American Queen Adventure Last Day!

On a lark the night before we realized we had nothing to do in St. Francisville and asked about the ‘Mystery, Mayhem’ tour. Ended up sounding too bizarre to pass up. So we booked our tickets to see a haunted plantation and visit Angola prison. Seriously.

The tour started at 8am so we hustled and grumbled in the morning and made it on the bus in time. Seeing the landscape of Louisiana was wonderful. Very lush, lots of spanish moss and ramshackle old mansions, cabins, barns and stables. 

We arrived at Myrtle Plantation at 9am, just in time for the poor souls paying to stay there to get bombarded by peppy people ready for a tour. You can google the plantation to get the full story on the haunting but here is what I recall:

A slave girl was spending a great deal of time with the master of the plantation. They were getting so friendly that she wanted him all to herself. She began eavesdropping on his wife to hear if she said anything bad about her. After getting caught too many times they had her ear sliced off as a reminder to stop eaves dropping. From then on she wore a turban to hide the mutilation. 

She still wanted to prove her love to her master so she devised a plan. She would bake a cake for the children and add just a bit of Oleander to it. The kids would get sick and she would heal them with her special medicine and the family would find her invaluable. Well she added too much Oleander and the children and the wife all died from poisoning. The slave was then hung and her body weighted down by bricks in her apron, sunk to the bottom of the Mississippi. 


Now she haunts the house, her silhouette can be seen in the living room mirror and a picture of her floating near the house was passed around in excitement. The woman of the house was very superstitious and that is why there are crosses on all the windows around the doors and key holes are turned upside down to confuse naughty spirits.

Ghosts and ghoul aside the home is incredibly gorgeous. The owners brought a plaster worker back with them from France and he lived with them for years creating all the moldings and cornices. 

Next stop was Angola prison, one of America’s maximum security prisons. But what makes this one so unique is that it is a working farm as well. The prison owns 18,000 acres and raises horses, blood hounds, wolf hybrids as well as acres of crops and cattle.

They also are famous for their rodeos which look highly amusing yet terrifying. The thought that every man you see in there has murdered someone kind of takes the joy out of any of it for me. Don’t get me started on the museum! It was like a haunted house with hand built coffins, images of bludgeoned inmates and weapons they have created over the years to escape or kill. No thank you.

Tonight was our last night on board. I was still pretty weary from the night before and rising at the crack for the tour. But we had a lovely dinner, watched the final show (Christmas themed!) and went to the Engine Room Bar for one last drink and goodbye to all the people we met.

I was pleasantly surprised at how lovely this boat was. I would go again for sure. But they must get their marketing team organized and advertise in places other than AARP. Also, a coat requirement for dinner would be nice since way too many leisure suits, puff paint tees and just plain tee-shirts were worn every night. I kept day dreaming of renting the entire boat for all my friends and family and having burlesque nightly in the main saloon and theme nights for the evenings- 20s night! Caftan Queen! Dress as your favorite Southern Idol!

Tomorrow we disembark, say goodbye to Rod and Dotty and settle into New Orleans for two days of discovery and liquor. 

American Queen Adventure Day Six

I am renaming Vicksburg, ‘Sicksburg’. Holy hot dog I haven’t been that queasy since college. Thank you to the crew for Patron and fried everything! But it was fun to see people who I have encountered daily and now I know them quite well after our wild night. Oh that waitress was twirling! That server was vogueing! I think I motor boated that cleaning lady! 

We had quite a lovely day in ‘The Red Carpet To The South’ as Vicksburg calls itself. We opted out of all the Civil War battleground tours and decided to stroll the main street with it’s lovely shops and head to a handsome antebellum home for lunch. Anchuca was the home of Jefferson Davis’ brother and Jefferson gave an important speech from it’s balcony in 1865. I googled for great places to eat in town and this stoic B&B popped up for having some of the finest dining in the area. 

Dotty, Rod, Mom and I walked the quiet gentile neighborhoods until we found the house. There we had awesome chicken salad, pecan pie and iced tea then took a tour of the home and poked around the bedrooms and gardens. We then strolled back to the court house where we waited for about 20 minutes for the tour bus to pick us up to take us back to the boat.

Oddly enough that was a highlight for me. We don’t ‘just sit’ nearly enough these days and it harkened back to an era pre cell phones where one would simply sit and wait patiently for a ride to come. I organized acorns from a massive oak and made them into a little work of art. Then I took the tops off and made them into Lady Gaga nail extensions. Mom and Dotty just sat in the sun and baked while Rod toured around the block spotting the random curiosities he is known to find (Cator, did you see that purple glitter car?!). Serenity.

We finally got picked up and headed back to the boat where I rested up for dinner and our nightly activities. I did pop up to the Front Porch for a snack and discovered the hot dog machine. Hot Dog! While I was making mine, Carli, one of the waitresses asked me to pull two off the grill for her. She then refused my offer of two hot buns but instead, quietly plopped them both in a cup and sashayed off. I about hemorrhaged in shock and awe and requested a picture. God Bless that girl.

That evening the entertainers presented a show called ‘Walking in Memphis’. Lots of glitter, gospel and blues. Very entertaining. And on that note I crashed. My liver sent a little blessing to heaven.

American Queen Adventure Day Five

Today was a day on the river. We paddled down with the goal to reach Vicksburg  around 6pm. Success! Days on the water are my favorite - sleeping late, painting, lots of gym time, loads of reading and relaxing and meditating on the water. 

                                          (Sunrise painting of birds, buoys and sand bars)

I was pretty tired from the night before so I was sure I would be in bed by 10pm. Wrong. Some of the crew invited me to head into town for ‘a drink’ when we arrived at port. I turned them down, Mother called me a wimp so I rallied and headed out. 

                                  (Our sizzlin' waitress Dorothy posing with me and Mr. Keenan)

We found a surprisingly good lookin’ bar called The Biscuit Factory. It is an old brick building with a nice bar, fried everything and....wait....karaoke. And therein is my downfall.

Children, Uncle Cator got drunker than Cooter Brown. It really wasn’t my fault. 

The crew ordered about six rounds of Patron shots in a row. We ordered so much that the bartender had to drive to the liquor store - twice! It started out with 5-6 of us but the drunker we got, the more texts went out and by the end of the night there were around 45 crew members at the bar dancing, singing, smoking and eventually playing strip foozball. That’s right folks! I ended up wearing some dude’s cowboy boots around the bar while singing ‘Jolene

You know I had to sing a song or twelve. The one’s I remember singing are:

‘Proud Mary’- Twice - Did anyone realize this song is about Steam Boats? (Big wheels keep on turning/Rolling down the river)

‘Cabaret’ - You know, my standard party popper

‘Rehab’ - Don’t ever sing this drunk. It doesn’t work

‘Islands in the Stream’ - With another crew member. The highlight of the evening

There may have been more but I don’t remember. I do remember twirling a girl around the dance floor and when I picked her up and spun her around everyone screamed with excitement. We are famous! Actually, I had lifted her skirt above her butt and revealed everything to everyone. Dang it. 

Thank God for the fried Jalapeno’s, fried cheese dongs, french fries and fried pickles. There was a Civil War in my stomach for sure. 

We bobbled back to the boat around 3am. The next day was truly a black day on The American Queen for half the staff. Zombie boat!

American Queen Adventure Day Four

Favorite day so far! 

We met Rod and Dotty in the dining room for breakfast and then puttered up the ramp and to a tour bus to The Peabody Hotel to see the famous ducks march into the fountain at 11am. Now, I am usually game for just about anything and I was a little excited to see this fabled event but I have to admit- Not Worth It!

We fumbled around for 30 minutes and then some goof came out looking like a ring leader and gave us the history of the ducks in the fountain. That was amusing- it all started with two drunks sneaking their live duck decoys into the fountain and leaving them in there overnight to the delight of guests.

But then the music filled the room, the elevators opened and five ducks waddled about 10 feet into the fountain and that was it. I thought they may march around the fountain, room, bar, Christmas tree. NOPE. Is that all there is?

After that little life disappointment we moseyed to Walgreens to buy iPhone chargers (American Queen please stock theses ASAP) and also picked up Elvis Christmas ornaments. Yes, we have already caught the King Fever.

We then tooled back to the boat, grabbed some coffee and caught another bus for the ‘In Elvis’ Footsteps’ tour. Sounds like a Jesus tour in Israel, right? 

First stop was Sun Studios where Presley recorded his first song. He wanted to sing something for his Mama’s birthday so went in and paid $4 to cut a single to give to her. How sweet is that? The secretary noticed his talent and played a copy for the owner. The rest is glittery history. Of course Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Ike Turner all recorded there too, so it’s pretty iconic. 

What I loved is how broke down it is. They haven’t glazed it over with stucco and tile. The front is still a diner and sells crappy milkshakes, Rockabillie’s run the whole place and bands from around the world have left their stickers all over the place. The recording studio amazingly hasn’t been touched since the old days and people still record in there.

                                                          (Elvis stood RIGHT here!)

As great as it was, the tour left us there for two hours. Way too long! Then we had to speed over to Graceland and twirl around there to get to the boat in time for departure. Nerds. Get it together people!

Yet Graceland was total magic. I never thought I would enjoy it like I did. We were so pleased that we caught it in it’s full Christmas glory! Apparently Elvis decorated the place himself and he was a big window shopper. The Jungle Room was inspired from the circular wooden chair in the corner that Elvis found and fell in love with.

The white sofa that stretches an entire room as a highlight as was his tufted pool room and poodle wallpaper in his parents bathroom. The clothing collection in the former racket ball court building was dazzling and awe inspiring! Plus all the memorabilia from around the world was totally tickety boo.

Sadly, we were a bit rushed so I missed seeing his car collection but we did get some shopping time in and it was well worth it! Total crap tat but hey, it’s a must. 

I was really impressed how beautiful Graceland is. The home’s exterior and the rolling hills and huge old trees look like Kentucky. Sadly, the horses were not at pasture but the fall colors were pitch perfect.

Since tomorrow is a ‘day at sea’ Rod and I decided to push the booze button and turn it out! We had Manhattans before dinner, wine with dinner, mango martini’s in the Engine Room and champagne in the room where we hosted two crew members for lots of laughs and falling yoga poses. Weeeee! 

                                                  (My first panorama pic on the trip!)

The American Queen Adventure Day 2

Tuesday was surprisingly fun. Cape Girardeau is a pretty little town and it is chock full of antique and vintage stores. It was almost eery how every single store on Main Street was military antiques, flea markets, china shops, doll shops, where did all of this oldness come from?

We did discover a truly Southern stop- The Paula Deen ‘Living’ store. Apparently she has an entire furniture collection, much of it was pretty nice too. One piece we all fell in love with that was not part of the Deen Dream Home Collection was a wicker and metal pagoda chandelier with little China men sitting around it and gazing down to the floor. Kind of fab for the Charleston house! We are working with them on shipping to see if it happens. 

We then came back to the boat for lunch in the dining room and then a little down time to catch up on work and rest. At 5:15 it dinner time! Our waitress requires much investigation.  Dorothy is from Charleston and very pretty and quiet but when she speaks she always has a snappy comment that sends me into fits.

When Rod walked in wearing a loden green hat with peacock feather adornment she just whispered, “Ooooh I love that hat. It’s real nasty!” Later when she was taking our order I asked what the catch of the day was. “It’s catfish. But I bet you don’t eat catfish. You are too classy for catfish aren’t ya?” I got a wink and a smile out of that one. I bet she has a one woman show in some church basement that would bring me the greatest joy.

                                          (Cocktails with the Captain, Bobby and Ms. Jackie)

We dined then headed to the lounge to hear the resident singer, Leah belt some tunes out. One of our new friends from the ship, Larry Cox Jr. who is part of the show cast onboard, sang a tune or two, one dedicated to Dotty, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.  It was very sweet.

(Larry Cox Jr. crooning)

Then we waddled down the hall to the main stage to hear Peter Mintun. He is a pianist from New York and a friend with the Governors Island flapper crew. Heidi from the Frick connected us and we had a lovely chat before he went on. He didn’t play anything past 1928 and every song had to do with New York. Very entertaining and charming.

(Mr. Peter Mintun!)

For the last act we headed to the infamous Engine Room to hear Ms. Jackie and Bobby bust it out for their 50s and 60s night. They tore it up and my little lady from the night before dragged my hung over ass back to the dance floor to twist through two songs. 

By the wee hour of 10:15pm I had to call it a night. Mama and I dragged back to the room where we both passed out by 11. Vacation brain is settling in!

PS- I am still not quite sure what happened on the first night but I keep getting people coming up to me asking when I am on again...

The American Queen Adventure Day 1

What happened last night? I remember being in the ‘Engine Room’ bar and I think I was singing ‘Rainbow Connection’ with a gorgeous woman who looked like Paula Deen but skinnier and lots more amusing. It is 7:16am and my head is a mud pie. God help me when I see my bar tab. Oh and I think someone is taking me to a music store to buy a banjo today too. Lord, and who was that little old German lady that I spun around the dance floor so fast we almost fell over?

All in a nights work on my first night on the American Queen paddle boat cruise down the Mississippi River. 

How did I end up on this thing? I think it had to do with a bottle or two of wine as well. I remember about six months ago, Rod got a phone call from his mama, Dotty. “Well I just booked a trip on a river boat all by myself! Sure would be nice to have some company...” Rod dead panned, I’ll go if you go. I called my mother and before I finished my sentence she was booked. So here we are!

We arrived in St. Louis on Sunday and had a lovely dinner at Herbies downtown. Mama and Dotty have never met so it was a night of introductions and family stories. Monday we took a twirl up the famous St. Louis arch, took a cab to ‘antiques row’ and then boarding the ship at 3.

I have to admit I was expecting the boat to be a bit on the Disney side of camp with cardboard decor and dusty fake flowers. I am pleasantly surprised. Built in 1995 the American Queen is apparently the largest steam boat ever built. The paddle is impressive and churns at a mighty fast rate. Our room has enviable ‘Arts & Crafts’ wallpaper and the gentleman’s lounge is stocked with handsome boar and bear taxidermy.

I think the dining room is my favorite. It is so very Harmonia Gardens! I’m waiting for Dolly Levy to order a turkey dinner any evening. There is also a calliope on the top floor. If you are not familiar, it is a horrid invention of the Victorian’s birthed from whistles and steam. If you have ever heard the nightmarish music of a merry-go-round, you have heard a calliope.

After settling in we trotted off to dinner at 5:15. Yes, you read correctly. We booked in for the early bird dinner and since everyone on this thing is 90+, dinner is either at 5:15 or 7:15. We figured we should take the earlier seating so we can start drinking at a decent hour. You know.

Our Maitre d’ is memorable. His name is Chris and he has a french twist and brows for days. When I found out he is from Atlanta we became dear friends. My other favorite person so far is the singer from the ‘Engine Room’ bar who I mentioned earlier.

After dinner we went to the floor show where two couples sang every riverboat song in the book. They started the show in 1880’s clothes and made their way through the 20s, 40s and ended with  60s sequins and some seriously jacked wigs. Oh and their band was called ‘The Steamboat Syncopators’. I am so stealing that one.

Here is the playlist:

Proud Mary- Ike and Tina
Roll on Mississippi- Charley Pride
The River- Garth Brooks
Riverboat Days- The Back Porch Majority
Ol’ Man River-Showboat

After the show we headed to the engine room to hear Ms. Jackie (previously known as Paula Deen) belt them out. This is where I lost the plot. Mother and Dotty went to bed and Rod and I ordered about 1000 glasses of wine. We sang, I danced, I twirled that sweet little lady around the dance floor multiple times and we gazed out onto the silent Mississippi and up at the dazzling sky above. I nearly cried with pleas for the banjo player to help me find one on this trip. He told me there is a store in port today with decent ones so I gave him my card. Get ready for my Christmas show!

I woke this morning around 7:30 still pleasantly buzzed and did morning stretches on the balcony as we pulled into a foggy Cape Girardeau, Missouri. Sadly the town has decided to jack hammer the dock at 8am so my head is about to explode. The boat apparently has tried to wipe out the noise with more noise- a rag time band! So I think I will end this epistle and try to get some shut eye in the bathroom, or just get up with the grannies and get going.

More tomorrow.