A problem with point-to-point cycling tours can be too many miles, too few attractions. To cycle from Memphis to New Orleans in a week, you’d ride busy highways. On this tour our floating resort casts off at sunset, and travels up to 100 miles while we eat and sleep to start another perfect day of cycling early the next morning.
This better plan allows us to savor quiet back routes. While we ride and take breaks to explore intriguing sights of the American South, the ship relocates downriver. At the end of our rides she’ll welcome us back aboard with snacks, cool drinks, and a warm shower.
Before dinner, there’s time to nap, or sit topside and watch the river. Each evening, a live concert follows a gourmet dinner and sensuous dessert. This is not your normal cycling tour. It’s also not your normal cruise.
America’s Finest Cycling Adventure
An eight-day cruise on the American Countess. Starts in Memphis, and ends eight days later in New Orleans. Seven luxurious nights in a deluxe stateroom; no need to repack. An onboard “Riverlorian” explains the Mississippi River’s history, culture and sights. This is the finest way to rediscover Mark Twain’s America.
Custom downriver itinerary w/ extra stops allows a week of great rides. Routes include prime portions of Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Daily choice of multiple routes and mileage. No long or steep hills. Stronger riders will be challenged by extra-mileage loops. It’s always OK to sleep in or take a day off. Santana’s daily sans-cycling choice includes scenic river cruise or a ride in a touring coach with panoramic windows.
The Soul of America
The Mississippi River, a mile wide and over 2,000 miles long, gathers its strength from 31 states and 2 Canadian provinces. In an era before electronics and roads, the Mississippi River was America’s original highway.
Santana’s week of Spring cycling starts in Memphis. A warm-up ride takes us through beautiful neighborhoods. A morning pause at Sun Studio allows us to stand at the microphone that launched the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Towards noon our route guides us to the Gates of Graceland. There, a special tour and lunch at Elvis’ fabulous home, where you’ll see famous gardens, his plane, his Cadillacs and, yes, Elvis was a cyclist who owned a tandem bicycle! In the afternoon, we’ll spin down Beale Street to the River.
Keep your eyes peeled. There she is! The newest star on the Mississippi River is the American Countess. The Mississippi’s newest sternwheeler was launched in 2020 and will begin her first full season in 2021. Partnering with our long-time friends at American Queen Steam Steamboat Company this is the first announcement of Santana’s 5th sternwheel-powered Big River Cycling Cruise.
The following morning in Arkansas starts with a short ride to reach a joyous convocation in downtown Helena’s historic Malco Theater. There, Reverend Arthur Hughes and the gospel choir of Greater First Baptist Church will invoke God’s protection for the following week of rides. While we receive the reverend’s short blessing the Countess will untie and prepare to enter the channel. As we get back on our bikes a long blast from our sternwheeler’s steam whistle signals the start of a three mile race. How many of us will be able to beat the Countess to the center of the wide bridge spanning the Mississippi River?
Coasting down the far side we cross the border to enter the state of Mississippi’s “Delta Country”—the authentic wellspring of American music. In Clarksdale we ride through “the crossroads” to reach our lunch and a live performance at Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club. Those who ride through the afternoon will reach the ship’s tie-up near the mouth of the Arkansas River.
On day 3 we’ll visit a civil war battlefield and nearby Port Gibson — a town General Grant declared “Too beautiful to burn.” In this town we’ll pass America’s oldest synagogue, study the civil rights mural and visit the store and workshops of an interracial college of quilting.
Leaving by way of Grant’s wilderness march, optional loops will pass the Windsor Ruins and the ghost town of Rodney, where the Union gunboat Rattlesnake laid siege after Union sailors who went ashore for Sunday church service were captured by confederate raiders.
In Lorman, our lunch at the Old Country Store features the fried chicken that food critic Alton Brown declared America’s Best. Our apres lunch ride cruises down the Trace to Natchez. Once a trade route, the Natchez Trace has become a National Scenic Parkway where trucks and high speeds are prohibited.
We’ll arrive in Natchez and spend the following day partaking in its famous Spring Pilgrimage Festival. Started by the garden clubs in 1932, this week showcases the town, its collection of antebellum homes, and gardens in full bloom. We’ll tour three antebellum mansions that take us back 180 years in US history.
Prior to Santana’s first visit, no bicycle tour had experienced a ride across Angola Louisiana’s State Penitentiary, where a ten mile loop of the wide river surrounds the infamous “Alcatraz on the Mississippi.” If the waters of the mighty Mississippi River permit, this morning, the warden and an a capella choir of inmates will welcome us to an amazing story of redemption.
Exiting by way of the main gate, some of the most beautiful miles of our tour wander through the gentle Tunica Hills to reach lunch at Rosedown Plantation, where James Audubon studied and sketched wildlife. Before reboarding the Countess in St Francisville we’ll find time for a guided ghost tour at The Myrtles and a self guided shopping spree at Grandmother’s Buttons.
Rolling through the crowded metropolis of Baton Rouge in the middle of the night, the Countess ties up midway to New Orleans for a choice of routes on Louisiana’s river roads. Since we were here last, one of the beautiful plantations that lines this part of the river has been deglorified to reveal the ugly realities of slavery in America. Other parts of today’s route leave the river to find bayous and enclaves of Cajun culture. Back at the ship an authentic Cajun band will introduce you to zydeco at our crawfish boil on the levee.
Those who remain awake after tonight’s onboard performance will enjoy the spectacular lights of the city as our sternwheeler rolls into the center of New Orleans and docks at the foot of Canal Street. The following morning, a celebrated local hero and cyclist hosts our loop through the Ninth Ward (where he guided rescue efforts during Katrina) and the Garden District before our tour’s French Quarter finish that ends with a ride down Bourbon Street.
Singles & tandems, no long or steep hills, on any day it’s your choice to go easy or hard with an array of various-length routes and a pair of non-riding options.
Our tour’s on-shore support fleet includes trucks, coaches, SOS/Treasure van, and pro mechanics. Admissions and guided tours of Graceland, Civil War sites, museums, antebellum homes and plantations. Nightly live concerts with a different band each night explore the Mississippi roots of American Music. At no extra charge we’ll get your empty bike case to New Orleans, or your built bike back to Memphis. Those who park cars or RVs in Memphis can return aboard Amtrak’s celebrated City of New Orleans. Bike shipping and third-party rental bike info will be sent out two months prior to the cruise. This unique adventure — complete with rides, off-boat activities, special meals and extra entertainment — was intro’d by Santana in 2006 and improved in 2007, 2014, & 2015.
Mississippi River 2024
Graceland to Bourbon Street
Following Santana’s successful charters of the Delta Queen and American Queen, Santana is proud to announce our charter of the American Countess—the newest member of the American Queen Steamboat Company’s fleet. She entered service early this year, just in time for Santana’s 2022 Big River Cycling Cruise. By spring 2024, the Countess’ captain and crew will have perfected life aboard this elegant paddle-wheeler.
Like her older sisters, the Countess is an authentic sternwheel-powered riverboat. Those who’ve joined us on an earlier version of Big River (this will be #5) will love the Countess’s larger quieter staterooms. The American Countess plans its first full season of cruising in 2021.
Our charter includes never ending food: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 24-hour treats and snacks. On days we don’t return to the ship for lunch, there’ll be a festive mid-ride feast. The American Countess serves unlimited free soft drinks, tea, and coffee; plus beer and wine with dinners. The Countess has three dining venues, and optional room service is available.
During Santana’s earlier charters the American Queen Steamboat Company’s culinary staff appreciated our appetites as much as we appreciated their multi-course gourmet meals.
The menu choices change daily, and will always include a surprising selection of local fruits and produce, the freshest-possible seafood, vegetarian options, grilled-to-order meats, and a rotation of Creole, Cajun, and Southern specialties. A changing assortment of desserts and pastries are produced aboard each day.
Before dawn, the chef is preparing another irresistible meal. Because the boat is ours, proper breakfast attire is cycling clothes. Ready to ride? Great, the Captain has found a parking spot on the levee. Line up for a photo; 245 cyclists with the Countess as a backdrop.
As we take a parade lap around town, the Countess heads downstream. As we meander through forests and farmland, the Countess takes the lead. On the horizon, we spot a huge bridge spanning the River. Who’ll get there first?
Frequently Asked Questions
Mississippi River 2024
Graceland to Bourbon Street
Q: What are the exact dates?
A: Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, & Louisiana offer warm spring cycling on smooth roads with gentle terrain. Along this segment of the Mississippi River, only one month separates frost from sweltering heat, and has zero chance of a hurricane. As in the past we have again specified the first week of April, the perfect spring month to cycle this prime portion of the American South. Short sleeve cycling with days in the low 70’s. Sunny days without steep hills or bothersome traffic. Our 8-day Memphis to New Orleans Cycling Cruise is taking place March 31 to April 7, 2024.
Additionally, with this schedule we reach Natchez in time to experience one of the final weeks of Spring Pilgrimage, when the guides are in period costumes, and gardens will be in full bloom. Moreover this tour’s mild terrain is perfect for early season fitness.
Q: What’s the cost?
A: Our first-in stateroom pricing for this 8-day cycling cruise starts at $3,299 per-person. Booking early is easy and RISK FREE due to our 14-day Cancellation Policy. Our reservations page shows pricing of available staterooms.
Q: What’s “Early-In” Pricing?
A: To manage the risk of chartering entire cruise ships, couples who commit early are rewarded with discounts of up to $1,000 per stateroom. Lowest pricing in every category is limited to the first few rooms. Booking early is easy and RISK FREE.
Q: What about tipping?
A: Jan and I don’t accept tips. A comprehensive “cruise extras” fee of $925 per-person includes a long list of off-ship activities, live musical performances, admissions, interpretive guides, mid-ride lunches, and ride support (gps route files and a fleet of 9 support vehicles including: touring coaches, trucks, and SOS vans driven by pro mechanics). Government mandated port fees and taxes of $200 per-person. Mandated shipboard gratuities of $160 per-person includes valet bike handling.
Q: Are all the staterooms the same?
A: No. American Queen Steamboat Company’s latest river ship design has created a luxurious ship with larger staterooms and beautiful amenities. Even this base level room is larger than the suites of our original Mississippi charters. While the ships chartered for our earlier Mississippi cruises had narrower beds, all rooms on this newer ship use the same beds as today’s newer ocean ships, where the luxurious king-width bedding can be divided into full-width twins. Those who wish to splurge can upgrade to a larger, brighter and airier Veranda Stateroom with a wide sliding-glass door that opens to the top-deck promenade. The most romantic option? An even larger Veranda Suite comes with a sliding glass door that opens to a secluded private balcony with a table and chairs.
Q: How are staterooms assigned?
A: In any sub-category all rooms are identical. Using the reservation timestamp, those who reserve earliest get the conveniently located staterooms closest to the front of the ship. If friends desire a pair of adjacent staterooms the timestamp of the first reservation determines the location of both rooms. In short, out of fairness to all our guests, we will not take requests for specific room numbers. Out of fairness to all of our guests, we will not take requests for specific room numbers. Those who book early obtain prime positioning.
Q: Are rental bikes available?
A: Yes. If you own a nice bike that fits, however, bringing it with you is relatively easy and inexpensive. More info on this in Bill’s Travel Tips. If you don’t wish to fly with your bike, discount shipping arrangements will be available through BikeFlights.com. Single bike rental rates are about $450, includes delivery to Memphis on embark morning and retrieval in New Orleans after the last ride. Lightweight road bikes and upright hybrid bikes will be available. In this part of the world E-bikes are unnecessary and unavailable. We will update you on rental single bike pricing/reservations about 30 days prior to embark.
Q: How do we get to and from the tour?
A: Detailed info on planes, trains, and long term parking by April 2023. Those who drive to Memphis or New Orleans can complete their one-way cruise with long-term parking and Amtrak’s City of New Orleans.
Q: How many miles each day?
A: In addition to our daily pair of zero-mile options (cruising on the river boat or grabbing a seat on our Panoramic-Window coach), every day has multiple cycling routes. Anyone who can ride 35 flat miles will be able to enjoy all seven days of cycling. If you prefer hills or want to ride 60 (or more) miles a day, we’ve got you covered. At each morning’s breakfast you’ll get a map charting the day’s cycling routes and recommended stops. During a brief route talk you’ll hear about each route’s grades and difficulty. Santana’s vets have learned to love and rely on their handlebar-mounted gps unit. Costing as little as $160, these touch-screen marvels prevent the age-old problem of getting lost or riding unplanned miles. If you’d rather use your smart phone we have a mapping system that works great for that too! Santana supplies free electronic mapping and route files. Simply select the route and follow the highlighted map.
Q: What’s the next step?
A: A near-immediate sell-out of this event is anticipated. Early-in pricing is limited to the first few rooms in each category. Pricing listed on the Stateroom Reservations section is the current pricing. Refresh your browser to see any changes that may have occurred if you delay booking after loading this page. To lock-in availability and the lowest pricing on a RISK-FREE basis, reserve your space through our reservations portal. Santana’s secure website is open 24 hours per day, accepts all major credit cards, and automatically adjusts for remaining stateroom availability. Reserving your spot is RISK-FREE. In each category the prime location staterooms will be assigned in the same order as the time stamp of your booking.
Q: What do you mean by RISK-FREE?
A: When you use your credit card and book through our website, we’ll give you 14 risk-free days to think it over and clear your schedule. If you change your mind, send an email to Matt@SantanaAdventures.com within two weeks to cancel the reservation transaction and obtain a full refund. Here is a full listing of Santana Adventures’ Terms & Conditions.
Q: What if we change our minds after 14 days?
A: Because full-boat charters are binding, non-cancelable contracts, Santana will only enter into this group charter based on your confirmed-through-deposit commitment. In effect, we undertake a huge risk by guaranteeing full payment on your behalf. After entering into this obligation, we cannot afford for you to back out—for any reason. This is no different than the clear written policy that existed for all except one of Santana’s prior chartered-ship cruises. Here it is:
Santana’s acceptance of your registration and non-refundable deposit for this event is subsequent to your agreement to pay the remaining balance in full. While Santana allows limited refunds on rallies and tours, Santana’s cruises are non-cancelable and non-transferable. When the possibility of paying yet not attending is unacceptable, Santana recommends Travel Guard trip insurance. For the past 20 years hundreds of our clients have relied on Travel Guard coverage without complaint. An informative application will be mailed with your invoice; and further information is available online. Here is a full listing of Santana Adventures’ Terms & Conditions.
Q: Have you ever relaxed your refund policy?
A: Santana has willingly resold a number of fully prepaid staterooms for a fee of $1,500 per room—which was waived when a vacating couple found someone to take their place. When there has been more than one pending resell request, those who paid-in-full earliest had their space resold next. Using this non-guaranteed method (which is grossly inferior to trip insurance) Jan and I have cheerfully refunded over $500,000 in otherwise non-refundable and non-transferable cruise fares. Here is a full listing of Santana Adventures’ Terms & Conditions.
Q: What’s the difference between a SAG-wagon and Santana’s SOS/treasure vans?
A: Most tour companies use SAG-wagons that haul luggage and “sweep” the route between overnight stops. The drivers refill water-bottles, fix flat tires, and retrieve riders who can’t manage the easiest route between the widely spaced hotels. The problem, of course, is that the roving vans tend to be annoying until you actually need help. At that point it’s common to wait for two or more hours until one shows up. Although SAG drivers can fix a flat, they don’t have the tools or know-how to handle serious mechanical problems. Instead, they drive you to a bike shop (which explains why SAG-wagons disappear for hours at a time). This tour’s SOS van is driven by a pro bike mechanic who brings tools and spares. When you phone him with the coordinates from your GPS, he’ll arrive in a flash to get you back in the saddle. Because Santana expects participants to fill their own bottles, fix their own flats, and choose a ride they can finish, our SOS drivers are underworked, and have time to retrieve your shopping treasures.
Q: Are beverages included on the American Countess?
A: Beer & Wine are included at dinner. Other alcohol is not included but can be charged to your room. Soft Drinks, Coffee, Espresso Drinks, and Juice are all complimentary 24/7.
Q: Which meals are included?
A: Our charter includes never ending food: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 24-hour treats and snacks. On days we don’t return to the ship for lunch, there’ll be a festive mid-ride feast. The American Countess serves unlimited free soft drinks, tea, and coffee; plus beer and wine with dinners. The Countess has three dining venues, and room service is available.
During Santana’s earlier charters the American Queen Steamboat Company’s culinary staff appreciated our appetites as much as we appreciated their multi-course gourmet meals. The menu choices change daily, and will always include a surprising selection of local fruits and produce, the freshest-possible seafood, vegetarian options, grilled-to-order meats. On the Southern Mississippi the Countess’s daily menu also includes a rotation of Creole, Cajun, and Southern specialties. A changing assortment of desserts and pastries are produced aboard each day.
Q: Does the American Countess have WiFi? Does the ship have an elevator?
Will there be menu selections for vegetarians, vegans and picky eaters?
A: Yes to all of the above.
Q: Is Covid-19 Vaccination Required?
A: Santana Adventures does not require vaccination for our events. At this time, American Queen Voyages is requiring passengers to be vaccinated.
Q: What if we have more questions?
A: The quickest and easiest way to get help is to use Santana’s Contact Form. One of our team members will follow up with you as soon as possible.