Usually, waking up the morning of disembarkation is quite the bummer. This time, though, was a much different experience.
Not only were we excited to get back to New Orleans for a few days of eating and drinking, but I’d also received some great news while we were at sea. Before leaving, I’d applied for a new job at the federal agency where I worked. I woke up the morning of disembarkation and turned my phone back on to find a request for an interview. I ended up getting that job, and this vacation will always have a fond memory for me as a result.
I also found out that I’d won my fantasy football matchup while we were away, so good feelings abounded.
In no hurry to get off the ship, we’d picked up the luggage tags with the latest leaving time, I think around 9:30. We’d hoped to sleep in a little, but that was made difficult by the loud voice of Dan France calling each group to disembark, so we were awake by about 7:30. This turned out to be lucky, because they went through all the color groups in what has to have been some kind of record. Our group, scheduled to exit at 9:30, was called at about 8:15.
Since we were ready to go, we headed out to the smoothest disembarkation I’ve ever experienced. There was absolutely no line at any point, which got us off the ship and out to the line of taxis in about 15 minutes.
We grabbed a cab to our hotel, the Hotel Provincial, even though it was unlikely they would have our room ready. We were able to drop off our luggage though, which allowed us to hit the Quarter for a little breakfast and wandering.
A quick word on Hotel Provincial: we’ve stayed there twice now, and it has been fantastic both times. It’s only a couple blocks from Jackson Square, and just far enough away from the action to be quiet in the evenings. It’s comfortable, clean, and affordable, and I can’t recommend it highly enough for anyone wanting to stay in the Quarter.
Of course, our first stop was at Café du Monde. I was finally able to grab the beignets I’d been craving for months, and this would certainly not be the last of the trip, or even the last of the day.
With nothing on the agenda for the morning, we sat for a few minutes just enjoying Jackson Square, which was as quiet as it ever really gets, and much more quiet than it would be later on in the trip. We answered some emails, and posted our copious amount of cruise photos to Facebook.
One thing we’d talked about doing was a carriage ride through the French Quarter. A number of carriages line up around Jackson Square, so we took a walk over to see just how much it would cost. The first one we approached offered a private buggy for two, but the cost was $100. This was a little more than we wanted to spend, so we looked for one of the larger, shared buggies.
We ended up on a carriage that sat eight, and it was $20 per person for a 30 minute ride. The provider of the tour was Royal Carriages, and they did a great job. Even though we already knew most of the information offered by the guide from our previous visit, we still enjoyed the experience. We even got to feed the mule a carrot when we were done (carriages in New Orleans are pulled by mules instead of horses because of the hot climate).
Before we left home, we had a New Orleans gift basket sent to Kathleen’s family for Christmas. We spotted the shop that put together our basket, A Tisket A Tasket, so we stopped in to look around and tell them that their basket was very well-received.
While in the shop, we bought a cookbook by Leah Chase, who’s known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine. We had plans to visit her famous restaurant, Dooky Chase, that afternoon for lunch. While talking to one of the owners of A Tisket A Tasket, who happened to be a family friend of Leah Chase’s, we were advised to bring the cookbook when we went to lunch, and she would likely sign it for us. Kathleen, in particular, was incredibly excited at the prospect.
Dooky Chase is a little outside the Quarter, but it was only about a $6 Uber ride to get there, and it is well worth the cost of the trip.
This restaurant, and Leah Chase, are justifiably famous. The restaurant was stunning—filled with art from African American artists. The food was exceptional. We both tried the gumbo and the fried chicken, and, for once, words fail me. Just go there and try it for yourself. You will not be disappointed.
But the best part—even outdoing the food—was when we got to go back in the kitchen to meet Leah Chase herself. It was an unbelievable experience, one which I can’t sum up adequately. Here’s how Kathleen wrote about it afterword:
A true once-in-a-lifetime moment getting to meet one of the great culinary idols. Paul and I met Leah “Mrs. Dooky” Chase in her kitchen. The staff leads you back into a bustling kitchen, where Mrs. Chase still holds court at a table crowded with odds and ends. She was thinner than the last time I’d seen her on TV but smiling brightly and wearing a cheery yellow top. Gracious to a fault, she complimented me on my blouse and said Paul and I were a good looking couple. She warned us to enjoy it, since one day we’d be “old and ugly” like her. As if! She’s still very beautiful at 90 some-odd-years old and I said I’d be delighted to age like her. She asked if we had kids and we replied no. “Good! Enjoy each other.” She asked how long we had been married. I responded 3 years married and 6 together. “You’ve got a long way ahead of you. Takes 12 years to train a man. I sometimes meet divorced women. Been together 20 years and then split up. Why? You’ve trained him now! All that wasted work!” She asked where we were from and said she saw no VA ham. Paul patted his stomach and I patted my butt. She got a real kick out of that. “That’s some good kind of ham!” She signed our cookbook and gave some parting wisdom–that enjoying life and enjoying each other is most important, better than money or material things. We shook hands and I thought of all the many hands Leah Chase shook before mine—Civil Rights leaders, artists, presidents. She still treated us like we were of great importance and I’ll never forget how humbling and inspiring a meeting it was.
We made it back to our hotel by about 1:30 to find our room ready. As a bonus, our room was in the part of the hotel that was once a Civil War hospital and is reputedly haunted. Sadly, we never experienced anything supernatural. We did end up meeting one couple who was staying in a room near us who books a stay in a different haunted New Orleans hotel every Christmas, and they said they’ve experienced some freaky stuff over the years. We never saw them after that first meeting, so we didn’t hear whether they encountered any Confederate ghosts roaming the halls.
After a short rest, we left our hotel for another walk around the Quarter, mostly looking for the places where we’d be dining over the next few days and remembering the splendor of meals passed.
We stopped back at Café du Monde for another beignet fix and an afternoon coffee pick-me-up. We then walked over to where our tour for the evening was set to leave, and we saw the Dawn zip by as she made the journey back down the Mississippi.
Several months back, we purchased a tour through Gray Line Tours to visit the Celebration in the Oaks. This is when New Orleans City Park is turned in to a winter wonderland, with thousands of lights and decorations.
The Celebration in the Oaks was very nice. The lights and displays were definitely impressive, and we absolutely loved hearing a recorded telling of the Cajun Night Before Christmas. Check it out right here:
And then there’s this terrifying New Orleans Christmas icon.
On the negative side, we definitely didn’t need the “tour” to do this, as the City Park isn’t very far from the Quarter. Rather than pay the $40 per person for what amounted to a 20 minute bus ride in each direction with an awful guide providing terrible narration, I’d suggest just grabbing an Uber to the park and enjoying at your leisure.
We were back to the Quarter by about 9:00, and we set out to enjoy a couple spots we loved on our last trip. First stop was the famous Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which is the oldest structure to have served as a bar in the U.S. It’s on Bourbon, but on the quieter, residential side of things. They make a delicious, and crazy-strong grape slushy drink called the Voodoo Daiquiri, which I could drink all night (or at least until I pass out). One Voodoo Daiquiri got me more buzzed than drinking all day on the cruise.
Since it had been a while since we’d eaten, we only stayed for one drink before heading across the street to NOLA Poboys for some tasty New Orleans sandwiches. My favorite, the debris style roast beef, had been replaced with a version with pot roast, which just wasn’t quite as delicious. The barbeque shrimp po’boy was still great, and the fried boudin balls were amazing.
We played tourist and took a quick walk down Bourbon Street. We picked up a hand grenade—a potent melon slushy—which we shared on our walk back to our hotel.
Up next in New Orleans Day 2: we take a much shorter, less satisfying cruise.