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Old 11-20-2010, 07:23 AM   #1
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The Bubble and Beads Tour, October 2010

The Bubble and Beads Tour

This trip was the brainchild of my boyfriend, Criag. He wanted to celebrate his birthday in a big, big way. We both love to travel and he wanted to go away to someplace special for his birthday. His birthday is October 29. Way back in April, I guess I got a message from him stating that since his birthday is so close to Halloween he wanted to celebrate his birthday in a place that did Halloween in a big way. Because I live only two hours away from New York City, I was assuming he would want to go there. They have a great big Halloween parade in the West Village every year among other things. But no, two weeks later he surprised me by saying New Orleans. I said that I was onboard because I had never been to New Orleans before and had always wanted to visit. A few weeks later he contacts me and says, “You know, New Orleans is a port city”. Ok, I respond rather cluelessly. Not too much later than that he sends me a link to a cruise that uses New Orleans as its embarkation point. The timing of the cruise would allow us to return to New Orleans in time to celebrate Halloween there. The ports of call were more exotic than cruises I had heard in the past so I gave a tentative go ahead. My issues were would I still have the same employment and be able to take the time off and would I have enough money. You know, the usual. Since we are a gay couple all of my gay friends always assumed it was a gay cruise. No, it is not. This would be your garden variety Carnival cruise. The fact that it was Carnival did give me cause to pause. I was not terribly thrilled with their reputation. However, I am a big believer that you get what you pay for. I can’t afford much so gourmet meals should not be expected. Craig was a past guest on Carnival. We were able to get a lower price on the cruise with his past guest discount. No other cruises would be cruising out of New Orleans that would make the trip doable with us being in the city for Halloween. The cruise was a seven night Western Caribbean cruise to Belize, Roatan Island, Honduras, and Cozumel Island, Mexico. In my mind, Western Caribbean cruises typically involved Key West and Cozumel so this itinerary was more appealing to me. Even though Key West is one of the gay meccas for the English speaking world, I was seeking more exotic destinations.

Craig often is the idea man and I am the guy who takes care of the details and puts them in place. We are in a long distance relationship. I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and he lives in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. He has the intent to move here to Philly in the near future. As part of the planning process I discovered CruiseCritic.com. It is an incredibly informative web site providing the latest up to date information on cruising. The discussion boards were priceless in what they gave me. Part of the boards was a Roll Call for all those who intend to be on the same sailing. I joined the roll call soon after Craig had put down the deposit for the cruise to book the trip. As this story unfolds you will see that this was such a boon for us. I highly recommend you join a roll call on cruise critic before any sailing that you do. Craig was able to take a little bit of more time off work than I could so he arrived on Thursday, October 21, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA). He had been in contact with a local via the internet. They ended up spending the day together on Friday, October 22, 2010 touring local plantations. We both wished that I could have been there to share that. However, that’s one more reason to return to the Big Easy, right!?!

My journey begins on Friday, October 22, 2010. Grofe’s Sunrise movement of the Grand Canyon Suite – so hopeful- matches my mood as I embark on this holiday. Crescendo builds and I emerge from underground on my train to the airport. The regional rail arrives in plenty of time to not worry about missing my flight. I had spent the morning and early afternoon at work and was going directly to the airport. I had recently purchased a big, thick paperback for the cruise. It is “London” by Edward Rutherford. It’s a historical fiction novel that follows the course of London from the beginning of history to the 20th century. I’ll let you know what I think of it later. But I begin reading it on the train.

Money is always tight so I refrained from grabbing a meal or a snack. Oddly enough as I read my novel at the gate at the airport I really wasn’t hungry. I’m always hungry. I must be really excited about this trip. My wait was uneventful until an announcement comes over the speaker informing me that the crew had not arrived on time. The good news is that they had arrived at PHL. The bad news is that they were in a completely different terminal. The crew would be about 20 minutes late.

US Airways boards its passengers in an odd way these days. They do it in zones instead of calling aisles. The zone is dependent on your class an how you purchased your ticket. So when they announce your zone it is a free for all. Luckily I had very little trouble finding space for my carry-on. This was critical because I arranged for a shuttle to pick me up at the airport allowing no time for waiting for checked baggage. Everything I was taking for this trip was either in the carry-on that was stowed overhead or in a smaller bag that fit under the chair in front of me.

Everyone gets on board and then the pilot announces a further delay. Wha-a-a-t!?! It’s rush hour at the airport and there are 25 planes ahead of us all waiting to taxi out and fly. Are you kidding me!?! Am I going to be an hour late now?! Ugh!

On board the flight I had a good conversation with a woman who was having a little holiday weekend for herself. It made the time go by more quickly. The three hour flight passed relatively quickly but by now I’m getting hungry. But I am not willing to spend any money for a snack. I miss the days when a full meal was included in the flight. But then, I don’t think I was flying quite as much back then. I guess the opportunity to travel and explore the globe is better compensation for a missed turkey sandwich and salad.

As soon as the plane lands I turn on my phone and within a matter of seconds I get a call from my shuttle driver. He is at the airport. I tell him I’m on my way and we describe each other for easy recognition. My driver was extremely personable. We talked about all sorts of topics regarding our respective experiences. As we approach downtown NOLA, he give me a quick overview to the city. We encountered little traffic and I arrive at my hostel around 9 pm.

I was only going to be in NOLA for one night and only using the hotel for 8 hours of sleep. I didn’t feel like it would be worth it to get a nice hotel. As a result, we booked the AAE Bourbon House Hostel.

NEXT: My first impressions of NOLA
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Old 11-20-2010, 08:46 AM   #2
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Great start Douglas! Can't wait to hear all about your adventures!
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Old 11-20-2010, 09:47 AM   #3
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Sounds like fun, Douglas! Looking forward to your take on cruising (and Carnival Line).
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Old 11-20-2010, 05:41 PM   #4
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Great start Douglas! Can't wait to hear all about your adventures!
Thanks Marnie! You are always a great cheerleader for the Passporter community.
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Old 11-20-2010, 05:42 PM   #5
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Sounds like fun, Douglas! Looking forward to your take on cruising (and Carnival Line).
Thanks for the encouragement lauriep! I love your signature picture. It's so pretty. Is that Boston in the spring?
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Old 11-20-2010, 05:54 PM   #6
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Talking

Friday, October 22, 2010



I had traveled wearing a blazer, khaki pants and a dress shirt in order to save space in my luggage. Philadelphia was 50-53į F when I left. NOLA was 82įF and slightly humid. The driver of the shuttle has a close business relationship with the hostel. He knew the security code to enter and let me in. We were talking in the front hallway when Craig heard our voices. He was using the computer in one of the common areas. He shouted out to let me know he was there. After my driver left, Craig and I had a happy reunion. He led me up to our modest room. We had a private double bed room with shared bath. I quickly changed into a t-shirt to make myself more comfortable. One of the staff members of the hostel recommended an eatery that was within walking distance and had good food. The restaurant was a Mexican restaurant that all his Mexican customers ask about.



The entrance to AAE Bourbon House Hostel on Annunciation Street






The outside facade of the hostel






The neighborhood of the hostel






Off we go! Juanís Flying Burrito http://www.juansflyingburrito.com/index.php on Magazine Street in the Lower Garden District was just what the doctor ordered. I was so out of it from my travels and making sure that I had all the essentials covered that I neglected to bring a camera with me. By the time I realized that I wanted to take pictures we were about halfway to the restaurant. I just didnít think it was worth it to back track. The restaurantís ambiance was an eclectic hodge-podge of funky artifacts and knick knacks. It definitely said wacky, fun time to me Ė a perfect slice of New Orleans. I had ordered a quesadilla with chicken along with lemonade. First of all that lemonade was HUGE! Love it! My dinner was very tasty. I liked the little chunks of avocado. Plus as a cheese lover there was plenty to make it yummy. The portion was good and sizable. Craig had a taco salad in a bowl with an unsweetened ice tea. He ate it all and deemed it a good meal. The service was attentive without being overbearing, personable and right on point. Magazine Street (at least this stretch of it) was filled with character but seemed a bit run down. There were a number of antique shops. According to some fellow cruise critic members (Hi Doug and Andy!) before 2005 there were many more shops open before hurricane Katrina hit.

We both were tired after dinner so we just took it easy and retired for the night back at the hostel. This was easier said than done. The street behind the hostel was having a block party. It sure sounded fun; but I was not in the partying mood. I was in the ďletís lie down and do nothingĒ mood. We had our windows open to enjoy the breeze on this warm NOLA night. Despite the hoopla going on outside our window I was able to fall asleep fairly quickly. However, this was not to last. While the block party ended at a reasonable hour (by midnight or 1 am), our windows were open and could hear our fellow guests out on a back patio. Even when I closed the windows I could hear my fellow hostel guests clear as a bell as if they were having conversations right outside my door. Later in the night I woke up and could not get back to sleep because a group of guests are talking as if it is 1 oíclock in the afternoon. Revelers from parties elsewhere in the city return to keep the party going. I got very little rest. I canít fault the hostel. The hostel was clean, orderly with a friendly helpful staff. It was my fellow guests who donít know how to behave in the wee hours of the morning that were my problem. Since we had such a late dinner and I had so much lemonade, my bladder woke me up at the ungodly hour of 3 am. Shortly after returning from bathroom, I just could not fall back asleep. Due to the loud fellow hostel guests I just gave up trying to sleep around 4:30 and sat in a comfy chair and read my novel with my itty bitty book light. Guests were still up and chatting away at 5 am. I had made another attempt to sleep in bed. I was unsuccessful. I basically drifted in a restful state but did not actually sleep.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

We had an early day planned today. Around 6:30 am, I started by going to take a shower. It was great because all of those partiers were sound asleep and I didnít have to worry about rushing so someone else could use the bathroom. I could take my time getting ready and I did. Craig and I prepare for the day and we are out of the door of the hostel by 7:30 am.

Remember that roll call on cruise critic? Well, there is also a forum for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender cruisers. On there I made a post to see if there would be other gay cruisers on my sailing. Another couple from Texas responded. We made arrangements to have breakfast together in the French Quarter before we embarked on our cruise ship. My plan was to use my Frommer 2010 New Orleans guidebook for a self guided walking tour of the French Quarter. Today I remembered to bring my camera. We walked from our hostel in the Lower Garden District all the way to Royal Street in the French Quarter. At our leisurely pace it took a half hour. Love, love, love the architecture of the Lower Garden District! So many homes have pulled out the stops decorating for Halloween.


Sights we saw as we made our way along Magazine Street in the morning.






This was a Farmer's Market that was just starting its day






The Frommerís walk through the French Quarter was great. The descriptions are brief, yet informative. Little anecdotes were perfect because my attention span this morning could not handle more than that. At one point we went a bit further away from the Mississippi than I should have, but it was serendipity because we ended up passing a gay bar I wanted to visit when we return to NOLA from the cruise. Score!

NEXT: Is having breakfast with complete strangers a good idea?
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Old 11-20-2010, 07:05 PM   #7
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Thanks for the encouragement lauriep! I love your signature picture. It's so pretty. Is that Boston in the spring?

Yes, it's right outside the building I live in. It's a very pretty street in the spring!
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Old 11-21-2010, 02:43 AM   #8
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What a great trip you've got planned - I love all the exotic ports of call you guys will be visiting! And what a great start - one day I'm sure we'll make it to New Orleans, it's on the list, but just a few other places to tick off first...
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Old 11-21-2010, 02:58 PM   #9
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Another great update! Hope breakfast went well!
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Old 11-21-2010, 04:28 PM   #10
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Great start! Sounds like this is going to be an incredible trip!
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Old 11-21-2010, 06:08 PM   #11
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Love your pictures--looking forward to seeing a lot more of them!
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Old 11-23-2010, 06:47 AM   #12
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Our first stop on our little tour of the French Quarter was at the Rillieux-Waldhorn House. The building was built between 1795-1800 for Vincent Rillieux, the great-grandfather of the artist Edgar Degas. The wrought-iron balcony is a classic example of Spanish colonial workmanship.





We saw an example of Greek Revival architecture in the form of the old Bank of Louisiana. It had served as the Louisiana State Capitol, an auction exchange, a criminal court, a juvenile court and an American Legion social hall. It now houses the police station.



In fact, not too far from here as we were wandering I got cited by a guy who looked like an off-kilter official. I think he even had a false moustache. I was given a certificate of the Party Pooper Award for ďnot partying hard enoughĒ. The citation cost me $10 to provide free hot meals to the homeless. We both voluntarily gave our donation. He caught me in a good mood. I figured I was spending all this money on myself the least I could do was help someone in need. Craig made a donation as well. The guy who stopped us was very personable and friendly. I was laughing out loud when he told me I looked way too serious. I was acting as tour guide as I was reading from the book, checking a map and searching for the next noteworthy site. As a reward for the donation, Craig got a baseball cap and I got some stickers. He gave me a pink baseball cap too but I refused because I just knew that there was no room in my luggage for even a baseball cap. I said I didnít need anything in exchange for my donation. Truly I didnít but he gave me a few fun stickers anyway.

I am not going to share everything we saw along the walk. This will only give you a taste of what we experienced. But any friend of mine could tell you that I absolutely had to take a picture of 437 Royal Street when you learn its history. In the early 1800ís this building held Masonic lodge meetings at this drugstore. Antoine A. Peychaud served after-meeting drinks of bitters and cognac to lodge members in small egg cups whose French name, coquetier, was Americanized to ďcocktailĒ. Itís the home of the cocktail! Iíve finally come home at last.



It was near this time that we thought we should make our way to our breakfast meeting. We were going to meet our first Cruise Critic friends, Doug and Andy. They suggested we eat at Stanley which sits at the corner of Jackson Square. Stanley is a must-do eatery for them whenever they visit New Orleans. We had arrived early so we wandered around Jackson Square. I took pictures of St. Louis Cathedral and the statue of President Andrew Jackson.





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Old 11-23-2010, 07:00 AM   #13
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It now is time for breakfast. Since we had never met, I walk up to them and say, ďYou look like youíre looking for someoneĒ. They smile and we introduce ourselves. Decision making for breakfast was quick and easy. Doug and Andy have been at Stanley several times and knew their menu well, while I had checked out their menu ahead of time via the web. I ordered the Bananas Foster French Toast. It was totally decadent with oodles of walnuts, syrup, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top! It was very good but I would have preferred a bit bigger portion. Craig had Stanleyís version of eggs benedict. The hollandaise sauce was plentiful. The restaurant was packed so the only table we could fit ourselves into was in a not so great back corner. But who can complain when you have great company. Conversation flowed as did the coffee, tea, and orange juice. I would definitely recommend this restaurant. The service was friendly and the food was good. On top of that there are some excellent spots from which to people watch. Trust me; there probably will be eye candy for you. There was for me <wink, wink>. We really enjoyed meeting both Doug and Andy. They are just good people. They very graciously paid for our breakfast. I mentally made a note that I had to buy them some drinks while onboard the ship. After our hour long breakfast, Doug and Andy went back to their nearby hotel to pack up and head to the ship.











Craig, Me (Douglas), Andy, and Doug


Several months earlier I made a post on the roll call thread stating that I missed the days of old when there were confetti and streamers all around when a ship leaves port. That would be a big environmental no-no these days. I said that instead I was going to be blowing bubbles. Several others responded saying that would be fun. I said I didnít have to be the only one. Now I had gotten our little roll call (which wasnít so little by the way) to bring bubbles to blow for our first Cruise Critic meet Ďní greet, the Sail Away Party. Since I was flying into NOLA with just carry-on luggage, I did not pack bubbles. Craig and I after the breakfast at Stanley tried looking for bubbles at Walgreens on Decatur. No luck, oh well.

Back to our walking tour of the French Quarter we discovered all of those typical three story row homes that typify New Orleans including the famous LaBranche House. When people think French Quarter this is the house they imagine in their mind. There was incredible lacy cast-iron grillwork with delicate oak leaf and acorn design. Several buildings were totally decked out for Halloween with all sorts of goulish additions to the balconies.







We saw Pat OíBrienís, home of the famous Hurricane drink, Preservation Hall home to traditional New Orleans jazz, and here you see the Plique-LaBranche House which was the site of New Orleans first theater. Oh I canít find that picture, nevermind.

We found a house that both Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote lived in (not at the same time). Itís owned by Lindy Boggs, Louisiana politician and mother to Cokie Roberts.







Doug and Andy were staying at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel which was the site of the famous quadroon balls. Later it became a convent, home to the sisters of the Holy Family, the second oldest order of black nuns in the country.




We continued on to find the Le Pretre Mansion. Sometime in the 19th century a Turk arrived in New Orleans and rented the house. He was very wealthy and his entourage included many servants and more than a few beautiful young girls. The girls were thought to have been stolen from the sultan, the Turkís brother. The house became the scene of lavish entertainment hosting societyís best. One night shrieks came from inside the house. The next morning neighbors entered and found the tenantís body lying in a pool of blood surrounded by the bodies of the young women. We needed to remember this spot for Halloween night. People say that on certain nights you can hear the girls shriek.

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Old 11-23-2010, 07:08 AM   #14
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A major difference between the Disney version of the French Quarter of New Orleans, Disneyís Port Orleans French Quarter at Walt Disney World, and the real thing is the smell. Somehow, Disney is not able to capture the smell. We were in the French quarter early in the morning. Therefore, I think we didnít get the full impact that a late Friday night might give you. Still, the Quarter smells of liquor and beer. It wafts through the air and has that staleness that just lingers. You get used to it after a while. But the Disney imagineers just canít seem to replicate it. Thankfully, since this is early on a Saturday morning I didnít have to deal with the wonderful odeur de vomit. Iím sure on certain street corners that would not be an unusual scent to come across late on a weekend evening. Evenings in the French Quarter are definitely an adult playground, but other than that smell it is fine for children to walk around in the day time.



More pictures from the French Quarter walking tour on Saturday morning:





"Good Friends" we will revisit this place when we return to NOLA from the cruise




Check out time from the hostel was 11:00. We had packed everything up so all we had to do was pick up our bags and go. At 10:15 am, we stopped touring and began the walk back to the hostel. We were only halfway through our tour of the French Quarter but the great thing about this is that when we return from our cruise we can pick up where we left off. Why didnít I use the bathroom at Stanley? Oh my gosh, my poor bladder! All that water I had at breakfast and now look at the state I am in. Craig decides to catch the 11 bus. Thankfully it arrives 5 minutes early allowing us to get back to the hostel right at 11 am. The bus was in excellent condition. It was extremely clean and even smelled nice. The operator was very personable and friendly. Philly bus drivers normally mumble and are grouchy.

We gather our belongings. I went to use the complimentary internet access to jot down the location of the meeting point for a tour we will take when we return to NOLA. I also found a Super Wal-mart. It was within easy walking distance to the hostel. I needed to pick up that bottle of bubbles! Granted, Wal-mart is home of the devil and I really try not to shop there. However, when you are traveling and in unfamiliar territory Wal-mart does make things convenient and easy for you.

Once I returned Craig called a cab and we were off to the cruise port terminal. The rate was fixed at $7/person. Our cab driver was very personable and we got an earful about how he is suffering from gout and showed us the meds he was on. We learned that for years he was a truck driver. He asked us about where we were going and where we were from. He had to have shown us his elbow about three times to demonstrate how bad his gout is. While I learned far more than I really needed to know about this cab driver and his family, it did make the ride go more quickly.

Crossing Canal Street to catch the bus



My original plans were to store our bags at the hostel and leave the French Quarter around noon. Instead, we were not able to do this since the hostel staff doesnít start to work until 8 am and we needed to be underway to meet Doug and Andy before then. Now we end up at the cruise terminal around noon. The porters take our bags along with a whole slew of others on a big hand truck. I did tip the porter. But if you believe that this will ensure he will take care of your bags, you are sadly mistaken. He was so busy with trying to move those bags out he really didnít know which ones were ours.

NEXT: Embarkation! Sail Away! Bubbles and beads!
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Old 11-23-2010, 07:10 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chezp View Post
What a great trip you've got planned - I love all the exotic ports of call you guys will be visiting! And what a great start - one day I'm sure we'll make it to New Orleans, it's on the list, but just a few other places to tick off first...
If there is one problem that the two of us share is that there are so many destinations we both want to explore in the world. If only we had more time and money, right?
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