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Sites to see on the Mississippi River when cruising from NOLA

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A few people on our ship's roll call wondered about what to see as the ship left New Orleans. So thought we'd share this information to the New Orleans departure board for those of you on other cruise lines.


“Enjoying the Mississippi River from a cruise ship out of New Orleans”

By Rod and Leslie Lincoln

[information accurate as of January 4, 2019]


Being native Louisianians, we really enjoy cruising from New Orleans. The Mississippi River portion of the cruise has quite a few notable sites to see all the way down to the mouth of the river. The true mouth of the Mississippi can only be reached via boat, because the highway stops at the town of Venice, Louisiana; so consider yourself fortunate to get to see it on your cruise. From Venice it’s still about 30 more miles of river to be traveled before you reach the Gulf.


Like an interstate highway, the river has mile markers along the riverbank that measure the distance from Head of Passes (where the main river splits into three major passes). Going north, the miles are measured as AHP (above Head of Passes).  The cruise terminal is at approximately mile 96 AHP. The river south of Head of Passes is marked as BHP (below Head of Passes) and the actual point where it dumps into the Gulf is approximately mile 20 BHP.


My husband was born and raised on a citrus plantation on the lower Mississippi River, about 50 miles south of New Orleans. He frequently leads media tours of this area, and here are some of the things he recommends that you look for from your cruise ship vantage point. (even after dark)


The Ernest N. Morial Convention Center is the really large building across from the cruise terminal. It was the original location of the 1984 World’s Fair.


Riverwalk: This mall was also originally built for the 1984 World’s Fair. At the foot of Canal Street is the ferry which takes cars/passengers across the river to Algiers Point. Canal Street marks the beginning of the area known as “the French Quarter.”


As the ship continues downriver, you can see the following points of interest on the east bank (port side):


Aquarium of The Americas and Woldenberg riverfront park. The aquarium, which was built in 1990, is part of the Audubon Nature Institute, along with the Audubon Zoo and the Audubon Insectarium—all great places to visit.


Jax Brewery is a shopping mall inside the former beer brewery.


St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square. This is the oldest Catholic cathedral in continual use in the U.S., and a very familiar landmark of New Orleans. The first church on the site was built in 1718. The park in front of the cathedral is Jackson Square and has a large statue of Andrew Jackson on his horse.


The Moon Walk - the area of the riverfront in front of Jackson Square was named for Mayor Maurice “Moon” Landrieu; the large promenade here was built in the 1970s. It’s a popular place for street performers and musicians. It’s reached from Jackson Square via the Washington Artillery Park, an elevated plaza with cannons which honors the 141st Field Artillery of the La. National Guard, established in 1838.


The French Market includes the long buildings and covered open-air stalls that stretch for several blocks. You can find pralines, souvenirs and fresh produce here. The end of the building closest to Jackson Square contains the world-famous Café du Monde with its delicious beignets. There’s also a Café du Monde in the previously mentioned Riverwalk, in case you want to try some when you disembark.


At the end of the French Market stalls, there is a 3-story red brick building which originally housed the New Orleans mint. Gold and silver coins were produced here from 1838 to 1909, except during the Civil War. It has been designated as a National Historic Landmark, and is a branch of the Louisiana State Museum. It also houses the New Orleans Jazz Museum. It may be a little hard to see because the Governor Nicholls wharf is between it and the river.  


You will pass many warehouses on the river before reaching the Industrial Canal, which is a man-made canal that runs between the river and Lake Pontchartrain. It’s where many of the levees were breached during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, flooding the entire area.


Just downriver of the Industrial Canal, you will see an area with several brick buildings with white columns, and a large grassy parade ground. This is Jackson Barracks, home of the Louisiana National Guard. The base was established in 1834, and in 1866 it was named for Andrew Jackson. Past this point you leave Orleans Parish and enter St. Bernard Parish. Parish is the Louisiana term for county.


Domino sugar refinery opened here in 1909. According to Wikipedia it is the second largest sugar refinery in the world, producing 7.5 million pounds of sugar per day! If you look closely to the left of the large blonde brick smokestacks, you can see Cavaroc House. It’s a Greek Revival plantation home built in 1839. This beautiful home, listed on the National Historic Register, is used by Domino Sugar for executive offices.


About mile marker 90 AHP: Chalmette Battlefield and Jean Lafitte National Park is the large park just downriver from the sugar refinery. This is the location of the Battle of New Orleans which took place on January 8, 1815 during the War of 1812. The Chalmette Monument is the tall white obelisk. The park grounds also include the Chalmette National Cemetery. Closer to the river you can see the Malus-Beauregard House, which was constructed about 18 years after the battle. It was purchased in 1949 by the park service and completely restored.   


The very large plant with a tall red stack originally belonged to Kaiser Aluminum, which was a huge player in the local economy, with more than 2,700 workers, until it closed in 1983. Then the site was purchased by the St. Bernard Parish Port, Harbor and Terminal District which uses it to store grain and other materials.


Right next to it is the PBF Chalmette Refinery. On the riverbank here is the Chalmette ferry landing. The ferry takes passengers/cars across the Mississippi River to Algiers, the part of Orleans Parish that is located on the west bank.


A mile or so past the refinery and ferry landing, the river begins to make a huge bend to the south, then back to the west again, and then south. Hundreds of years ago, when sailing ships reached this bend, they had to wait days, and sometimes weeks, for the winds to change enough to enable them to negotiate this extreme turn. This bend is known as English turn; named so because (according to the explorer Iberville), it was in this bend in 1699 that his brother Bienville, coming downstream, met the British who had come up the river to choose a site for a settlement. Bienville convinced the English captain that the territory was in possession of the French and demanded that they turn around and leave. Because they would not be able to pass the turn until the winds changed, the English were afraid of being stranded and attacked by the French, so they turned around and left.


When the ship has made it completely around the turn, you will be at mile marker 76 AHP. You’ve traveled 20 miles by river, but only 5 miles as the crow flies. Looking back towards the northwest, you’ll be surprised to see how close the city of New Orleans still is. You are now entering Plaquemines Parish. The first town you spot on the west bank (starboard side) is Belle Chasse, named after the commander of the French and Spanish troops at the Louisiana Purchase. He lived here, and the commander of the American troops at the Louisiana Purchase, Gen. James Wilkinson, lived 5 miles south of here on the river.


Just south of Belle Chasse, at mile marker 74.5, is Alvin Callendar Joint Services Naval Air Station, on the west bank (starboard side.) In 1928 Charles Lindbergh landed the Spirit of St. Louis here. During WWII, dirigibles were stationed here to search the Mississippi River and Gulf coast for German submarines that were sinking ships at the mouth of the river. In addition to the Navy, the base also houses Air Force, Air National Guard, Coast Guard, Customs, DEA, ICE and many more agencies, and it’s frequently seen on NCIS New Orleans.


You will pass several industrial operations, plants, refineries, grain elevators, coal storage facilities, etc. on both sides of the river from this point on. One of the more notable ones, at mile marker 73 AHP just south of Alvin Callendar Field, is the Chevron Oak Point refinery. It was built here in 1941 to make diesel fuel additives for submarines, because of concern that the Japanese would invade California which at that time was the only place where these additives were made. Today it’s one of the largest and most advanced producers of blended fuels and lubricants in the world.


The large grain elevators at mile 61.5 are located on the former lands of St. Rosalie Plantation (notable in that it was owned by an African-American with nearly 100 slaves before the Civil War.) The grain elevator stores 6 million bushels of beans, corn and wheat in 176 silos.


At mile marker 48.5 is the Plaquemines Parish seat of government, Pointe-a-la-Hache. It was established in the 1730s. The lighted structures are the new courthouse, and the façade of the 100-year-old building that was replaced after it burned in 2001. Four miles south of this point, the highway ends so it’s the farthest you can drive on the east bank.


Port Sulphur, at mile marker 39, was the center of Louisiana sulfur production. Millions of tons of sulfur were mined and shipped from this point, making it the fourth largest port on the Gulf of Mexico in its heyday. The Freeport Sulphur Company closed in the 1990s, but the docks on the river are still frequently used and you will see them lit up at night.


At mile marker 20.5 AHP, on the west bank, is Fort Jackson—scene of the Second Battle of New Orleans in 1862 during the Civil War. It has been nominated for National Park status, but not yet funded. Though it isn’t lit up for you to see, Fort St. Philip is directly across the river from Fort Jackson on the east bank. It was crucial in the protection of the river in both the War of 1812 and the Civil War.


It will take 7-8 hours for the ship to make its way down the river from New Orleans to the Gulf. During this time it is under the control of a highly trained pilot belonging to the Crescent River Pilots Association. By law, these river pilots direct the navigation of all ships up and down the 106 miles of river between New Orleans and what is known as Pilottown. A few miles after passing Fort Jackson, a pilot boat will bring a licensed bar pilot to the ship. It will have been been launched from the pilot station at mile marker 11, near the town of Venice (the end of the road on the west bank). The bar pilots specialize in navigating ships through the narrow, constantly changing passes and over the bar into the Gulf. The bar pilot will take command from the river pilot who will be dropped off at the pilot station at Pilottown at mile marker 2 AHP. You’ll recognize the small pilot boat by the lights on top—a white light that sits above a red light. The ship will slow down and you can watch as the bar pilot climbs up to the cruise ship from the smaller boat. The same thing will happen around mile marker 4 AHP as a pilot boat from Pilottown approaches the ship to pick up the exiting river pilot. He will spend the night at Pilottown before getting on another ship headed upriver.  The bar pilot will continue to navigate as the ship reaches Head of Passes and enters the Southwest Pass, the last segment of the river before reaching the Gulf.


Once you enter Southwest Pass, you will notice wooden structures jutting from the banks on both sides of the river. These jetties narrow the channel and keep it deep enough for deep draft vessels to pass. You will continue to see them for many miles as they extend beyond the land out into the Gulf.


Around mile marker 18 BHP, on the east bank, you’ll notice a brightly-lit multi-story structure. It is the Southwest Pass Bar Pilots station. From this point a third pilot vessel will be launched to pick up the bar pilot once the ship reaches the Gulf several miles away.


At this point you will begin seeing dozens of off-shore oil rigs of varying sizes. The sizes and shapes will change, the farther out they are located.


Happy cruising on the mighty Mississippi!

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Very nice. We sailed on the Carnival Dream back about 4 years ago and enjoyed the trip down the Mississippi river.

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This is great!  Thank you!  I will be printing out and bringing it with us.  We are in an aft extended balcony cabin, so we will get to see all of it!

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