Skip the barge style river cruise and consider a charming paddlewheeler instead. To get your planning started, we’ve compiled a list of six old-fashioned riverboat cruises that will make you feel like you stepped back in time.

Columbia and Snake Rivers

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When you think about paddlewheel boat cruises, the Pacific Northwest probably isn’t one of the first destinations that comes to mind. However, American Cruise Lines is looking to change that with Columbia and Snake River cruises aboard the American Pride. You’ll find a dizzying array of amenities, including breakfast room service, afternoon tea service, complimentary cocktail hour each night and more.

When it comes to your ship’s itinerary, you’ll be headed out on an eight-day journey along the trail of Lewis and Clark. You’ll travel along the Columbia River Gorge, which is how Lewis & Clark traveled westward. Your cruise starts in Portland, and ports of call include Astoria, Mount St. Helens, The Dalles and Pendleton/Richland. You’ll finish off in Clarkston, the town named after William Clark.

Ohio River Cruise

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America Cruise Lines also offers an 11-day adventure aboard the Queen of the Mississippi that not only cruises along the Ohio River, but also the Mississippi River, a major source of inspiration for Mark Twain. Make no mistake, the Ohio River is also an important icon of American history, helping develop and further explore the west. During this cruise you’ll uncover many aspects of American history and culture. Stops include a visit to Churchill Downs, the site of the Kentucky Derby, and Jim Beam Distillery, where you can sample some American bourbon.

Berlin to Prague

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The MS Elbe Princesse combines the conveniences of modern river cruise ships with the historical elegance of the old paddlewheel boats. Here, you’ll be cruising along the Elbe and Vltava Rivers in Germany and the Czech Republic, visiting historic cities like Berlin, Magdeburg, Wittenberg, Meissen, Dresden, Usti, Kralupy and Prague. Several points of interest include the Magdeburg cathedral, built by Otto the Great; the stunning Elbe Sandstone Mountains; Dresden, known as the “Florence of the Elbe”; and Sanssouci Palace, the residence of Frederick the Great.  

Onboard, you can expect modern conveniences like free Wi-Fi in the bar and lounge, gourmet French cuisine — including a gala dinner — plenty of activities and all drinks included with your meals and at the bar.

Peoria to Hannibal

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Mark Twain fans will want to make note of this special journey. This historical cruise takes guests on a five-day, four-night cruise to Hannibal, Missouri, where Mark Twain spent time as a child. Upon arrival in Hannibal, you’ll be greeted by "Tom Sawyer" and "Becky Thatcher," followed by a tour of Mark Twain Cave. Your final day will include a visit to Mark Twain’s boyhood home and lunch at the Star Theater, where famous names like the Marx Brothers and Harry Houdini once performed.

Other historical stops along this cruise include President Abraham Lincoln Hotel and the Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield, Illinois. It’s important to note that while you’ll be cruising between destinations, your lodging is all off-ship.

Loire Valley Châteaux

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Want to explore some impressive French châteaux on a paddlewheel boat? You can on the MS Loire Princesse. Start in Paris and cruise down the Loire, one of France’s best wine regions. The Loire Valley is home to some pretty famous châteaux, including Chambord and Chenonceau.

Step inside the imaginary world of Jules Verne at Machines of the Isle of Nantes, and marvel at Brissac, the highest castle in France. Interested in the history of steamships? Museum Escal’ Atlantic in Saint-Nazaire Harbour is a former submarine base and museum where you can learn about the earliest transatlantic ocean liners.

Your cruise includes perks like free Wi-Fi at the lounge and bar, and drinks with your meals and at the bar. Book this cruise and get one night of accommodations in a 3- or 4-star Paris hotel, dinner at a French brasserie and visits to Chambord and Chenonceau châteaux. A full-day excursion to see other châteaux like Château d’Ussé, Château d'Azay-le-Rideau and the Château de Villandry gardens is also included.

New Orleans to Memphis

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American Queen Steamboat Company offers a number of interesting itineraries on the American Duchess, including a nine-day New Orleans to Memphis cruise. Several ports on your posh riverboat cruise include Nottoway Plantation in Louisiana, the largest remaining antebellum mansion; Natchez, the oldest city on the Mississippi; and Vicksburg, nicknamed “the key to the South” by President Abraham Lincoln. Throughout your cruise, you’ll have an opportunity to visit Civil War sites, experience Southern culture, sample local cuisine and bask in the beauty of the Antebellum era.

The American Duchess is the first all-suite U.S. paddlewheel boat. The main dining room aboard the American Duchess features 5-star cuisine, or the River Club Terrace offers a more relaxed dining experience. Many voyages include one-night accommodations at a boutique hotel prior to the cruise, transfer to the boat and some port excursions.