After settling in and
unpacking, my mother and I took the trolley from the cruise dock down to the French Quarter in New Orleans, where we enjoyed beignets with chicory coffee at Café du Monde and watched the street theatre at Jackson Square. We made it back to the Explorer in time to wash up for supper, which is served on the barge between 6:30 and 8:00pm. There is no assigned seating for meals; you choose your table and your companions when you get to the Galley. There are no formal nights, no Parade of the Baked Alaska, and no tablecloths. Formica tables with placemats are set with brightly colored napkins and Fiestaware dishes. The evening meal, "supper," is served by the cheerful team of Bargemates from a menu designed to reflect regional cuisine. Breakfast and lunch (called "dinner" on the Explorer,) are self-serve buffets.
After supper we explored some more of the barge: The Crevasse Bar and Sprague entertainment hall on the Royal (lower) level, the Galvez Library with its games, books and videos on the upper level, and "the Patio," a meeting/resting place at the aft of the De Soto barge just before entry to La Salle, the stateroom barge.
Leaving New Orleans at dawn
We went up to the Sky Deck and the Bridge Bar, looked at the track painted on the AstroTurf ("Fourteen times around makes a mile if you're running; 28 times around if you walk," explained Michael, the bartender who has been on the Explorer since it started service in 1998,) and took a peek into the small but remarkably well-equipped fitness center. Two hot tubs at the aft end ot the Sky Deck were out of service for most of our journey.
I set the alarm to wake me at dawn on the following day so I could experience our departure from the Port of New Orleans. I sat in my nightie on the balcony of my room, cup of steaming coffee in hand, as we slid from the dock into the Mississippi, did a waterborne pirouette, and glided away towards the Atchafalaya Basin. The city skyline in the dawn light provided a static background to the activity on the river, even at this early hour. Ships and barges were already conducting their daily business on this water highway through the center of the United States.
My mother, a renowned painter and woodcut print-maker, had brought along her tools to create woodcuts while we meandered through the region. As she searched for a place to work, she was approached by the Hotel/Food and Beverage Manager of the vessel.
"I have a spot for you," he told her as he led her to a table in The Galley next to the window. "You not only can work here, you can leave your tools for the entire trip. No one will remove them." Within minutes he assisted my mother in setting up an onboard "studio," which she pronounced "Perfect! I have the window for a changing view, I'm in The Galley so I have food whenever I want it, I can chat with people as they pass by, the bar is behind me, there's a convenient rest room, the door to the front of the barge is a few feet away if I need fresh air, and the coffee maker is right in front of me... PERFECT!"
Carefully selected excursions off the barge, chosen for both their educational value and enjoyment, are included as part of your River Explorer experience. Just a scant 15 miles by road from New Orleans is the town of Lafitte, Louisiana, named for the pirate Jean Lafitte who plays a large rôle in the history and culture of the region. We docked there in the early afternoon of Day One on the river, and were off on our first adventure, the requisite Swamp Tour.
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