Itinerary: Mississippi River from New Orleans to Memphis
We are two ladies who are good friends traveling together largely to avoid the single supplement. I have taken over 20 cruises; they are my favorite style of vacation. I am a high school teacher so that I must travel during school vacations when ships are always their most crowded and fares the highest. Pros: Very relaxing low key paddlewheel trip up the Mississippi River. Excellent entertainment even when tied up in a town for the day. Wrap around deck for easy walking to enjoy the scenery. "Riverlorian" lecturer gave excellent talks about the river and its history.
Cons: The worst service I have ever encountered from the waiter, assistant waiter, and cabin attendant. The shore excursion manager was neither knowledgeable nor helpful. The cabin was tiny with very unattractive décor and minimal storage area.
I had taken this same cruise 9 years ago. At that time I had a cabin in the same price category, number 220. It was one of the nicest cabins I have ever been in, even though the bathroom was small. It was decorated in Victorian colors and patterns with replicas of antique furnishings. Even the toiletry bottles were pretty. The staff was friendly and attentive so I suggested to Bodil that we make the same trip this year, as she had not been on the Mississippi River. We made our arrangements directly with the cruise line. All went smoothly, we got our plane and cruise tickets several weeks before the trip. The flights were on two different airlines, but that was OK. Our flight to New Orleans was easy, but a bit late arriving. Our documentation said that the boat sailed at 6:00 PM and we were not yet at the dock. I was nervous; Bodil was not concerned. She said that they had booked the late flight, and would wait for us. She was right, the boat actually sailed at 7:30 PM. We went straight onto the boat where check-in was quick and courteous. We were very hungry and the welcome aboard buffet was over. Bodil found a bowl of fruit and had an apple, but other than that we had to wait until our late dinner seating at 8:00 PM.
After my previous positive experience, imagine my surprise when I opened the door to our cabin, number 115. It was tiny, poorly laid out and not clean. Black hairs were in the bathroom, on the phone, and on a bedspread. The phone was so dusty Bodil could write in it. The area behind the toilet was full of hair and debris. The "décor" was a blah mismatch of seven different non-coordinating prints plus a lace bedskirt that was very crookedly applied. Another print wallpaper was in the bathroom. There was one small four-drawer chest between the two twin beds. A short exposed pole with a shelf above it at the end of the room served as the closet. The overall feeling reminded me of a hotel in the "wrong part of town" that I once stayed in accidentally, except that here I was not afraid for my safety. There was an iron, ironing board, bunk bed ladder, hair dryer, and two life vests in the closet area. A two channel radio built into the wall and a telephone completed the room furnishings. After unpacking, we found that our empty standard size cases would not fit under the beds so that they had to be stored in the small amount of space between the bed and the wall at the end of the sleeping area. With some careful planning and putting several items under the beds we were able to unpack the essentials and leave the rest in the cases. There was a small porthole high on the wall. We learned that it looked out to the smoking area for the crew. There was often someone outside the window having a cigarette. It was sealed so that the smoke was not a problem. The beds would have been comfortable if they had been made up properly. The air conditioning worked well.
The bathroom had a small medicine cabinet and an adequate shelf above the sink. There were no towel bars and the room was so tiny that we had to stand behind the toilet and reach over to use the basin. The door opened inward with little clearance with the toilet. This made getting in and out of the room a challenge for me, as I am a large person. The shower was very small with a curtain, but was adequate and had a nice showerhead. The shampoo and lotion were of good quality, but no longer came in the pretty bottles that I remembered.
Our cabin attendant either had not been taught how to clean a cabin and make beds or she was exceptionally lazy or both. She was very friendly and personable when we met her in the hall, but did a terrible job of keeping the cabin nice. The first night when I turned back my covers, we both thought it looked like the bed had been slept in. Bodil's was fine. As the week went on I found that Carol did not know how to make a bed so that it stayed made. I am a restless sleeper, but have never had this problem before. One night I got up in the night and made it myself so that I did not have to sleep on a bare mattress. Every night the bed came completely apart as soon as I turned over since the back side was not tucked in at all, and the foot barely tucked in under the mattress. I showed her the mess behind the toilet and asked her to keep it clean. She did keep that area clean after I did the initial cleaning. On a positive note, I will never take an efficient, well-trained cabin attendant for granted again.
We decided not to dwell on our disappointment in the cabin and planned to have a good time.
DINING We ate breakfast in the Grand Saloon most of the time. It was a very complete, well prepared buffet. On the mornings with an omelet station it was best. There were no trays and no help getting food to the small closely spaced tables. The salt, pepper, coffee cream, etch were on the buffet line. Nothing was on the tables. This meant that it usually took at least two trips to get everything you needed and carry all to the table. One morning I decided to eat in the dining room because the special was eggs Benedict which is a favorite of mine. The eggs were so undercooked that the whites were still runny and clear colored. It was luke warm when it got to the table. I could not eat it. The hash browns were good though. After this I stuck to the buffet. One day I came up to have breakfast about 15 minutes before the end of the stated breakfast time. Everything had been cleared away. After this I noted that they generally began clearing the food from the buffet after the line ended rather than at the appointed time. After the buffet breakfast is cleared the only food available is a continental breakfast outside the dining room doors. There is no room service. The same was true at lunch. Plan to have your meal at the beginning of the stated time if you want to eat something other than a hot dog at the calliope bar.
Lunch was either a buffet in the Grand Saloon or sit down service in the dining room. I ate in the dining room. It was generally good. Most days the soup was the best part of the meal so I made it my entrée. Service at lunch was always good which magnified our terrible dinner service because we knew it could have been much better.
The food at dinner was of average quality with a few outstanding exceptions. The roast duck with lingonberry sauce on the second night stands out in my mind as very good. The food would have been more acceptable if it had not been for the really terrible service we received. Not once were drink orders taken for non-alcoholic drinks. I like skim milk or cola drinks with my meals. I had to grab the assistant waiter some time during the meal to ask for these. He would bring mine, but still not ask anyone else at the table if they would like a drink. The bar server sometimes brought our drinks even though it was not his job. We were always offered drinks at lunch so that I am sure that we should have been at dinner. Bread was offered once soon after we were seated, never offered a second time. Until we complained about it, the assistant waiter would clear the table by piling all the dishes in front of us and scraping them right there. He never did learn to clear the table properly, but he did get a little better. The waiter stood in one place and took orders from everyone. He did not move around and consult with each person. After he brought the entrees we did not see him again until time to take the dessert orders. There was bread pudding for dessert every night. Usually there was a store bought style of pie or cake as an alternate choice. The desserts were not imaginative or interesting so one night I asked for a chocolate sundae. I had seen them on adjoining tables. K.C. said "No, that is not one of the choices." I have never been on a ship where you could not have something simple if the choices were not to your liking. On our way out of the dining room that night I saw a lady with a banana split. On another night the entrée was prime rib. I enjoy rare prime rib so I asked for a rare slice, the waiter brought me an end cut with a burned baked potato. By this time I had given up on getting a nice dinner so I just did not eat it. All in all Bodil and I felt that the service was so bad that it had to be on purpose, but we could not figure out why as we had done nothing to insult them. One night after she had asked twice for cream for her coffee and still not received any, she asked the headwaiter for the cream. By this time her coffee was cold, but the headwaiter just poured the cream into her cold coffee without asking if she would like it heated up or a fresh cup. It is hard to say, but I believe that if the service had been of the usual cruise ship standard I would have thought the food acceptable even though it was not great. Luckily our table companions were friendly and very interesting to visit with. They were from Natchez and could; therefore, give us first hand information about life in a Mississippi town. Unfortunately this was their first cruise and I hate to think that they would expect dinner service to be like this on another cruise. Our table was next to the Captain's table. Somehow, I doubt that they got the same type of service.
At 11:00PM each evening there was a buffet served in the Paddlewheel lounge. Usually dessert items, but corn dogs one night and sometimes hors d oeuvre type snacks like cheese. Since we finished dinner around 10:00 we usually did not partake.
All afternoon there were hot dogs with all the fixins and soft serve ice cream available up on the top deck near the calliope bar. The hot dogs were very good and made it possible to last until dinner at 8:00.
The main shows were before dinner each night for the late diners and after dinner for the early sitting. These shows and the activities during the day were all handled by the same six people: the activities director, the riverlorian, and four singers. They did an excellent job. The shows were low key, but well done. The two men and two women had nice singing voices and each night had a theme to their show. The first night was patriotic songs; another was songs from the movies, and songs about the river. The boat's orchestra, The Steamboat Syncopators, was very good and one night did a show of Dixieland music and history, which was exceptionally interesting. The last night Laura Sable, one of the four singers, did a nice job in a tribute to the women of song. The shows were especially enjoyable because the singers seemed to enjoy what they were doing and this was transmitted to the audience. The group has been together for about seven years. After dinner there was dancing in the Grand Saloon to the music of the Syncopators. A gentleman host was available to dance with the single ladies.
Later in the evening the fun moved to the Paddlewheel lounge where a trio entertained from 10:00 PM until late at night. Their show also had a theme each evening, and they also played requests. There is a small dance floor where there were usually a few couples dancing.
An important element of the entertainment was the Riverlorian, Bill Wiemuth, who gave talks about many aspects of the Mississippi River. One talk was about the Civil War, another about the Lewis and Clark expedition, Mark Twain, navigation on the river, stories about the river, etc. The talks were always well prepared and much more interesting than I remember history classes as being. He also gave tours of the pilothouse when we were docked and answered questions in the chart room during set hours of the day.
The theater on the bottom deck was quite comfortable; there was a showing of three or four recent movies, or movies about the river, each day. I saw two movies that I have been meaning to see.
There is a small library with a very limited selection. Bring your own book as there are comfortable deck chairs and rocking chairs perfect for reading if the weather is nice. Several people enjoyed the jigsaw puzzle that was always available on a table in the library.
During the day the staff put on their own versions of several TV game shows plus the usual bingo and Steamboat races instead of horse races. The bingo was for fun at $5 a card instead of the exorbitant amounts now charged on other ships. I found most of the activities to be fun. The singers were great game moderators and created a no stress environment where all could feel at ease and enjoy the program. Laura led a line dance lesson one day. There were a large number of passengers participating.
My favorite event of the cruise was a calliope concert on the last day while standing at the rail with mist from the paddlewheel blowing in my face. It was the kind of experience I had hoped for when I booked the cruise and Norman Bergen on the calliope made it a very special memory.
PORTS OF CALL
We left from New Orleans. Each night we received a paper in the cabin to tell us about the next day's activities and a cover page about the history of the next place we would be stopping. Natchez was the most interesting. This was partly because we had a guest lecturer on board to tell us about the town before we arrived there. This was the only town where I took a tour. We toured three antebellum homes that were open to the public during "spring pilgrimage". The people who live in the home and their friends serve as tour guides twice a year to the visiting public. One of the houses we saw was no longer occupied, but is available to see as a museum. In the evening we went into town to see a pageant enacting the history of the town put on by a large cast of local residents. It had a feel of a school pageant with better costumes, but I enjoyed the evening.
The next three towns were very small with nothing interesting to see. They may have been more interesting if we knew more about them. There were no maps or information sheets distributed to the passengers. We arrived in Greenville on Sunday. Nothing was open except one antique shop; a completely wasted stop.
Several times I asked the Short Excursion manager about seeing Graceland while in Memphis. On the last full day on the river he said that the four-hour city tour would see only the grounds of Graceland and the museum where the gold records are kept, but that we would not be able to go inside at Graceland due to renovations. He said that most of the time was spent riding on the bus. I was very disappointed and did not sign up for four hours on a bus. When Bodil got to the airport she told me that they had spent very little time on the bus and that they had one and a half hours to tour Graceland including the house. The excursion manager had not even called to check his facts when we arrived in Memphis. He had announced wrong information to all of the passengers gathered in the saloon for departure without checking to be sure that he was correct.
Most of the passengers are senior citizens and there are a large number of married couples. There were more young people on the boat this time than I remember from the last time that I took this trip. The children and teens were generally well-behaved and seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Leslie, the boat's photographer is very unobtrusive. She will take your picture if you like, or move on if you do not want a picture right now.
There are two elevators in the center of the boat. They are a little slow, but adequate. There were several wheelchair passengers. They seemed to have no trouble except on the top deck. It was an addition added after the boat was in service and is not designed for wheelchairs.
There is a small swimming pool on the top deck. The water did not look clear, but several children swam in it.
Overall the trip was an enjoyable vacation. Since it is one of the more expensive cruises that I have taken, I feel it is greatly overpriced for the quality of service and accommodations that we received. I have mixed feelings about trying it for a trip on the Ohio River.