Michael and I decided that we would drive to New Orleans the day before our cruise on the NCL Jewel left port. We loaded the car the night before and were on the road by 6:30AM Saturday morning. We stopped in Lake Charles for a picnic lunch by the lake. I had packed a chickpea "tuna" salad with french rolls, puffed chips and grapes. It was very cold and windy so we ate quickly and ran around and then got back in the car.
We hit terrible traffic in Louisiana over and over. Luckily, the boys were plugged in to their kindle fires in the backseat and Michael and I had a David Sedaris audio CD we hadn't heard before. Still, it made for a very long day. We got to my parent's vacation condo around 4:15 and realized that the gate opener was broken. We couldn't get our car in! A very nice man opened it for us and we were able to get in! We quickly dumped our luggage and hopped on the street car to go down to the quarter. This was the kids first time on a street car since they were babies and they loved it.
We got off at Canal and walked into the quarter. The boys were disappointed that we had missed mardi gras, but seemed to get into the spirit. We stopped to watch various street performers and the kids liked throwing dollars into their buckets. As we cut over to the French Market a woman on a balcony above us started throwing beads and bouncy balls and the boys each caught one! They were so thrilled to get a little taste of mardi gras.
We walked over to the Mississippi River and the boys watched the paddle boats and played on the large grey rocks until we saw a rat a few feet from the kids. The sun was setting by then, so we called it quits and made our way back to the French Market for dinner. We saw outside listening to a band and I had gumbo and Michael had crawfish étouffée. The boys enjoyed fried fish and our crackers. We walked slowly back through the quarter in the dark. We saw some amazing things. We saw a man with a grand piano on a bicycle. We saw another man playing a washboard type instrument attached to him and he let the kids rock out with him. We stopped in a hat shop and tried on hats and looked at art. Then we took a taxi back to the condo and tried to get the kids to go to bed. The proved impossible so we eventually put Sam in our bed until they both fell asleep.
We woke up early Sunday morning and put on our clothes and stripped the beds to start the laundry. Then we walked down two blocks to the New Orleans Coffee and Beignet Company to introduce the children to beignets. The verdict? They loved them, of course! After our greasy, sugar filled breakfast of champions, we went on a walk to the drugstore because Samuel was showing signs of coming down with a miserable cold. We bought some medicine and then walked up and down St. Charles, letting the boys pick up crushed beads and coins and other detritus left over from the parades the week before.
Finally it was time to pack up the car again and head for the cruise terminal. We took a back route and avoided St. Charles traffic and found a good parking lot right next to our ship! We parked the car and promised to pay $120 to pay for parking when we returned. Note to self: next time leave the car at the condo and taxi over!
We boarded our cruise with ease and not much waiting. We were in the first group to board and we headed straight up to the buffet! We were hungry. We had delicious Indian food (the hidden secret on a cruise ship buffet), and sat in the kids section. Then we visited the "Splash Academy", the children's club onboard the ship. We signed the boys up and then went on to explore the ship. We found a great sunny corner of the pool deck with a ping pong table and played for a while until our rooms were ready.
When we went down to our AFT mini-suite we were astounded at the size of our cabin! It was a handicapped room and it was huge. It had our king size bed, plus a double (flattened couch) for Davis and a rollaway cot for Samuel. Our balcony was immense also and even had a lounge chair. We stood out there and watched the Mississippi river traffic go by and Davis claimed the lounge chair to rest and read. We have never had an aft cabin before and now we will always request one. There was no wind even when the ship was ploughing through the water at top speed and we so enjoyed the times we could sit out there and read.
We unpacked our bags and then went out to the pool deck for the sail away party. The kids did the water slide about 20 times and then sat in the hot tub, (it was about 70 degrees outside) and Michael and relaxed in some lounge chairs by the pool.
We had complimentary dinner at the Italian specialty restaurant that evening, one of the perks I got booking through American Airlines cruises, and the food was absolutely delicious. Michael and I both had salmon with white beans and Davis had pesto risotto while Samuel had some sort of butternut squash lobster dish. Unfortunately, my body was protesting the coffee and beignets I had subjected it to earlier in the day and Samuel was exhausted so we went straight to bed, very early. Michael and Davis stayed up a while and sampled the chocolate fountain before meeting us in the cabin at the end of our New Orleans portion of our trip.