~~~April 25th – May 4th, 2019~~~
Yesterday’s flights from Orange County Airport, first to DFW and then on to Memphis, were surprisingly pleasant with little turbulence. Evidently, the flight to DFW was a day after a severe weather day there, and the late afternoon flight on into Memphis followed a morning of severe weather there. So, I lucked out! My flight from DFW to Memphis was delayed almost an hour which gave me sufficient time for a large, delicious Chicken Burrito at Pappasito’s Cantina, along with a Margarita, of course. I was set for the rest of the day.
~~~Memphis. Tennessee, April 25th~~~
Arrival in Memphis was at around 4:35 pm and my one piece of luggage was one of the first to arrive on the carrousel. Following the hotel’s instructions, I used the provided hotel reservation telephone to call the Guesthouse at Graceland for a shuttle from the airport. I was told to go out to the middle island of the parking structure where I immediately located the hotel’s shuttle and was soon on my way. A moderate rain was falling on departure from the airport, but it had stopped by the time we got to the hotel, only a short distance away.
Checking in at the hotel was easy since I was expected, a packet of information from American Cruise Lines awaiting me. My room is 625 in the North Tower of this rather large and new hotel, right next to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, and is very nice and large. The bath has a huge shower with multiple faucets provided a “rain” of water. Quite nice!
Being exhausted from my full day’s travel and early rising, I spent the evening in my room, enjoying the free wi-fi and large flat panel TV, before finally going to sleep at around 11 pm (9 pm PDT) in the large, comfortable king-sized bed. I slept until almost 7 am this morning.
After showering under the overhead and side faucets, I changed for my included buffet breakfast downstairs at Delta’s Kitchen. Being on Friday, I found breakfast to be quite crowded but easily served myself to my satisfaction. The fare was rather mundane except for delicious fresh fruit: honeydew, pineapple, cantaloupe as well as cheese-scrambled eggs, bacon and biscuits. Excellent coffee, by the way.
~~~Graceland VIP Tour, April 26th~~~
Meeting other members of Linda’s Group waiting in the lobby for our shuttle bus over to Graceland for the included VIP tour, we were quickly transported at 9:15 am across the Elvis Presley Blvd to the entrance to Graceland, a vast and extremely popular tourist attraction here in Memphis. We were checked in, showing our ID, given our tickets including one for lunch, as well as lanyards and wrist-bands, and then directed to other waiting shuttle busses for transfer back across Elvis Presley Blvd. to the Graceland Mansion.
Rather modest under today’s standards, the Mansion tour started first with a visit to the living room and adjoining music room, all protected behind ropes. Then it was a tight fit down a hallway to see one of the bedrooms. Elvis’ bedroom and other personal rooms upstairs are NOT available for viewing. Then it was through the dining room into the kitchen and down a narrow stairway to the basement where first we viewed a TV room containing several vintage TV sets showing period-specific TV shows. Then next door into an elaborate game room with a pool table and fabric-covered walls AND ceiling with dizzying colors and designs.
Another narrow stairway leads back upstairs and outside to the mansion’s rear with views of a lush paddock complete with grazing horses. Several other buildings were also visited including a handball court, Vernon’s office (Elvis’ father), and another containing a myriad of Elvis memorabilia. The final attraction was the Garden of Memories with the graves of Elvis and other family members around a spectacular pool with dancing fountains. This was adjacent to the swimming pool for the Mansion.
Although our tour could last all day, enough was enough, and we returned to the spot around the rear of the Mansion to which we had been delivered earlier for the return shuttle back across Elvis Presley Blvd. to the extensive complex there including a display of Elvis’ planes, one a converted Convair 880 named “Lisa Marie” after his daughter and the other, smaller Lockheed Jetstar named “Hound Dog II”. Other buildings housed collections of Elvis’ many luxury cars as well as motor cycles and other motor craft. There is certainly enough to see up to one’s personal endurance limits. Mine was easily achieved and I sought out one of the several eateries in which to use my $15 lunch voucher.
Glady’s Diner caught my eye and I entered to find many options available; my choice was for the Chicken Alfredo Pizza, receiving a huge quarter pizza for $7.89 along with a 20-ounce chocolate milkshake for $4.95. The pizza was delicious, and I ate every bit of it, enjoying the chocolate shake with it. My $15 meal voucher just paid for it, I was informed.
Finally, it was time to call it quits and return by shuttle bus back to the Guesthouse. Tonight, I have planned a trip downtown to the Rendezvous Restaurant for their famous barbecued ribs, taking a pre-paid shuttle at 6 pm provided by the hotel for $10 RT. They are NOT in business for the pleasure! On return to the hotel I purchased a glass of Sauvignon Blanc at a bar downstairs and was charged $15! They do have a captive audience here, but REALLY!
That’s all for now. More later on this evening’s dining experience.
~~~My Evening at the Rendezvous in Memphis, April 26th~~~
At 6 pm I took the hotel’s shuttle into the downtown district to the corner of 2nd & Beale Street, next to the Hard Rock Cafe, at the very entrance to the very active entertainment district on Beale Street. Two blocks are blocked off from vehicular traffic, allowing the throngs of merry-makers to roam the street at leisure. My destination was the Peabody Hotel, about three blocks down 2nd; the Rendezvous Restaurant is just down the alley from there.
With some difficulty locating the right alley, I finally found the Rendezvous about half way down the alley and entered to encounter stairs down to the basement location which seats over 700 diners. Quickly I was seated at a table for two and placed my order: half rack of ribs with beans and cold slaw, along with a local amber beer. It was incredibly delicious!
When finished, I walked back down 2nd to the Hard Rock Cafe, the pickup location to return to the hotel; the next shuttle would not come until 8:30 pm so I went inside the Hard Rock for a beer.
At 8:30 pm on the dot the hotel shuttle arrived and soon we were on our way back to the hotel near Graceland. On arrival I returned to my room to repack for our departure the following morning, requiring our luggage to be placed just inside the door to my room, before 7 am the next morning. Then it was to bed.
~~~Embarkation Day, April 27th~~~
The next morning, after a big breakfast at Delta’s Kitchen, I met with others in Linda’s Group in the lobby, awaiting our departure, first for a city tour of Memphis, followed by the trip to the riverboat.
Getting on our bus I was surprised and delighted to be recognized by Lily, Cruise Manager for American Cruise Lines, whom I knew from last July’s Grand New England cruise; she was checking the passenger list for boarding. We departed The Guesthouse at Graceland at 9 am.
The highlight of our city tour of Memphis was our stop at the Peabody Hotel where we were treated to the 11 am parade of the ducks, down the elevator from the roof - their home – waddling down a red carpet to the fountain in the lobby where they would remain during the day until 5 pm when they would ceremoniously return back to the elevator on the red carpet and back to the roof. There were 6 or 7 ducks who noisily made their entrance, much to the delight of the crowds of onlookers; I went up to the mezzanine for a better view of the events. Then it was back on the bus, and on to the riverboat.
At about noon we arrived at the docking location for the America, our riverboat home for the next week, different from the usual location due to high level of the River which had flooded the Beale Street Landing. Instead we found the riverboat docked at a landing on Mud Island, just across from downtown Memphis.
Walking down the rather steep ramp to the extended gangway, we all went onboard, crowding the area near the elevators; I chose to bypass them and go directly into the dining room where lunch was being served. I would worry about finding my room and checking in until afterwards. Lunch was delicious along with a glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc wine. Then it was time to find my room, #414 on Deck 4.
The crowds around the elevators had disappeared by this time and I quickly found my single room, first door aft of the elevator. The door was open and inside I found my luggage along with a folder of information as well as two door keycards. I then took my boarding pass down to the Office on Deck 2. Security seems almost nonexistent!
The riverboat departed Memphis right on schedule at 1 pm, next stop Vicksburg, Mississippi.
~~~Gliding Along the Mississippi River, April 27th~~~
During the afternoon after departing Memphis we glided along the Mississippi River under brilliantly blue skies, enjoying the peace and tranquility of the passing scenery. Occasionally we encountered long barges with several units in tow, plowing their way up or down the River. I found it amazing the length of these barges, some pushing up to 5 or 6 units! How could they negotiate the many bends and turns along the River?
At 2:15 pm there was an Excursion Briefing in the Magnolia Lounge where Hotel Officers explained the many different shore excursions offered during our 7-day cruise, most being complimentary with only a few being for a fee. We were given a schedule of all shore excursions and asked to indicate our choices, keeping a copy for our personal reference. Then it was time to unpack!
I leisurely did my unpacking and organizing my spacious single balcony stateroom, using only a small part of the very ample storage provided. Being only a week-long cruise, I had packed very sparingly and only used my carryon sized luggage.
Soon I was finished and ready to go to the one Happy Hour located in the Sky Lounge, just down the passageway from my room, Aft on Deck 4; another Happy Hour location was in the Magnolia Lounge down on Deck 2 Forward. The Magnolia Lounge is a large room used for many gatherings including the evening’s entertainment. Happy Hours feature open bars with complimentary cocktails of choice besides a large selection of wines, beers, and appetizers; one of the benefits of this rather expensive cruise. Being an American-flagged riverboat, the crew is all American which requires American-level wages, also contributing to the high cost of the cruise.
After a couple glasses of my favorite Sauvignon Blanc white wine, it was time to go down to the Dining Room on Deck 1 for dinner. Open seating allows one a choice of places to sit and mine was at a table of several of Linda’s Group, a group of 17. Dinner was excellent with an appetizer or salad followed by an entree, topped off with a delectable dessert. Although there was a banjo player entertaining in the Magnolia Lounge, it was time for bed for me after enjoying two or more glasses of wine.
Returning to my stateroom I found my bed turned down and the drapes pulled. There is twice-a-day room servicing aboard. First, I opened up the drapes revealing the passing scenery and then turned on the flat-panel TV to MSNBC, volume turned low, and got into my twin sized bed, and very soon fell asleep.
~~~Vicksburg, Mississippi - April 28th~~~
Although our scheduled arrival time was 12 noon, we actually docked in Vicksburg at around 7 am. Shore excursions would not begin until 2 pm, my choice being the one to the Vicksburg National Military Park.
Breakfast is served in the Dining Room from 7:30 am until 9 am and my arrival around 8 am found the Room already fairly full. I had showered in my rather small sized shower stall and then discovered that my Old Spice stick deodorant was almost completely depleted! I had not checked it during my packing. Also, the single purpose razors I had packed must have been quite old as they were almost ineffectual. Some onshore shopping was in order.
Back to breakfast, my typical order was a Western Omelet with a side of bacon, along with a toasted English muffin, preceded by glasses of cranberry and orange juices; and delicious coffee, of course! Afterwards it was back to my stateroom to relax before my afternoon tour. My room had already been serviced by then.
After lunch, which included my Sauvignon Blanc, it was soon time for our 3-hour tour of the Vicksburg National Military Park, at 2 pm. Being one of the complimentary shore excursions, there were two busloads of us which loaded and departed from alongside the dock and traveled for about 30 minutes through the town of Vicksburg and out to the Park.
The countryside was hilly and forested except for the main battlefield where the Confederates had cut down all of the trees on the slopes, placing the trees pointed downhill with barbed wire strung among them as defense against the Union forces. This tactic apparently worked because after repeated attempts, the Union forces failed to prevail.
The Union commander, Ulysses S. Grant, then changed his tactic to one of siege, encircling the Confederate forces and attempting to starve them out. It worked and eventually the Confederate commander, John C. Pemberton, surrendered and Vicksburg fell to the Union forces.
Our tour was all around these battlegrounds where many monuments are located; northern states’ forces were commemorated: Illinois, Ohio, Maine, Michigan, etc.; as well as southern states’ forces: Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, etc. Vicksburg, sitting on a high hill on a bend of the Mississippi River was of crucial importance to both the North and South; it dominated traffic along the River. Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, “Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket.”
Our tour included a stop at the U.S.S. Cairo Museum where is located the partially reconstructed Union ironclad warship, sunk in the Mississippi River north of Vicksburg by two Confederate electrically detonated torpedoes (mines). It lay submerged until 1956 when it was rediscovered and, with great effort, recovered and partially rebuilt and is now on display, protected beneath a large canopy.
The conclusion of our tour was in the Visitor Center that contains many artifacts of the war. Our return to our riverboat was right at 5 pm, just in time for Happy Hour! That first glass of Sauvignon Blanc sure tasted good!
~~~Vicksburg, Mississippi - April 29th~~~
After spending the night at dock at Vicksburg, breakfast had to be completed early in preparation of our 9 am tours. My usual order was delivered quickly, and I finished in plenty of time to return to my stateroom briefly.
At 9 am I went down to catch the shuttle bus up the very steep hill into downtown Vicksburg but evidently got on the wrong bus, the Historic Vicksburg Comes to Life, a two-hour guided walking tour.
It did turn out to be a very interesting and informative walk although my poor feet and legs were certainly complaining by its conclusion. We saw many classic homes of the antebellum style, trudged up and down the brick streets, and observed the many churches. The tour ended on a downtown street where is located the original store selling Coca Cola.
I easily found a pharmacy where I was able to buy deodorant and another razor and then caught one of the shuttles back down the hill to the docks and our riverboat.
It was a relief to return to my room and give my legs and feet some well-needed rest. Lunch would be at 12 noon, just before the America departed Vicksburg at 1 pm.
Next stop, Natchez, Mississippi!
~~~Gliding Again Along the Mississippi River, April 29th~~~
Having departed Vicksburg during lunchtime, at 1 pm, we were again gliding down the Mississippi River under brilliantly blue skies. We have been so VERY fortunate with our excellent weather since first arriving in Memphis last Thursday when we encountered a brief shower on the way from the airport to the hotel. Since then it has been absolutely clear and beautiful!
During the afternoon in the Magnolia Lounge, members of the staff presented a special presentation of future cruises, both on American Cruise Lines as well as on Pearl Seas Cruises, the sister company of ACL. Future cruises could be booked with a 15% discount plus forgiveness of the port fees and taxes, a considerable savings!
Since I had previously booked the 15-day “Canadian Maritimes & St. Lawrence Seaway” Cruise with Pearl Cruises, I was interested in possibly rebooking in order to take advantage of the onboard booking savings.
At first, I was told that - once booked, it was not possible to rebook. However, in my discussion with Keaton Jamerson, Guest Services Advisor, he suggested it might be possible to cancel my existing booking, pay the cancellation charge, and then immediately rebook onboard with the above-mentioned savings. He was on the telephone several times with Pearl Seas discussing my situation. There was the possibility that, once cancelled, my coveted choice of Single Stateroom 512 might not be available for my rebooking, and there were no other such single staterooms available.
Long story short, Keaton was successful in rebooking that stateroom 512 on the Pearl Mist for me, after I had emailed my cancellation request to Pearl Cruises, and with the 15% discount + port fees and taxes! I saved over $2600! Happy Hour afterwards was especially happy!
We arrived at Natchez at 6:30 pm, during dinner, but docked across the River in Vidalia, Louisiana, due the high waters flooding the Natchez docks. At the very base of the large bridge crossing the River, we pulled up to a pretty riverside park area, and let down the gangway for disembarkation, tying up to nearby trees. This was the second time that the high-water level of the River had affected our docking location.
After finally getting to sleep, fighting the traffic noise from the nearby bridge, I slept until the morning’s traffic resumption awakened me around 6 am. For such small towns of Natchez and Vidalia, the volume of bridge traffic connecting them was surprisingly heavy.
~~~Natchez, Mississippi and Vidalia, Louisiana - April 30th~~~
Breakfast was my usual Western omelet with bacon, and I had to rush things a bit in order to get to my 9 am shore excursion to the Frogmore Plantation. It was a short bus ride into Louisiana from the park area next to our riverboat’s docking to this very interesting and thorough tour of a working a cotton plantation:
During a visit to this historical plantation, visitors will gain an understanding of the complete antebellum lifestyle. This tour compares and contrasts a working cotton plantation from 1790 through today. Visitors learn about slave culture, sharecropping, and modern technology. During this narrated tour, explore the plantation’s buildings, including a rare antique steam gin and the only completely computerized gin in the nation.
At the conclusion of the tour, we were all seated on benches facing the porch of one of the buildings, forming a stage of sorts, and were presented with a narration of the history of the plantation, interspersed with a cappella singing by two very accomplished singers, one an elderly white man in period dress, the other a black lady dressed also in period costume. They were excellent! A perfect ending to a memorable experience.
Back at the America, it was time for lunch when we returned. There would be a second shore excursion across the River in Natchez at 2 pm. Lunches were always delicious with unique salads, using a lot of spinach leaves, accompanied by sandwiches, pasta dishes, or HUGE hamburgers. Dessert for me became my usual mint-chocolate chip ice cream. AND, of course, my Sauvignon Blanc wine!
The afternoon shore excursion was to an antebellum house in the Historic District in central Natchez, the Joseph Newman Stone House, over 140 years in the same family:
"Rare antique maps adorn the walls of this unique property, outstanding for its antebellum origins as a private billiard hall built in the style of a Greek temple, as well as for its rare pocket doors with ornamental glasswork. The builder was David Stanton, whose brother built world-famous Stanton Hall, also located in the Downtown Historic District. Acquired in 1877 by Joseph Newman Stone, it has remained in the Stone family for 140 years, now operating as a bed & breakfast, featuring family portraits and antiques.
Each fall the house is open to the public during the Natchez Pilgrimage. Additionally, it has won the Historic Natchez Foundation's 2003 Restoration Award as well as TripAdvisor's Travelers' Choice Awards in 2012 & 2013 for the top 25 bed & breakfast inns in the United States.
Bed & breakfast accommodations are offered in the Master Bedroom or the Cottage. A full Southern breakfast is served in The Dining Room on antique Limoges china. Guests who stay a minimum of two nights are invited to a 'Soirée Musicale' featuring live piano entertainment with complimentary wine in The Antebellum Music Room, while The Antebellum Billiard Hall showcases a fine antique billiard table.
Stone House Musical B & B is found in the Downtown Historic District, an easy walk to many tour houses, antique shops, fine restaurants, other B & B inns or hotels, as well as the famous 200-foot bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River, making it an ideal destination for any vacation on the Great River Road or Natchez Trace."
Upon entering we were all seated in the front parlor facing a grand piano in front of large pocket doors containing beautiful glass panels. The owner and great grandson of the original owner, Joseph Britton Stone, greeted us and proceeded to pleasure us with his musical mastery, presenting a concert of four selections of classical music on the 1903 Steinway Parlor Grand Piano. We were all mesmerized by his talent and the ambiance of the setting.
We were then given a tour of the several rooms of the house, all spectacularly adorned with family photos and artifacts as well as exquisite furnishings and chandeliers. There was the dining room, with the table set with formal tableware including Limoges china, the billiard room with its antique billiards table, the kitchen, and one of the bedrooms, papered with unusual wall coverings and presenting a high canopied bed. All absolutely gorgeous!
Then the owner offered us all our choice of champagne or a select liqueur, served in beautiful crystal glassware. A real unexpected treat!
All during our visit, the house puppy, “Precious”, a rare Tibetan Spaniel, mingled and sniffed us all, a very friendly “cohost” of the house. As we departed this treasure of a home, Joseph Stone stood at the door with Precious in arm, bidding us all adieu. It had been a most special visit!
By the time we again crossed the River using the bridge back to our riverboat on the Vidalia side, it was almost time for Happy Hour! This company surely does not spare the expense as far as alcohol! The Sky Lounge on Deck 4 was my favorite, preferred over the larger Magnolia Lounge, although it did become quite crowded at times. There was an outside seating area just back of the Sky Lounge where comfortable chairs provided a pleasant place to sit and view the surroundings and our spectacular weather.
After dinner this was my one time to stay up late and go to the Magnolia Lounge for the entertainment with tonight’s feature, Judy Davis, a large black lady who was EXCELLENT! Her material was nonstop hilarious, interspersed with vocal selections, also quite good. Her comedy was most enjoyable, and I didn’t regret my choice over another early night to bed.
Our riverboat departed our docking at 11:30 pm, next stop Baton Rouge, tomorrow, May 1st. Our time is passing much too rapidly!
~~~Baton Rouge, Louisiana - May 1st & 2nd~~~
Traveling overnight from Natchez, Mississippi, we arrived in Baton Rouge, Louisiana early in the morning of May 1st where, after some expert manipulation in the fast-moving waters of the Mississippi River, our riverboat tied up to a new pier near downtown Baton Rouge. Our location was adjacent to the permanent home of the USS Kidd which is open to the public:
"Known as the “Pirate of the Pacific,” this Fletcher-class destroyer is a memorial to the men and women that served in the American armed forces. Take a step back in time on this self-guided tour to see artifacts and aircraft from World War II. This is an experience that will leave you speechless."
Our original schedule called for our docking at St. Francisville for our shore excursion to the Rosedown Plantation, but the high-water level of the River had flooded the docks there, requiring our early docking in Baton Rouge and a bus trip back up the River to St. Francisville and the Plantation. This would happen at 2 pm in the afternoon.
Breakfast was leisurely with no time pressure, just sitting in the dining room, enjoying my Western omelet with bacon, cranberry and orange juices with coffee and an English muffin, looking out the large windows at the bright clear morning and the stunning skyline of downtown Baton Rouge. The historic Old State Capitol Building was very close, and the tall tower of the new State Capitol Building could be seen in the distance. The rest of the morning was spent in my stateroom relaxing and getting ready for the afternoon’s tour.
Soon after lunch was over, at 1:30 pm, we exited the America and walked to the end of the pier, crossed a railroad track, to get to our busses. This being one of the complimentary shore excursions, almost everyone onboard was going, requiring 4 busses; I was on bus #1.
It was a scenic ride of one hour back up the River passing through lush green forests and fields. Our arrival at the antebellum Rosedown Plantation then required a short walk from the parking lot up to the main house where our bus group assembled on the large porch, awaiting entry.
The lady guide, dressed in a period costume, explained the history of the Plantation and then ushered us inside to the parlor and then past the stairway into the front bedroom. Furnished with authentic items, the feeling of being in the past was overwhelming. We then went up the long stairway to the second floor to other bedrooms and then down the back stairway into the kitchen. Then it was back outside where we encountered the second bus group awaiting their turn. Quite a bunch of visitors to accommodate all at once, but well-handled if I do say so.
The exterior of the mansion was fronted by tall white columns, so prevalent in the architecture of the period. The surrounding grounds were carefully manicured gardens with interwinding paths. Then it was time to return to our bus for the short trip into the small town of St. Francisville.
We traveled up and down several streets in this small picturesque town, at one point seeing the road down to the flooded docks, until we stopped at a store where we were allowed a shopping break. The place was huge with a wide array of merchandise, mostly very eclectic. Fresh lemonade was freely offered, which tasted fantastic! Bathroom facilities were also available. Then it was back on the bus, back to Baton Rouge and our floating home by 5 pm, just in time for Happy Hour!
Many passengers chose to walk off the riverboat and walk into town for shopping, sightseeing and dining, but I chose to stay aboard for the night. Tomorrow we would once again be docked in Baton Rouge with a city tour scheduled for 2 pm.
~~~Baton Rouge, Louisiana - May 2nd~~~
Knowing about my upcoming visit to Baton Rouge, I had previously contacted my friends, Bob and Virginia Bogan, who live here, and invited them to join me aboard the America for cocktails and dinner, an advertised benefit offered to passengers. Virginia had also expressed a desire to join me on the afternoon city tour and, with approval of the manager, this is what happened. There were two different times for the city tour: 9 am and 2 pm, and we had decided on the later.
I had given details about the Bogan’s to the staff to facilitate their coming onboard and shortly before 1:30 pm Virginia showed up in Magnolia Lounge where I had been waiting. Virginia is the sister of Jim Innerarity, my dear friend who passed away three years ago; we had spent time together on several occasions while Jim was alive, so I know her well.
We went back up to my stateroom for a brief bathroom visit and then back down and off the boat, walking to the end of the pier to the waiting bus.
Traveling around the downtown area we passed by the Old State Capitol Building, and later the “New” State Capitol Building, built in the 30’s by Governor Huey P. Long of Louisiana’s notorious fame. We also passed by his “new” Governor’s Mansion which strongly resembled the White House in Washington, D.C. Huey had presidential aspirations also! But he was assassinated before he could pursue that.
Further driving around the downtown area brought us to the Capitol Park Museum where we allowed to spend an hour viewing the extensive displays and exhibits portraying the history of Louisiana. It would have taken much longer than one hour to fully investigate this vast collection!
By the time we returned to the riverboat it was almost time for Happy Hour and, after a quick trip back to my stateroom, Virginia and I went to the Sky Lounge on Deck 4 to partake of a beverage. Bob and their daughter Jennifer would be joining us shortly for dinner. In fact, just after we sat down, Virginia called Bob on her cellphone and, immediately Bob and Jennifer walked into the Lounge! They had gone to my stateroom and heard the noise down the hall from the nearby Sky Lounge. We all ordered drinks and enjoyed visiting for a while before going down to dinner.
Since several of the passengers had chosen to dine ashore, the dining room wasn’t very full and the four of us easily found a nice table by the window. The Bogan’s were all impressed by the menu and, at my suggestion, ordered the Beef Tenderloin (fillet mignon, really); my order was for the Rack of Lamb. Desserts were also enjoyed by all and then it was time for a brief tour of the America before my guests had to depart.
Going up to the top deck, we just caught the fading sunset, but the clear evening provided a fantastic view of the skyline of Baton Rouge. They were all very impressed. Then it was time for our goodbyes and the departure of the Bogan Family. It had been a VERY enjoyable and meaningful reunion.
Next stop: New Orleans!
~~~New Orleans, Louisiana - "Oak Alley", May 3rd~~~
Traveling the short distance from Baton Rouge, having departed at 11:30 pm, our arrival at the Port of New Orleans was early on the morning of Friday, May 3rd. Today would be the last of our wonderful cruise and the one task remaining was the settling of our onboard accounts, easily done by verifying our charges and authorizing credit card payment. Mine was only $75 for the two shore excursions that were not complimentary.
Breakfast was as usual with views of the modern Port of New Orleans Building outside the dining room windows, under sunny blue skies. My order was a Western omelet with bacon, juices, muffin and coffee. It would be hard to say goodbye to our very talented servers, most of whom were college students; they had been most friendly, cheerful and efficient performing their excellent service.
There was an early lunch at 11:30 am because of the early departure of the afternoon’s excursion at 1:30 pm to Oak Alley, a magnificent plantation mansion:
"The Plantation has been called “The Grande Dame of the Great River Road.” Enjoy the 1/4-mile canopy of 300-year-old live oaks as you make your way to the Greek Revival antebellum home. Take a tour of the Big House, led by guides in period clothing and then spend some time exploring the magnificent grounds on your own. For the full southern experience, don’t forget to take time for a mint julep."
So after enjoying one more lunch in the dining room, with time for a quick trip back to my stateroom for a bathroom call, it was off the America and a short walk over to the busses (4) to begin our hour-long drive back up the River to Oak Alley which is located just on the other side of a large River levee.
The drive out of New Orleans was enjoyable with views of the downtown high-rise buildings along with the Superdome, so famous from the Katrina disaster. We were on Interstate 10 with heavy traffic for the first part of the journey.
Out of the city, the freeway became a series of bridges over a swampy landscape, some classified as being a bayou. No place to have car trouble! Most of us took quick naps during the drive awakening only as we departed the Interstate for a smaller highway that followed along the large levee of the Mississippi River.
Finally arriving at Oak Alley, we drove past the legendary entrance walkway through the canopy (alley) of huge old oak trees, but didn’t stop until reaching the large parking lot, provided for the hordes of visitors to this popular tourist attraction. It was then quite a walk from the parking lot into the grounds of Oak Alley, entrance requiring tickets provided by our own guide.
We were guided to the front of the Mansion where a cue formed, awaiting limited entrance inside; only a certain number were admitted at a time. When our turn came, we were escorted into the main parlor that was furnished with authentic period furniture and many other items of historic nature. Our guide was a young black girl who spoke clearly and informatively, well versed on the history of Oak Alley.
Then we were ushered into the dining room where we found a large dining table all set with china and tableware. Over the table was a large fan-type panel which would have been swung back and forth using a rope by a slave child to provide air flow for the diners. We had seen such apparatus in other dining rooms in other antebellum homes.
We were then directed up the long stairway to the second level; “long” because of the very high ceilings of the first floor. Upstairs we toured through several bedrooms complete with high canopied beds; the beds seem to be set quite high off the floor, I thought. In one of the bedrooms we observed a baby’s crib.
Our exit was onto the wide second floor balcony that surrounded the entire house with a stunning view down the “alley of oaks” in front, a most impressive view! Then it was back down that long, steep stairway and out of the rear door where we were presented with the wide expanse of shaded park-like setting with many benches for resting.
On the other side of this park area was the commercial side of things: a gift shop and the “Spirits” Bar. It was to the bar that I went for my complimentary mint julep! Not waiting very long to be served, I received my drink and then selected a table outside under an umbrella at which to sit and enjoy my first mint julep! It was GOOD! Surprisingly strong with bourbon - for a free drink, l found it to be quite tasty and refreshing.
By the time I had finished my drink it was time to start the long walk back to the parking lot and our bus for the long trip back to New Orleans and our riverboat. Needless to say, our ride back saw most passengers dozing. The weather had been phenomenal as I commented to our guide upon leaving the mansion. She responded that it was not always so, as I was later to learn.
Arrival back at the America was right at 5:30 pm, just in time for Happy Hour! Funny how this has happened so frequently! My tall glass of cold Sauvignon Blanc tasted good as ever. Several of Linda’s Group were in attendance and eventually we all wandered down to the dining room for our last dinner aboard.
And what a dinner it was! “Surf and Turf” consisting of a lobster tail stuffed with crab meat accompanied by a small beef tenderloin (filet mignon). What a finale to an outstanding cruise! The wine also flowed freely, and our goodbyes were given to the crew. It was with great reluctance that I excused myself to return to my stateroom to pack; our luggage was requested to be placed outside our doors before retiring.
My packing didn’t take very long; dirty shirts don’t have to be carefully folded! About this time the storm hit with lightning and thunder. Good timing as far as our cruise was concerned, but not too good timing for those of us flying home the next day. Sleep came with difficulty.
~~~New Orleans, Louisiana, Departure Day - May 4th~~~
The storm continued through the night and the next morning was dark and cloudy and rainy. Early breakfast began at 6:30 am and we were requested to vacate our staterooms by 8 am, so with my luggage now gone all I had to carry was my Princess bag contains paperwork and my iPad.
I had gotten Keaton of Guest Services to print my AA boarding pass the previous day, not being able to get it done on my own. I had checked in with American Airlines successfully on my iPad, requesting my boarding pass to be emailed to me as a PDF, but when I went to the AA website using the computer onboard, the option to PRINT was not available on the AA website, and I cannot print from my iPad! So, I forwarded the AA email to Keaton and he graciously printed the attached PDF boarding pass for me. Thank you, Keaton!
I did order my usual Western omelet with bacon and the other items and finished my breakfast with plenty of time to return to my stateroom to retrieve my Princess bag and then go to the Magnolia Lounge to await our call for the shuttle bus to the airport, scheduled for 8:30 am.
Shortly after 8 am the rain had let up briefly and we were called to disembark and proceed to the busses, thankfully parked nearby the riverboat. After quickly identifying my piece of luggage, and watching it being loaded aboard, I boarded the bus just before the rain began again. When all were loaded aboard, our bus pulled out of the parking lot and proceeded to leave for the airport, using the same route out of town that had been used the day before for our drive to Oak Alley. (We had passed the airport on the way to Oak Alley.)
The rain continued all the way to the airport although the Saturday morning traffic was mercifully light making our drive uncomplicated. We arrived at the New Orleans International Airport a few minutes after 9 am. Getting off the bus right in front of American Airlines Terminal, I retrieved my one piece of luggage and soon had checked it with the AA Skycap, tipping him, of course. He directed me inside the terminal and to the left towards the Security Checkpoint. Having TSA Pre-check, I quickly proceeded through with no delay and was soon on my way to the appropriate gate for my 11:19 am departure to DFW.
It was quite a walk to Gate C12, but I had plenty of time. The storm was still raging outside with frequent flashes of lightning and accompanying thunder so it became increasingly clear that my flight would be delayed.
After a while, once a gate agent had arrived and started taking questions, I thought it best to join the line to inquire about my connecting flight in DFW. The line moved painfully slowly but at last it was my time. The agent agreed that I would NOT be able to make my connecting flight in DFW and proceeded to rebook me on a later flight from DFW on to SNA (Orange County); it would arrive at 6 pm, only two hours later than my original flight’s arrival of 4 pm. She even got my seat assignment almost the same as originally booked: 8D instead of 8C! You can’t ask for better service than that!
With the projected departure time now delayed until 1 pm, and my rebooking done, I decided it was time for a cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc, and there was a wine bar just down from my Gate C12. The wine I got was superb! I learned that it was from New Zealand, the place known for their excellent Sauvignon Blanc. Then I got the check: $15! Wines are expensive in the South! I enjoyed it never the less.
Shortly after 1 pm our flight was called for boarding; the flight had originated in DFW and been held up from departing until the weather had cleared in New Orleans. I boarded - almost 3 hours late, found my Main Cabin Extra Seat 8C, and settled down to an otherwise uneventful one-hour flight to DFW.
Once in DFW I had a few hours before my rescheduled flight so, once I had found out my departure gate and trudged the considerable distance to it, I still had enough time to enjoy a delicious BBQ Chicken Sandwich at a nearby Friday’s with delicious onion rings and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc wine, of course.
My AA flight 2779 left DFW on time and the 3-hour flight went uneventfully, with my consuming two little bottles of white wine (complimentary), and we landed in Orange County Airport shortly after 6 pm. My luggage had successfully been rerouted and arrived on the carrousel soon afterwards.
Then it was out of the airport and over to SuperShuttle where I had prepaid transportation home. The agent told me that it would be 30-45 minutes before he had a van for me and suggested just cancelling my $20.50 SuperShuttle ride for a refund and take a taxi, which is what I did, costing only $23.00 + tip, but I was home!
So ends my Lower Mississippi River Adventure, a wonderful experience despite its ending!