Day 1: Ottawa (Kanata Town Centre) to Perrysburg, Ohio.
We were assigned seats very close to the front of the bus. This was a good thing for 4 of us (and bad for 2) if it was “door side first” to get off the bus at pit-stops, lunch, etc. This was a good thing for 2 of us (and bad for 4) if it was “driver side first” to get off the bus. Nancy and Jean were on the driver side and Libby, Miriam, Gloria and I on the door side. We were all seated together. It worked well – whoever got off first saved a table (if there was time to sit) for the others.
We passed the time playing Quiddler (a sort of rummy style game based on creating words out of letters) and playing Scategories. The bus stopped mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon and our destination was always reached in time for dinner.
Crossing the U.S. border was painful (Windsor/Detroit). We all had to get off the bus. The poor bus driver (Ray), had to unload all of the large suitcases (there were 43 of us plus guide (Pam) plus driver), we then lined up, claimed our suitcase and waited for our turn to open it and have it rifled through. Somebody else went through the bus (and presumably our hand luggage) while this was taking place. I have no idea what they were looking for.
Our guide had some trivia games, puzzles – and always a movie each day.
We stayed that night at a Holiday Inn Express – pretty much on the highway. Our large suitcases weren’t going to be available to us until we reached New Orleans – so hand luggage had to be carefully packed.
We had dinner at a nearby restaurant called “Frickins” ( guess this is a combination of Finger and Chicken) not far from the hotel where we enjoyed beer, wine, and large platters of very tasty quesadillas – and all for $13.87 each. You gotta love it.
Day 2: Perrysburg, Ohio to Chattanooga, Tennessee
On the road again at 07:30am (which meant a very early wake-up call to get 2 ladies showered, dressed, packed and fed).
Day 2 saw us having breakfast in Ohio, lunch in Kentucky and dinner in Tennessee. Talk about seeing the country!! Our hotel was a Doubletree Inn with REALLY TALL beds. Running leap anyone? If my memory serves me correctly, this was one of the few hotels that actually had a restaurant of its own – and we had a very nice dinner, with wine of course!
Day 3: Chattanooga, Tennessee to New Orleans, Louisiana
From Tennessee we crossed into Georgia. I blinked and the next thing you know, we were in Alabama. It was time to turn our clocks back one hour – sure made this one a long day!! A few more rousing games of Quiddler and some giggles over a game of Scategories passed the time. We crossed into Mississippi for lunch and then finally – Louisiana. Our mid-afternoon stop was at the Louisiana Welcome Centre and by about 4pm, we were in New Orleans at our Hotel – The Drury Inn & Suites. Room keys didn`t work so it took a while to get settled.
Drury Inn & Suites (our hotel for most nights) offers “Kick-Back” from 5:30 to 7pm each evening – 3 free drinks per person plus food (hot dogs, mac & cheese, chicken strips, baked potatoes, maybe chili, potato chips and nacho chips, sometimes carrot and celery sticks, etc). The three free drinks were a definite – but we decided to go elsewhere most of our dinners. Breakfast was cereal, oatmeal, biscuits & gravy, scrambled eggs, sausage patties, make-your-own waffles, toast-your-own bread or bagels, sometimes fruit, and yogurt –all served on Styrofoam plates/bowls with plastic utensils. The coffee was dreadful (and in Styrofoam cups). This became a theme throughout the trip.
Another “feature” of the Drury hotels was the bathroom set-up. The toilet and tub/shower were in a separate room from the sink/vanity. This was fine – made sense. However, the toilet was extremely low and there was nothing around it – it floated in the middle of the room. One had to count on one’s leg muscles to get up or down. This was a challenge for me, for sure! I felt like I was back in Justin and Cheryl’s house in their Jack & Jill bathroom!!
Day 4 – New Orleans
We got to sleep in – well sort of. Our City tour started at 9am – a whole lot better than having to be on a bus at 7:30 or 7:45am. A New Orleans tour guide joined us and we spent the morning learning a lot about the city and the horror that took place in 2005 when 80% of the city was under water following Hurricane Katrina. We saw one of the famous cemeteries – folks cannot be buried underground because of the high water table and cremation has only recently come into favour. We learned about the two basic religions in the city – Catholicism and voo-doo. We learned that one year’s tuition at Tulane University is $50,000. We learned that in New Orleans, a banquette is a sidewalk. We sampled beignets for the first time – sort of like a smaller and puffier version of our beavertails but dusted with powdered sugar – and lots of it. We learned what a “shotgun house” was – sort of like a trailer with the doors at the front and back instead of the sides – made for good air flow and if anyone shot a gun at you, it would likely go right through and come out the other end!
We learned the term “over-served” and used it a lot throughout the remainder of the trip. If one drinks just a tad too much, one says “I was over-served”. We loved that one.
We learned about “Drive-Thru Daiquiri Bars” – yes – just like MacDonald’s – only for daiquiris instead of Big Macs. No wonder they coined the term “over-served”.
Our tour ended just before lunch and we were dropped off in the French Quarter to do our own thing until it was time to leave for our dinner/jazz cruise.
We headed first, at the recommendation of our City Guide, to Po’boys for lunch to check one of the “must haves” from our list. This turned out to be a very small deli-style place where you lined up to place your order, waited to hear it hollered out when it was ready and did your best to find someplace to sit and eat. More paper plates – in fact, I think this time it was just paper. By now we have learned that in the U.S. you share meals. The portions are simply enormous!
After lunch we split up. Gloria and I and another gal we met named Doris went off one way and headed for Bourbon Street. We simply had to say we had been there……so now we can say that – and not a whole lot more about it. It is very seedy, lots of small bars – perhaps it is better to see it at night – but I’m not sure I would feel very safe doing that. Our next stop was the St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square, followed by more beignets at le Café du Monde. We say majestic statues of Andrew Jackson and of Joan of Arc (affectionately called “Joanie on her Pony”). From there we shopped in the French Market and the Flea Market before making our way back to the pick-up spot to have our bus take us back to the hotel. Sore feet, tired legs, extremely hot (at least I was). The temperature was a very humid 90+ degrees in New Orleans and the sun was out most of the time. IT WAS HOT!!
The bus left the hotel again at 6pm headed for The Natchez – our paddle wheel steamboat where we were to enjoy a jazz dinner cruise. Well……we could say we sailed on the Mississippi River and I guess that’s something! The dinner was a buffet, crowded, lined up for ages – couldn’t hear the music at all and we got into a dust-up with a group of 3 ladies who accused us of stealing their table. I will never forget the look on Miriam’s face as she declared that THIS WAS HER SALAD and popped a small tomato into her mouth for emphasis. They complained to our trip guide – but then discovered they had made a mistake and we weren’t sitting at their table after all. The wine was great.
Day 5 – New Orleans
On the bus by 8am headed for Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, LA – a sugar cane plantation, still working. The Live Virginia Oaks were magnificent – some of them 300 years old (merely middle-aged). We toured slave cabins, the magnificent main plantation manor, had our first mint juleps (yummy) made with bourbon and then another lunch on paper followed by a gift shop.
From here we headed off to Laplace, LA for a Swamp Tour with Cajun Pride Tours. This was fantastic. We were in a flat-bottomed, low sided boat, with bench seating and a swamp tour guide who looked like relative of Crocodile Dundee. The swamp was positively breathtaking – quiet, peaceful and beautiful – and not a mosquito in sight. We saw quite a few alligators and large turtles. The alligators enjoyed the “floating marshmallows” that were tossed to them.
Our guide had brought with him a young ‘gator who was passed around for us to hold (it may have been small, but its mouth was taped shut for good reason). It was soft and silky and didn’t seem to be much bothered by all of the handling.
Back to the hotel for Kick-Back and then we headed out in search of the “best” jambalaya – at “Mother’s”. Well, the jambalaya was good – as was the shrimp creole – and it was on real plates – but you still had to go to the counter to order it yourself. After dinner we had a great game of Shang Hai Rummy in the hotel lounge.
Day 6 – New Orleans, LA to Natchez, Mississippi
Bags outside the door for 6:30am and on the bus for 7:30am. We headed for Natchez.
Lunch was at Mammy’s Cupboard – another culinary experience. One washroom, nothing for handicapped folks, food just so-so and Mammy herself manning the cash register. It looked like she hadn’t moved from that spot in 40 years.
After lunch we arrived at Frogmore Cotton Plantation and Gins in Ferriday, LA. Again, this was a working plantation and our tour guide was the “lady of the house” herself. Rather than plant cotton, this industrious family provided cotton ginning services for about 35 cotton plantations. We toured slave cabins (circa 1700), the kitchen house, laundry house, etc and the usual gift shop. The weather had turned cold and misty. Quite a change from New Orleans. Jackets were required.
Our hotel for Day 6 was a Hampton Inn & Suites – but it might as well have been a Drury Inn – I didn’t notice much difference.
We didn’t join the larger group who were going for dinner to another diner type place – we ordered in pizza and played cards in the hotel lounge. We did miss the hockey game and were relieved to hear that Montreal had prevailed and had won Game 7!
By the way – we learned early on – and nothing changed as the days went by – that cash is the preferred tender in many/most shops and restaurants. It was difficult to find a place that took credit cards.
Day 7 – Natchez, MS to Memphis, Tennessee
Bags outside the door for 6:30am and boarded the bus for 7:45am. Mid-morning break was at a highway rest stop – we were not impressed. There were washrooms and vending machines (that didn’t work) and that was it. I guess it guaranteed a quick stop.
We arrived at Graceland – OMG – ELVIS LIVES! We had lunch in a little diner called “Rockabilly” and it was worse than horrible. They had no milk for milkshakes, the staff had a major attitude and the food was awful. A shuttle took us to the mansion where you were given a headset and could do the tour at your own pace.
The house itself, given the celebrity of its owner, was not huge – and it certainly wouldn’t ever win any interior decorating prizes – pretty over-the-top gaudy in most rooms and downright wild and crazy in others. The grounds, however, were beautiful and peaceful in spite of the crowds wandering around.
A shuttle back took you to Elvis’ car museum, his 2 planes (The Lisa Marie and one other smaller jet) and a plethora of gift shops (14 of them) where TCB (Taking Care of Business) was definitely alive and well. Talk about a place to mint money!
Following check-in at our Drury Inn and, of course Kickback, we headed to Beale Street, the Blues musicians, street performers and then some. We found a restaurant (The King’s Palace Café) with real dishes and tablecloths – the wine even had a cork – and there was entertainment! We were there for the evening – enjoying a wonderful “Cajun Feast” that consisted of Shrimp and Crawfish Etouffee, Championship Gumbo, Blackened Catfish, Voodoo Potatoes, Voodoo Chicken, Fried Green Tomatoes, rice and if there was more, I can’t remember. We had specialty shrimp and gator chips for appetizers – and more wine.
The entertainer was David Bowen – an older gentleman who played guitar and sang the blues as if he had been doing it all his life – and I bet that was exactly the case. We got up to dance – all of us – and had others doing so (with some persuasion) as well. I’m not sure what the other diners thought of us but we had a great time – the best night yet. We all purchased David Bowen’s CD as a great souvenir.
We were “almost” late getting back to the bus – the tour guide was on her way to try to find us – so we took some ribbing from the others. Once again we had been “over-served”. Our wonderful evening, with alcohol and entertainment, cost us $30 each and that included a generous tip. Imagine!
We all felt we could have spent another entire day in Memphis – but that wasn’t on the itinerary.
Day 8 – Memphis, TN to Louisville, Kentucky
Bags at the door again by 06:30 and then the usual breakfast. Mid-morning break again at a rest stop with unfriendly vending machines and line-ups at the washrooms. Lunch at yet another Bob Evans restaurant….the first one seemed fine….but they get pretty boring after you’ve been to several. This is basically a driving day – no sightseeing. Our watches moved ahead one hour mid-afternoon. This time we had to “buy” our 3 free drink tickets at the Drury Inn front desk – the “buy” was simply the state tax – first time we ran into that. Arrived in Louisville late afternoon and YEAHHH – there is an Olive Garden restaurant in sight for dinner…..after Kick-Back, of course. Something didn’t sit well with me and I can tell you that a very low toilet, with nothing on either side of it isn’t an easy challenge no matter which end is up!!
Day 9 – Louisville, KY to Troy, Michigan
Our day started with the usual early wake-up and bags at the door by 6:30am –we won’t see the large suitcases again until we get home which calls for some strategic packing of the carry-on. After another Styrofoam plated breakfast, we headed off to Churchill Downs for a tour of the facility and the Kentucky Derby Museum. The place was huge – much larger than I had envisioned. We were taken right out onto the track where the horses (quite a few of them) were being exercised/trained. The main screen where the race is shown and the odds and winnings posted was 15,000 square feet in size. Very impressive! Of course there was the usual gift shop before boarding the bus again, headed for another Bob Evans restaurant and then Troy, Michigan for our final night at a Drury Inn. Following Kick-Back (we got to like those) we were delighted to discover a TGIF Friday’s restaurant attached to the hotel. Our “last supper” was a great one – good food, good wine, good friends!
Day 10 – Troy, MI to Ottawa
Our last early wake-up and hopefully the last Styrofoam plated breakfast for a long while! We stopped just short of the border at a duty-free shop where I got a 40oz bottle of Appleton Estate Rum for $17.00. That was a bargain!! At the border (Port Huron/Sarnia), we were prepared for the same sort of hassle we had coming over. Instead a gentleman in uniform boarded the bus, asked “are you all Canadian Citizens”? YES! “Did you all stay within the allowed $$ limits?” YES! “Hold your passports up in the air”…….picture a busload of senior citizens madly waving their passports – and we were off again.
We dropped fellow passengers off in Kingston, Brockville, and Prescott and arrived in Kanata about 5:30pm. It felt good to be home. We had a lot of fun, saw some interesting places, and would probably do something similar again – but not quite so far away.
SOME COMMENTS (mostly dislikes but a few positives as well)
- Low toilets, Tall Beds
- Many Cash-Only stores and restaurants
- Styrofoam plates and plastic cutlery
- Line-ups for meals, washrooms, etc
- Rural Living – most hotels far from amenities
- Rest Stops with nothing other than vending machines that didn’t work and far too few toilets
- En route meal stops – MacDonald’s, Bob Evans, Pilot stores – this comment should be self-explanatory
- Would have preferred a New Orleans hotel right in the French Quarter
- Would have loved more time in Memphis
- Might have been nice to make water available (for sale) on the bus
- A shopping stop would have been nice – even just basics such as a drugstore
- We did enjoy Kick-Back and those tequila sunrises!
I’VE BEEN OVER-SERVED (I have had too much to drink)
KICK-BACK ( Happy Hour)