Mississippi Cruise May 2013
The United Airlines flight was on time and the journey over very pleasant. We were still worried about the time it would take to go through immigration at Newark but there was only one bottleneck at the domestic terminal where there was only one line for all economy passengers! The domestic flight to Memphis was very comfortable and again arrived more or less on time. Our hotel, the Madison, in Memphis was delightful and the rooftop view over the Mississippi was superb. We took a walk round the waterfront and then into Beale Street to listen to the jazz. It is a lively area. We ate in Jerry Lee Lewis’s Restaurant. The music was top class. The next day we took the VIP tour of Graceland. No need to say how wonderful the place is. The “king” certainly had taste sparing no expense. It took 5 hours to go round. Watched the sun go down from the rooftop and also noticed how far the swamps extend. The river seemed very high. Day 3: we were welcomed aboard the American Queen by the captain and a trad jazz band. Splendid! The cabins themselves were well-fitted out but somewhat cramped. The Avalon rep was most helpful in getting us together with the Maitre d’ to arrange a table for four at dinner. The two-sittings dining arrangement meant that we had our main evening entertainment at 6-45pm followed by dinner at 7-45pm. The show was very professional and consisted of singers/dancers doing a variety of numbers along the Elvis theme of the voyage. As a result of the high quality of the performers all shows are going to be packed out and good seats hard to find – no booking allowed. We weighed anchor at 10 pm and were told that we would not be calling at Helena – our scheduled first stop – because the pier was under water! The river was high! Next day, day 4, we had a wonderful breakfast after our first night aboard. The single bunks were comfortable enough but not luxurious. We took it easy today getting to know the ship and watched lots of trees and swamp pass by. There was no port of call today. On day 5 the ship docked early in the morning at Vicksburg, the site of a serious Civil War siege which was visited by the boys while the girl s sun-bathed. Day 6 began in Natchez. We wandered from ante-bellum mansion to the next. Some were well-restored such as Rosalie. However the was a soulless feel to the town as if the riverside area had been abandoned to tourism. There were few people on the streets and shops, other than for show or souvenirs, did not exist. The highlight was Fat Mama’s where we had a very warm welcome and very cold drinks. We docked on day 7 in an early morning mist at St Francisville. We saw a water snake from the deck but no alligators yet. The shuttle bus took us round the town which is lucky to be set on high ground – deposited as dust after the ice-age we were told several times. We left St Francisville in a huge thunderstorm with decks awash and a BBQ starting. Early to breakfast on day 7 to allow the tours of Baton Rouge to get away early. This caused chaos when several people arrived to find breakfast closing! This city is much larger than the previous places we have seen on the river but again the centre is very tourist orientated - and business too – but little is see of the everyday life you would expect in a city swollen in population by the exodus from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. We woke to the clatter of carts at 3am on day 8. We had bypassed the Hummus House stop since the landing stage was under water and had arrived at New Orleans a day early. The bus journey out to the swamp was an experience. We got a blow by blow account of what happened during hurricane Katrina as we passed Lake Ponchatrain. A large river punt took us up and down the creeks, teasing the alligators on to the water with bits of chicken and marshmallows. What a show! The biggest must have been about 4m long. Hats off to swamp Captain Tom for a wonderful trip. Our trip to Oak Alley then occupied our afternoon. The location was quite stunning and the house very well kept in its antebellum finery. Next day the racket started at 3am again and by 6am it was so bad we just got up and prepared to disembark. We were breakfasted then off the boat by 8-45 and into Le Pavilion Hotel. We decided to see the sights by Trolley Bus. After a short first ride we went along Bourbon Street, visiting the Old Absinthe House where the Cocktail Makers are spectacular. Later we took another trolley (only $3 pp for a day ticket) since it goes right through the Garden District up to the cemeteries. Since the trolley took us back to Canal we thought another wander along Bourbon would be OK but it starts to get sleazy as dusk falls. Guess what? Monday 27 May is a public holiday here – Memorial Day – so all the places we thought of visiting are likely closed. The boys decided to visit the WW2 Museum and the girls wanted to see the cemeteries and the damage done by Katrina so we set off in opposite directions. The museum is awesome! In addition there was a Memorial Day show with singers doing Andrews Sisters numbers very well indeed. In the evening we took a stroll to Basin Street to look for the cemetery where Marie Leveau is buried. Today is our last whole day here. After wandering round the French Quarter we had brunch at the Chartres House restaurant on Chartres Street. We were made very welcome so we tried po boy and catfish. The portions were huge and delicious – and the price very reasonable. We visited the Monteleone Hotel in the evening. It was pricey but elegant and very well staffed. It was also directly on Bourbon Street so noisy if you got the wrong rooms. The cocktails were good. We finished the evening by having peanut butter and jam butties washed down with cocoa – a specialty of Le Pavilion. The 29th of May saw us leaving New Orleans with a smooth domestic flight and a time saving internal shuttle at Newark. The United Airways return Atlantic flight was nowhere near as enjoyable as the outward one. It was noisy cramped and the food was lousy. We will not be using United again in a hurry.
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