Finding Twain, Eagles and History on American Cruise Lines
By GERRY BARKER
North Palm Beach Life
It’s called the Mighty Mississippi for a reason. Steeped in legend and lore, this major waterway continues to play a vital role in our nation’s commerce. And just as they’ve done for almost 200 years, riverboats make the journey from New Orleans in the South to Minnesota in the North.
But make no mistake — those riverboats of yesteryear can’t compare to American Serenade, one of the newest ships from one of the leaders in U.S. river cruising, American Cruise Lines, which has been sailing U.S. waters for over 50 years on American-crewed and American-flagged ships.
We are taking their Upper Mississippi, fall foliage cruise, which starts in Alton, Illinois, just outside St. Louis, and ends in Red Wing, Minnesota. This is where the river is the most scenic, flowing by tall bluffs and through habitats populated by bald eagles. Along the way, we’ll stop at towns embodying both history and charm.
This is our second cruise with ACL. In May, we were on American Constellation as it sailed through Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands. Since it is our second time, we are enrolled in their Eagle Society loyalty program, which includes special benefits and offers.
Photos/Video by Gerry Barker
More: A Voyage of Discovery on the Upper Mississippi
Upper Mississippi Slideshow
Our American Serenade cruise on the Upper Mississippi started in Alton, IL., just outside St. Louis. Before boarding the ship, we got a tour of Alton, a city of some 30,000 with both charm and a rich history., and also the home of the world's tallest man. READ MORE.
Day 2 of our American Serenade cruise on the Upper Mississippi finds us in the hometown of Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, whose name is synonymous with the Mississippi River. We started our day listening to a Mark Twain actor who came aboard the ship. Afterwards, we walked along the historic district and visited Twain's boyhood home and museum. In the afternoon, we took the tour to the Mark Twain Cave. It doesn't get more Americana than this. TREAD MORE.
As we made our way up the Mississippi, our third stop was Fort Madison, IA. This town of around 12,000 was built around the first U.S. military fort -- which stood from 1808-1813 -- in the upper Mississippi. You can walk from the ship to a replica of the fort. Fort Madison is also the home of the Sheaffer Pen Co. and the Iowa State Penitentiary. Trains, including Amtrak's Southwest Chief, come through here as many as 80 times a day. READ MORE.
Day Four and we are in Davenport, IA., an important rail center here in America's Heartland. Outside the ship we hear music and volunteers cheering on runners. Today, we're doing the "hop on, hop off" bus tour of the city, and have our sights set on the riverfront Freight House Farmers Market, operating out of an historic freight house where back in the day farmers brought goods here by rail. Today it houses over 150 vendors from both Iowa and Illinois. Did I see a stand selling funnel cakes? READ MORE.
Dubuque welcomed us on day five with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Here we toured an historic church, visited a beautiful botanic garden maintained by 300 volunteers, spent time at an urban farmstead and took a ride on the world's "shortest and steepest railroad."
On Day 6 on our American Serenade cruise on the Upper Mississippi, we reached Winona, MN., a longtime stop on the river. In fact, in 1856, 1,300 steamboats visited here. A major rail hub, it also is great for eagle watching. A group of us took the Winona Boat Tour into the Mississippi backwaters, where we saw eagles, eagle nests and more. READ MORE.
Day 7, and the last stop on our American Serenade cruise of the Upper Mississippi finds us in Red Wing, MN. Settled in the 1850s, Red Wing at one time produced more wheat than other county in the country. It is the home of Red Wing Shoes, where you can see the world's largest boot in their museum, and "the best bakery in Minnesota" -- Hanisch Bakery. Charm, history and donuts -- sign us up! READ MORE.