one-hour excursion and tour of Chalmette Battlefield. There, you will hear from a designated park ranger about exactly what happened on that field. You can bring your lunch on the boat or you can choose to include lunch with your ticket, which would feature options like New Orleans-style shrimp pasta, Creole jambalaya and authentic red beans and rice.

Creole Queen Jazz Brunch

There's nothing like brunch with a view, which is exactly what you'll get if you brunch with the Creole Queen. During this jazz brunch experience (brunch is optional), you can greet the midday in style, including with bottomless mimosas or Bloody Marys in hand, if you wish. For NOLA party-goers, the brunch timing is perfect for a late morning after a long night. The boat doesn't board until 10-11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday mornings with sailing from 11 a.m. to 12:30 pm.

Here, the jazz band is the star of the show. The sounds of trumpets and horns and unsuspecting melodies pair perfectly with the consistent views from the Mississippi River. You can still learn about the history of the town from this tour, too. A historian will be on board to offer stories and answer questions, helping create this picturesque memory of a fun morning in a history-filled part of America.

Creole Queen Jazz Cruise

You couldn't possibly visit New Orleans without enjoying the sounds of the city's jazz culture at night. The Creole Queen has a nighttime jazz option that can come with dinner or not. From on board this riverboat, you can watch the city light up as the sun sets, followed by views of the city lights and the twinkling sky. 

A longer tour than the brunch version, also with a slightly more elevated price point, the nighttime jazz cruise is a romantic exploration of the river. Accompanied by the allure of a jazz band, the cajun seafood pasta will taste like home to even first-time visitors. Like the brunch tour, you do also get some historical narration even with the jazz focus.

This is the tour for the NOLA night owls. Sailing ends at 9 p.m., which means the night is still young enough to explore the city, especially if you plan to bar hop over on Bourbon Street or find some live music to dance the night away.

Steamboat Natchez Spring Fling Option

Technically an add-on to their dinner and lunch cruises, the Spring Fling add-on can elevate a Steamboat Natchez river cruise experience. This package includes the river tour, the lunch or dinner option, a sweet snack, a decorated reserved table, as well as three alcoholic beverages from their special menu. Not to worry, kiddos aren't left out of the fun here — they get unlimited soft drinks or juice.

This deal is only offered, rightly, during the spring to help make spring breaks even more special. Usually, the package is offered by Steamboat Natchez from mid-March through most of May. If you plan on utilizing the cash bar, the package is well worth the price. You can get the Spring Fling option for lunch or dinner cruises as well as the Sunday brunch cruise. Obviously, between the three options the lunch ticket will be the most reasonable price for budget spring breakers while the dinner ticket will be more of a splurge at almost double the cost of lunch.

Steamboat Natchez Dinner Jazz Cruise

Available with or without dinner, this cruise showcases the Mississippi River from dusk until the stars come out to shine. Accompanied by Grammy-nominated Dukes of Dixieland Jazz, guests will also hear the history of NOLA. Like the Creole Queen, the Steamboat Natchez cruises down the river with its vibrant red wheel and charming white paint job. A bright Steamboat Natchez sign is splashed along the side of the boat to ensure you don't accidentally board the wrong paddlewheel boat.

For those who opt for dinner, there are two dinner seatings: the first from 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. and the second from 7:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. If you want to watch the sunset glow from the boat's deck, consider doing the second dinner seating. You are welcome to leave your table before the seating time is over. Likewise, if you'd rather see the city shimmering under the stars, you'll want to eat dinner sooner to get back to the deck after sunset.

Steamboat Natchez Sunday Jazz Cruise

For the brunch crowd, the Steamboat Natchez also offers a brunch jazz cruise along the river. Whether or not you indulge in some tasty brunch offerings, you can enjoy the historical narration, a calliope concert, and Duke Heitger's Steamboat Stompers Jazz Trio. A Sunday cruise is a great way to finish a trip to NOLA or start one, especially if you've never been to this fascinating city before.

Some of the tasty brunch foods you can indulge in on this cruise include chicken and sausage gumbo, grits, and pain perdu, which is a sweet treat similar to French toast. There are a wide variety of foods available during brunch to accommodate a range of dietary needs or the pickiest of kiddos.

If you somehow miss live music during a trip to New Orleans, a jazz cruise is an excellent way to fit in some jazz tunes you won't hear in the same way anywhere else. Steamboat Natchez is a great option for music-lovers and first-timers alike. 

Steamboat Natchez Daytime Jazz Cruise

Like the Sunday Jazz Cruise, the Steamboat Natchez brings back its calliope concert as well as Duke Heitger's Steamboat Stompers Jazz Trio for daytime adventurers. The difference is that the lunch cruise is only available from Monday-Saturday each week.

An optional lunch is offered on this sightseeing cruise that also includes a narrated history of the city. Like the dinner cruise, there are two seatings during lunch: the first from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. and the second from 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. Either way, do not miss the red beans and rice! It's simple but so very tasty. The menu is referred to as "casual," denoting that there are not a lot of foods on offer during the buffet. Even so, there is plenty to make a meal.

Since these cruises take place during the parts of the day when the sun is highest, be careful of the heat. This is particularly important if you're visiting in the summer months because the sun can be brutal on the decks of the boat. Be sure to pack a hat, wear your sunscreen and stay hydrated!

Hop aboard the Canal Street Ferry

New Orleanians know that the best way to see the Mississippi River is aboard the $2 Canal Street to Algiers Ferry. These rides might not be luxe, though you get to enjoy the same sights as the other river boats at a much cheaper cost. For roughly thirty minutes, ferry riders can enjoy the riverfront and make their way to the other side of NOLA.

The ferry has been part of life in NOLA since 1827, so not only would you be saving a lot of money by taking it instead of a cruise, but you'd be experiencing the views as New Orleanians have for almost two centuries! Find the ferry right off Canal Street next to the Aquarium of the Americas.

The Canal Street Ferry runs every day of the week with varying hours. You could take it to Algiers Point and explore the historic neighborhood, visit the Jazz Walk of Fame, or use it as an excuse to find a new lunch spot. Since the ride is only 30 minutes each way you can easily fit it into the busiest NOLA vacation with ease. It's also a great way to still get that river experience without the cruise price tag.

Booze Cruise on The Cajun Queen

This mega-peddle boat can host up to 22 guests. Think of it like a river cruise meets street peddle-bar, the Booze Cruise is an excellent smaller option for folks looking for a good time on the river. Cruising on the Cajun Queen can either be a public or private experience, depending on what you're looking for. Guests also don't have to be 21 to enjoy the ride either, the boat can accommodate riders aged eight and up.

In addition to the peddle boat, you can also rent a pontoon boat for up to a dozen people for a different kind of cruise experience. The pontoon allows guests to bring their drinks as well as snacks and comes with a sound system and coolers with ice for all your BYOB needs. You may not get a full-on narrated history experience, though you could always hire a captain that offers narration. Or maybe you could invite a longtime New Orleanian who likes to spin a good yarn. Either way, you get some much-needed river time and get to experience NOLA from the Mississippi.