You can get turned around in New Orleans. During the Sugar Bowl 10 years ago, I never did get my bearings. This time, it’s been much better. I’ve sort of figured out north from east and south from west.
Then Trish the Dish and I got aboard the Creole Queen on Friday night.
The Creole Queen is an authentic paddlewheeler, which would have been at home on the Mississippi River in the New Orleans of 1850. Except for the modern comforts, of course. We took a dinner cruise and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Except for getting turned around. Here’s what you need to remember about New Orleans directions. The Mississippi runs really runs east/west around New Orleans. Winds around the south edge of the city before flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.
So when the Creole Queen took from Spanish Plaza, near the Hilton Riverside (Alabama’s headquarters), seemed like we were going north. We actually were going east and eventually you’d go south into the gulf. Which we didn’t. You don’t want a paddlewheeler on an ocean.
Anyway, a river cruise around New Orleans is not so much scenic as it is cool. The riverfront in New Orleans is mostly industrial. New Orleans is a major port city. It’s the biggest U.S. port in terms of cargo handled. But cruising the Mississippi is quite a feeling, knowing the magnificence of the river that goes from Minneapolis to New Orleans. I’ve spent a good deal of time in St. Louis and Memphis, two old river towns that are defined in large part by the Mississippi. The river that inspired Mark Twain to write about Huckleberry Finn.
The day otherwise was uneventful. The Dish walked up to Jackson Square and stood in line for an hour at Cafe Du Monde, where she got a hot chocolate and beignets. I don’t know what beignets are; the Dish describes them as a cross between a sopapilla and a funnel cake. She says they’re good.
The Dish hurried back to the hotel because she had scheduled a bus tour to see the city and figure out what she might like to go back to. The tour bus was supposed to come by our hotel and pick her up. She waited 15 minutes, called them, they apologized and said they missed her but would be back, she waited another 15-20 minutes, called back, they said the bus was pulling up, she waited five minutes, called back and the bus had started the tour. They were at the wrong Courtyard.
So the Dish went to the French Market in the French Quarter, which she described as sort of a cross between Pike Place Market in Seattle and the Mexican Market in San Antone. For my blood, I would hope it’s closer to Pike Place, which I love. So she sort of salvaged her day after the bus tour disappointment.
But that’s sort of typical New Orleans. Service is not high on the list. Scouring our archives the other day, I found this great line from the late, great Bob Hurt, Oklahoman columnist in the ’70s who covered the OU-Auburn Sugar Bowl 42 seasons ago: “Much is offensive about this grand ol’ town at the end of the Mississippi — like the topless-bottomless joints on Bourbon Street, the lovely cathedrals with souvenir shops in the foyer and the surliest waiters who serve the loveliest food.”
Not a lot has changed in New Orleans.
But our service aboard the Creole Queen was very good. Absolutely no complaints. The dinner cruise cost $72 a head. I thought that was fair. It came with a creole buffet, which was nothing great but was good. Gumbo, jambalaya, corn mac choux (sort of a corn casserole), mashed potatoes, baked chicken and beef brisket. I would prefer some seafood, but I’ll get plenty of that later in the week.
The cruise is billed as a jazz cruise, and sure enough, a three-piece band, the Gumbo Trio, played most of the night. And was very good. Low-key. A piano, a bass, a trumpet. The trumpeter sang some. Very soothing. Played all kinds of stuff, from “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey” to “Wonderful World.” Some people danced. One gal even got up and sang with the trio.
We walked around the boat, stayed outside some, even though it was about 40 degrees.
But the best part of the cruise was in the main cabin, relaxing and listening to jazz and watching the river amble by.
We’ve taken cruises in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Miami, Seattle, even San Antonio, if you want to count the Riverwalk. And most of those cruises, looking back at the city was a major part of the allure. Not so in New Orleans. The Mississippi is the best part of the cruise.