For those of us who grew up reading Mark Twain, a US river cruise is a voyage up the mighty Mississippi. Sadly, the era of paddlewheel steamers finished when the 82-year-old Delta Queen ceased sailing in November 2008; though conventional vessels can be found for one-week voyages from Memphis to New Orleans or even further upstream.

Less well known to Australians than the Mississippi, the grand Columbia River between Oregon and Washington state on the US west coast was explored by Lewis and Clark, then followed by settlers trekking in along the Oregon Trail. There are one-week cruises along the Columbia that include excursions into the Snake and Clearwater rivers; they set out from Portland, Oregon, and cruise through the spectacular Columbia River Gorge, which stretches for more than 130 kilometres through the pine- and birch-clad Cascade Mountains.