|For Christmas of 2013, we took the Paddlewheeler American Queen from New Orleans to Memphis. This was a great trip and we had a fine Christmas on this historical voyage.
|We flew to New Orleans and checked into the pre-cruise hotel, the Riverside Hilton. This hotel is a large beautiful hotel, but a very poor choice for those like me who are slightly mobility limited. Distances are huge, and elevators, escalators, ramps and stairs are mixed together in difficult locations. However they do serve wonderful beignets in the cafe!
||The next morning we had a car reserved from National, because they advertise they will come pick you up. However when we called for pickup we were informed they were busy and would not be able to pick us up for an hour. So much for advertising. So we took a cab to National, got the car, and drove two hours to Layfaette LA to meet our Cajun country guide, John Pastor of Pastor Brothers Cajun Tours.
We started with a boat tour through the bayous, and a review of the history of the Acadians who migrated to Louisiana and became the Cajuns, while John, known locally as "Picklebelly", entertained on the squeezebox.
|Then we toured the town of Lafayette and stopped at Darby's Grocery, to sample what John assured us was the best home made boudin in Lafatette. These fat rice and meat sausages are delicious, and the special recipe here added tomatoes which gave them a tempting red color. We enjoyed this Cajun snack and conversation with the locals.
||Then it was on to see the oldest live oak tree around, over 500 years old and very impressive. (John tried hard to find impressive things to see in Lafayette but honestly, this is about as good as it gets, folks.)
||However if the tourist attractions are not exciting, the food is! Now John hunted around to find a grocery that was just taking the crawfish out of the pot and bought three pounds for us! Renée does not like mudbugs, but that wonderful woman sat on a park bench and cracked them for me to eat while John serenaded us!
We returned to the hotel through three horendous traffic jams, taking 4 1/2 hours to make the trip. We arrived at the hotel to tired to do anything but order mediocre room service at a huge price, missing our chance for a wonderful New Orleans meal.
|Next morning we had reservations for the Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters. This is a delightful experience in a beautiful old building, a jazz trio playing as we enjoyed the buffet. We had everthing from waffles and eggs Benedict to turtle soup and King Cake. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We even had a visit from Santa!
|Then we boarded the American Queen. She is a beautiful boat, elegantly decorated throughout. She has a capacity of over 400 passengers but was carrying only a bit more than 300 this trip.
The central court of the ship is the Mark Twain Gallery, decorated with wonderful carved furniture and antiques all around. It is also the place where the wifi internet reception (slow at best) can be found.
|Our cabin was on the Cabin Deck, and featured a nice bow window which gave us a great view of the river and also a convenient place to toss all sorts of stuff.
After a couple of overcast days the weather turned sunny and bright, but definitely chilly. When the skies were at their bluest, even the old muddy river took on a bluish tint.
|As we left each port, our Riverlorian Travis played the steam calliope.|
|Each night featured a show in the Grand Saloon. Just across from our cabin was the entrance to the balcony boxes, and by going a few minutes early we were able to get those coveted box seats.|
|Our first stop was at Oak Alley, a beautiful old plantation. The wonderful avenue of oak trees leading to the big house topped over the levee. Since we had been here before, we stayed aboard and continued to explore the beautiful ship. The "Front Porch" features these old fashioned rockers which make a great place to just sit and relax.
||Darla walked over the levee to the plantation, but when I saw her picture I was glad I did not attempt the trip.
||Also on the Front Porch are these old fashioned swings. It was nice to sit and just watch Ol' Man River jes' keep rollin' along.
||In the Chart Room are all the charts of the river for our trip, and also this model of the ship's wheel. Who could resist a picture?
||A fleet of four special "steamcoaches" followed the ship from port to port, and provided free hop on hop off tours.
Our second port was at St. Francisville, where the buses met us on the levee. All of the lower Mississippi is protected by levees, maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.
|Our next stop was Natchez, where we took the "premium" tour to Frogmor, a working cotton gin which also preserves much of the history of cotton. There is a recreated Slave Quarter with cabins and cook house, and the church where we saw an enactment of wedding by "jumping the broom," as well as a concert of spirituals.
||Then we all took up our tambourines and joined in the celebration!
||We could see the cotton in the fields (and pick some if we wanted to) and inspect the raw cotton on the porch.
||Frogmor has four cotton gins on display. The first was the animal powered one. The second was steam powered. The third was electrical, and the fourth one is the modern computerized gin which they use today. The farmers are not charged for ginning their cotton, but the gin keeps the valuable seeds which are used from everything from fine paper to animal feed.
We toured the steam powered gin and saw how Eli Whitney's invention was put to practical use by means of vacuum powered transmission tubes.
|Christmas Eve found us cruising up the Mighty Mississippi. The "Gingerbread Queen" decorated the lounge outside the dining room.||Renée and I found this delightful antique loveseat in the Mark Twain Gallery.
||The boat's ensemble put on a very nice Christmas show for us.
||Christmas Day we were in Vicksburg. We saw Santa go by, Southern Style!
||Most days in port we left at 1:00 PM which gave us plenty of time to enjoy steamboating up the river and enjoying the placid atmosphere.
||The paddlwheel keeps on turning and churns out a mighty wake behind the boat. You can look down on it from the River Grill on the top deck.
Our tablemates, Bob, Arthur, and yours truly Mike.
Renée, our tablemate Joan and our cruisemate Darla.
|Now came a full day at leisure, steaming up the river. It was a good time to relax about the boat and see all the sights. The deck outside the Engine Room Bar gives a great view of the wheel.
||Of course we ate well the entire trip. The dining room featured a sumptuous buffet or table service specialties for breakfast and lunch, and full service four course dinners. There was also always a buffet at the Front Porch, hot dogs in the afternoon and snacks like cookies available all the time. Espresso and pastries were also in the Mark Twain Gallery 24 hours.
||Christmas trees and holiday decor abounded around the ship. We learned that due to high water coming down from the Ohio, the ship had been slowed and it was necessary to skip the stop at Helena Arkansas, so we had another day to relax before reaching Memphis.
Disembarktion was very easy. We had a post-cruise tour and transfer to our hotel, so we picked up our baggage ashore and got right on the bus. First we had a city tour including the famous hole in the wall which is Sun Studios, producer of 167 gold records.
||Then it was off to Graceland. Of course this is a sort of pilgrimage for Elvis admirers. (I didn't really think much of it, but it killed time.)
||Our friend Darla was kind enough to share her picture with us. We always enjoy travelling with her.
||Then it was to the Rockabilly Cafe where the ladies had hamburgers but I honored Elvis by indulging in the grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich.
||Memphis is about food and music. For dinner that night we went to the famous Blues City on Beale Street, and the next morning ate at the Blue Plate Diner, where I found this beautiful painting on the wall and purchased it from the wife of the owner of the diner!
Then it was off to the airport for an uneventful flight home and the end of a wonderful trip!
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