I get around.
I get around.
We got up bright and early Thursday morning, met Wendy and Amelia standing on the curb outside our house, and headed over to Matt’s building to park. His office had moved just that week, and they’re just a mile or so from Terminal 2 now. They allow staff to leave their cars in the ramp, so that’s super-convenient for us. We rolled our bags a block over to the train station on 34th Avenue, hopped on the train, and got off at Terminal 2.
Unlike our last visit to the lesser terminal, they now had Pre-Check. We were through instantly, and had to wait not for the expected delay (Amelia being pregnant, and therefore needing the patdown instead of the scanner), but Wendy being searched for some stupid TSA-paranoid reason. Of course.
This was to be our first flight on Southwest Airlines. For some reason, it costs approximately one billion dollars to fly to New York in the summer, and Southwest ended up being only a little less than a million. Plus it’s really nice that they have free checked bags, even though we were carrying-on on the way there.
The one thing I was wary of was the bus-style boarding, where you’re assigned a line position and then just pick whatever seat you want. That’s great if you’re at the front, of course, but your line spot depends on when you check in. Since I’d recently acquired the SWA credit card, we decided to use the Early Bird credit ($50) to buy early boarding access. That guaranteed we’d be in the “A” boarding group.
Matt and I got A34-35, and our friends were at the front of the B group. (There are 60 spots in each group.) We ended up in the only 2-seat row on the plane, in the exit row section. I decided just based on that that the pre-boarding fee was probably worth it.
Another downside to SWA is you have to have a layover, and in most cases for us that’ll be in Chicago. BUT! It’s Midway instead of O’Hare, so you don’t feel obligated to blow up the airport in rage. We had a nearly 2-hour layover, so we headed to Harry Caray’s for lunch. The food was pretty good, and our server was really funny and also REALLY slow. Once we got our checks paid, it was time to board.
Matt and I had to settle for a regular row this time, which was fine. We were still near the front. I discovered that the in-flight magazine has dollar-bill origami lessons, too! Here’s my pretty sad attempt at a $20 alligator. It was really close until the end.
We had spectacular views of the city coming into LaGuardia. We had to make a huge circle to approach from the north, but it meant we got a great tour from above.
We landed a little before five, and immediately upon exiting the plane I understood why people avoid LGA. (I’ve only flown into JFK and Newark.) It’s tiny, cramped, and looks a lot like a prison. The baggage area is gated off like a cattle pen, and smells bad. I was happy when our friends got their bag so we could leave.
We headed to the taxi line, and the lady there called for a bus (!!) because there were five of us. Someone radioed back to say they were out of buses, so we had to split up. Wendy and Amelia took the first one, and Matt and Jumi and I got the second. Sadly, we missed a prime opportunity to yell, “Follow that cab!!” SIGH.
We sat in traffic most of the way through Queens, the tunnel, and into Manhattan. Our driver asked if it’d be alright if he dropped us off down the block from our hotel (on 44th and 6th), because otherwise he’d have to go around several blocks on one-ways and around Times Square to be able to drop us off in front of the hotel, and estimated that’d take another 25 minutes. We were very happy to be let out down the block and cut some time off the journey.
We rolled over to the Millennium Broadway, noting that it was on the very same block as the Belasco Theater, which was the reason we were in New York in the first place: while I was researching tickets for the Book of Mormon in Minneapolis, I saw an ad for Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring Neil Patrick Harris. I mentioned reaaaaally wanting to see that on Facebook, and the New York trip was born!
At the front desk, the three of us were told that our reservations were actually at their sister property, the Premier Hotel next door. The lobbies are connected by a walkway through a theatre lobby, which appeared to never be in use. I was a little disappointed to not stay at what I assumed would be the super-fancy hotel, but the lobby of the Premier was promising: it was way more modern, and the lady working there was really nice.
We were extremely happy with our rooms, too. They were big, with a really comfortable bed and giant bathroom with a tub and shower stall. It was definitely the more business-oriented hotel, which was fine since that almost meant recently-renovated. Even Bally had a spotlight to hang out in.
I texted Wendy to let her know our room number, which was conveniently next to Jumi’s. I heard back from her after a while, and they were still in their taxi. Apparently their driver wasn’t quite as efficiency-minded as ours, and went all the way around Times Square. We headed down to the mezzanine for another awesome hotel amentity: their daily happy hour. They had appetizers and free beer and wine daily from 5-7pm, and free breakfast in the morning. Their espresso machine was available all day, too! (The free beer options weren’t great, but they were free.)
Wendy finally texted that they were settled in, so we went to find them. Unlike us, they actually did have rooms in the Millennium. Their room looked out onto 44th street, and they had an amazing view of the Chrysler building on one end, and parts of Times Square on the other. But the room was nowhere as nice as those at the Premier, so it balanced out. (We saw an office building from our windows.)
It was after 7:30 by the time we left the hotel, so we were getting hungry. We’d decided to walk over to Gotham West Market, because there were several restaurants to choose from, and it was a little less than a mile away. To get there, we had to walk through Times Square. It was the first of many, many times we’d have to pass through that mess. (It’s always fun to see it the first time!)
Gotham West Market reminded me of the Ferry Building in San Francisco, but I liked it better. Possibly I was just really hungry. It was pretty crowded when we arrived, so I wasn’t quite sure where we were going to find a seat. Down at the end of the building, we found Ivan Ramen. They had vegetarian ramen, and I was so excited about that that I figured I could just stand and eat it if necessary.
By the time our food came out, we’d found a table for the five of us to cram into. Matt, Jumi and I had ramen, and Wendy and Amelia got burgers from the shop next door. Matt got us Negronis from the tapas place nearby, too. Because, you know, Negronis and ramen. Why not.
There was a roasted tomato in my ramen… just one lone tomato… but it was seriously one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Amazing.
After everyone had finished eating, we started looking at the tapas menu on the table. Ramen, burgers, Negronis, tapas, and really expensive beer for dinner? WHY NOT.
It was all delicious. The patatas bravas were even better than the ones we’d had in Barcelona. Matt also had an order of crispy whitefish, which Wendy was loudly announcing as Crispy Whities while we ate.
After that, we decided we weren’t up for riding the subway around to find a bar to hang out in, and instead wanted to find something between there and our hotel. Conveniently, there happened to be a tiki-themed bar right on our way! We headed over there, and went downstairs to find the Reunion Surf Bar (named after the island) in a Hell’s Kitchen basement.
The place looked like a more casual version of Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago, and we didn’t have to wait in line to get in. They set us up at a long, narrow table on bar stools, and we ordered drinks. Amelia, aka the pregnant one, ordered an ice cream sandwich that came between two giant cookies. Awesome.
Their drinks were good, and the music was entertaining. Wendy and Amelia left after a round, and we hung out for another one. Then we decided to head back to the hotel, where Jumi said good night and Matt and I decided to see what was going on across the street. We ended up at the Long Room around 12:30am. The place was started to wind down, which surprised me a little since I knew it was open til at least 2am (possibly even 4), it’s a half-block from Times Square, and it was Thursday night. Our bartender got us drinks, then sat down at the bar himself to drink. He didn’t show up again, but another guy got us refills and then disappeared. We finally gave up on trying to get a check, and left $40 on the bar so we could go to bed.
Friday morning, we got up and walked down a block to a coffee shop called Gregory’s that had really strong cortados. Add that to the list of reasons why New York is awesome.
Here’s the Belasco! We’d be seeing it later.
Gregory’s was across the street from the Algonquin, so we made a note to go back there later.
We walked back over to Times Square, headed to the Subway. Bally stopped to see things there.
At the subway station, we all bought $30 passes that were good for unlimited rides for a week. (The lesser option was only good for 12 rides, and we knew we’d use them much more than that.) I was impressed that New York’s subway passes were cheaper than Chicago’s.
We rode over to Brooklyn, and got off the train to find this amazing building. It has text painted all over it. I love it.
Also, this was everyone’s first visit to Brooklyn! I’d only ever visited Manhattan before.
We walked a half-mile or so to a deli Matt had read about. Everyone wanted to do the pastrami-sammich thing in New York, and the Mile End Deli came highly recommended. It was a tiny place, so we had to wait a short while for a table. Matt and I walked over to a really cute garden store next door, where I wanted to buy everything. (Unfortunately, it was all oversized for a carry-on, and/or breakable.)
We got a table, and ordered brunch/lunch and beer. They all got smoked meat poutine as an appetizer, and I had a pickled slaw. Matt got a pastrami sandwich, and I had a falafel that was big enough to be two meals. Before we left, I went to the bathroom and found it lined in Montreal Canadiens photos. I’m not entire sure what the Quebec connection is, but it was funny (and meant they had great smoked meat, I hear.)
We walked back to the train and continued on to the end of the line at Coney Island.
I’ve obviously never been to Coney Island before, but I was really excited to see it. Having been in Atlantic City, I was expecting something on that order, pretty trashy and amusing. Coney Island seemed way more awesome, though, and legitimately entertaining. Plus it was a really nice day, and not at all crowded there.
I kind of wanted to go on the Wonder Wheel. Next time!
The boardwalk is in surprisingly good shape compared to AC. I kind of like how it’s at beach level, and the sand blows up onto it.
Why haven’t they reopened the Parachute Jumper? I’d go on it.
We went down to the water, because Amelia had never been in the ocean before. It’s too bad the water was so cold, but it’s a really nice beach regardless. Bally agrees.
These guys were hungry. They think they’re in charge.
We sat on the beach for a while, then decided to head back up the boardwalk. I still can’t believe it was so quiet there!
We tried to find a table at the one boardwalk restaurant so we could have a margarita, but it was full. Some of the group got America: The Ice Cream instead.
From there, we went up a block to the original Nathan’s. It has a countdown to the next hot dog eating contest, and a wall of fame. (I gag every time I have to see the hot dog eating contest.) Matt and I checked out some awesome shops along the way, and then the group had to pick up a few hot dogs to try out, even though none of us was really that hungry. Wendy and Matt discovered that Nathan’s orange drink is basically a vat of Tang.
Amelia, Jumi, and Wendy wanted to go to the Coney Island freak show, and I wasn’t super-interested in it since we’d seen the one at Venice Beach. Conveniently, the museum building that houses the freak show has a bar with a great beer selection. Matt and I sat down there to wait while they went into the show.
The freak show went on a lot longer than we expected, especially since the Venice one is maybe 20 minutes long. We had three beers while we waited, and I began to wonder if our friends had been murdered. Especially when the performers who were in the freak show started coming up to hang out at the bar.
(Coney Island USA is awesome, we learned. They have performances almost every night, things like movies on the beach and burlesque shows. Really great.)
Finally, they appeared from somewhere inside the depths of the building. Apparently the show runs on a loop, so they saw the last half and then waited through intermission to catch the first part. They grabbed a drink, too, and we heard all about the show. We also paid a dollar to see a chupacabra skeleton in a dark room, because why not?
Then it was time for food. We debated riding back into Manhattan, and then decided we were too hungry. I looked up what was good nearby, and found a listing for Totonno’s Pizza, which was rated one of the top ten pizzas in New York. It was only about a half-mile away, so that was our decision.
We walked in and were greeted by the Most Awesomely Italian Lady of all time, who was apparently one of the owners. We got a booth, and ordered drinks from the cooler. Then we ordered pizzas (we weren’t THAT hungry, so we got two mediums), and then the owner came rushing up to us holding a bottle of Prosecco. They were celebrating their 90th anniversary, and she pointed out the photo of grandpa Totonno on the wall, announcing that he was the one who introduced pizza to America.
Matt popped open the bottle, and we all had a toast with her. Our pizzas arrived shortly afterward, and they were enormous. Suddenly we were a lot hungrier, and dove into the pizzas. They were spectacular.
On the way out, the owner thanked us for coming, and walked us out. Then she yelled, “I forgot the cookies!” and ran back inside to make us a plate of cookies to go. We all wanted to hug her. We got a huge group photo with her and her husband outside the restaurant, and then headed back in the direction of the train.
We hopped off near the Battery, and walked over to see the 9/11 Memorial and One World Trade Center. A lot of the area is still under construction, but we found our way there eventually.
We agreed that the memorial was appropriately somber. It’s hard to get a sense of the scale.
We said goodbye to Wendy and Amelia, who were heading back toward our hotel for the night, or possibly meeting us for dinner should the opportunity present itself. Matt and Jumi and I headed down toward the Battery to find an awesome cocktail bar. On the way, we had a good laugh over the Bitcoin center, and the man running to get in as they were locking the doors. BITCOIN EMERGENCY!
We found Dead Rabbit on a historic block very near the Staten Island Ferry building. It was close to 9pm and there was a crowd near the door. I asked about the cocktail bar upstairs, and the doorman said it’d be about a 45 minute wait. Since they had a pub downstairs (which also had a good cocktail menu), we decided to hang out and wait.
Somehow we managed to find the only open spots in the bar, at a table right against the front window. Matt’s doppelganger’s picture was hanging on the wall above us.
We ordered a round and hung out talking, taking turns fighting out way through the crowds to get to the restroom. Our buzzer went off after only about half an hour, so we closed the tab and headed upstairs.
The place was worth waiting even longer for. It was a small room with couches around the outside and little tables. They had as many people in there as possible, but it didn’t really feel crowded. The cocktail menu was an entire book, and our server instructed us to review the story, choose the phase of the main character’s life that we felt best fit our mood that night, and choose from that section of the menu. There was a lot to choose from.
As expected, the drinks were amazing. We ordered some snacks, including a cheese plate that had a cheese so strong even I couldn’t handle it (that has never happened to me before!). We decided it tasted like dead bodies. (Don’t worry, everything else was excellent.) Also, there was an old guy at a piano playing ragtime. I’m pretty sure Matt wanted to live there.
We decided to head out about 11:30, before we had to take out a loan to pay our tab. We walked down to the subway station by the Staten Island Ferry building. I love this neon!
It was a good thing we’d left when we did, because one of the trains we tried to catch had just stopped running for the night. Conveniently, there was another option waiting to leave, so we jumped on that instead. None of us had really bothered researching how late the trains ran, so I guess we were lucky.
We rode back, slogged our way through Times Square, and decided to stop into The Long Room to get something else to eat. Our experience was much better this time, with an attentive server and surprisingly good food. After a couple drinks there, it was 1am and time for bed.
Saturday morning, we had BIG PLANS involving brunch on a boat. We took the train down to Chelsea, and walked the mile or so to the piers. (Why doesn’t the subway go any nearer? It’s kind of strange.)
We checked in for our boat cruise with Classic Harbor Lines, where we were sailing on the Yacht Manhattan. Apparently you can only take small boats on a circumnavigation of Manhattan, because some of the bridges are so low.
We grabbed some brunch and our complimentary champagne and headed out onto the deck. We were leaving Chelsea Piers, and heading south on the Hudson River.
We sailed past the Battery, and on toward Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.
That line around the Statue of Liberty doesn’t look that fun! Having been to Liberty Island before, I was very happy just passing on our boat.
We turned around past the Statue of Liberty and headed up the other side of Manhattan on the East River. The sun came out in time to light up the Brooklyn Bridge.
This photo is called “The Gang Goes to New York.” I love it. (That’s Wendy, Matt – my husband, of course, Amelia – Wendy’s wife, and Jumi.)
We passed under the series of famous bridges on the East River, enjoying further brunch and some Brooklyn Brewery beers along the way. The weather was perfect.
Near the north end of Manhattan, the river starts to narrow quite a bit. We took the west channel on the East River, and then followed the Harlem River further north. It started to look like there was actual wilderness on the island of Manhattan, which was surprising.
I really liked this little boathouse, and apparently that’s the Cloister in the distance.
Bally is a worthy seaman.
Those Columbia kids are showoffs.
We reached the confluence (or the division?) of the Harlem and Hudson Rivers under the Spuyton-Duyvil Bridge. (Best name ever?) There was a tiny rotating train bridge just past it. The Hudson River is huge at this point… it almost looks like a lake.
Any day Matt’s on a boat is his favorite day. We try to do that as often as possible.
The boat headed back down the Hudson and docked back at Chelsea Piers. The tour was about 3 hours in total, and I would surely recommend it. We considered just stowing away so we could go again.
Instead we had to disembark, so we walked over toward the north end of the High Line. Did I mention that the weather was perfect?
I think my favorite part of the High Line was that it was enclosed in so much greenery. You had hardly any sense of being in a huge city. Or above it.
I was a little surprised that there weren’t many businesses with entrances right off the High Line. Living in Minneapolis, I’m used to all the stores and restaurants that open onto the skyway. From what I could tell, you had to go back down to street level to get into businesses
There were viewing platforms in a few spots. The idea of sitting and watching traffic seems pretty entertaining. (How much does that street look like Chicago?)
The end of the High Line (for now – it’s being extended) is at Chelsea Market. We’d passed it on the way to the boat, and I knew I had to go back there. A few of us stopped to get popsicles on the High Line, and then we headed down to street level.
Chelsea Market was amazing. We stopped into an Italian market, an Asian market, got excellent coffee at a coffeeshop, bought bitters and a bunch of treats at another shop, and gawked at produce you cannot get in the Midwest (fresh dates?!?). I wanted to shop there much longer, but everyone else seemed to have moved on. I met them outside, and we headed to the subway.
We rode to Soho, and emerged into ridiculous midday traffic. We stopped into a Japanese market, and I ended up buying art from a guy selling caricatures of art dealers made with fabric and paint on the street. Then we headed to Purl Soho, the super-famous yarn store that Jumi had reminded me was there. I spent too much money there, but at least I didn’t have to have things shipped back home like she did!
While waiting for her to finish up, Matt and I went across the street to the Kate Spade store. Shockingly, I did not emerge with a purse.
It was then time for a snack and a beverage, so Matt led us to Miss Lily’s, a Jamaican restaurant/record store/radio station/juice bar on Houston. We walked in, and it was like being in Jamaica, only indoors. (One of the owners also runs the Rockhouse in Negril, which is incredible.)
We grabbed seats at the bar, and ordered rum punch. They didn’t have a full liquor license, so it was made with sake, but it tasted exactly like rum punch. A couple of us got meals, and I got an order of festival. (Fun fact: festival is named festival because the guy who invented it thought it was really nice, and wanted to name it after something else nice. Like a festival! No, I’m serious.) Matt and I were beyond thrilled with the whole place.
The rest of our crew decided to head back to the hotel for a siesta, so we made plans to meet up there before the show. Matt and I stayed at Miss Lily’s for another drink, and then crossed the street over to Pegu Club, timing it so we arrived just as it opened. We had a schedule to keep, after all.
We were the first ones there, in the bar that’s up a flight of stairs and so calming that it was very easy to forget the bustle outside. We grabbed seats at the bar and ordered cocktails from the very formal bartender. He became friendlier after another round, and we got some advice from him on the places where bartenders like to hang out in Manhattan. If only we had time to visit all of them!
Then it was time to head out for the show. We hurried to the subway and rode back to Times Square. We walked to the hotel and changed our grungy clothes for fancy ones, then headed down to the mezzanine to meet with the rest of the group, since they were enjoying mezzanine happy hour. From there we only had to walk two doors down to the Belasco Theatre. It was time for Hedwig and the Angry Inch!!
There was a huge crowd pushing into the lobby. We went upstairs, and got in the bar line to get drinks. Two cocktails (in plastic sippy cups) and a bottle of water? $30!
We got to our seats in the second row of the center balcony (thanks, American Express presale!), and the lights went down shortly thereafter. And then Neil Patrick Harris was onstage as Hedwig, and it was AMAZING. Even better than I’d hoped for. I knew all the words, and I wanted it to go on forever. (There was another show that night. I could’ve stayed.)
I think I left the show glowing. Oh, and I picked up the best souvenir ever: the Hedwig makeup towel!
We stopped back at the hotel quickly, and decided to meet back up again across the street at a place that had intrigued us since the first moment we saw it (i.e. the moment we left the hotel the first night): Jimmy’s Corner. First, because it looked super-shady and potentially divey, and second, because it was in the middle of the block and not on the corner at all.
Jimmy’s Corner did not disappoint. It’s a very narrow room, with a long bar and a small elevated room in the back. The bar was full, so I led Matt and Jumi toward the back. I got to the stairs and looked up to find a whole pack of bros sitting back there, so I elected to grab a spot along the wall instead. Nobody needs to be dealing with Times Square bros sober, after all.
We made friends with the people sitting at the bar in front of us, who were doing Fireball shots. One of the guys explained that the owner was Jimmy Glen, a storied boxing trainer. There were pictures of him with basically every famous boxer all over the bar, and also one of Michael Jackson making fists like he could possibly punch someone. That explained the ‘Corner’ part of the name, too.
(That’s one of our pals being really excited to photobomb.)
Here’s blurry Michael Jackson:
The drinks were Wisconsin-strong, and the place was raucous and entertaining. Wendy and Amelia arrived, and when a man came up to chat up Jumi and I (he mis-heard her name as Julie and she didn’t correct him) way too enthusiastically, we decided it was time to move on.
We headed west through Times Square (ugh) and down a few more blocks to Marseille for dinner. Since it was 10:15, a table for five wasn’t a problem. Their food was pretty good, though not spectacular. We ate, had a couple cocktails, and then it was time to move on. Wendy and Amelia headed home for the night, and Jumi and Matt and I walked further west to a recommended beer bar nearby called the Pony. (Which meant Ginuwine was stuck in my head for hours.)
The beer selection was indeed really good, but the crowd was bro-ey. That’s pretty unsurprising for beer bars, though. We had to stand for a while, and then got seats at the bar when some people headed out. We had a couple rounds there, and then it was 1am and time to head back and sleep.
Matt and I got up Sunday morning and took the subway down to Madison Square Park, where we found the Flatiron Building waiting for us.
We arrived just as Eataly opened, and it was strange to see the store nearly empty. We wandered aimlessly for a while, since Wendy and Amelia were coming down to join us at some point. We decided to wait to shop since it sounded like they’d be a while, and headed back to the subway instead. We figured we could ride down and see the West 4th Street Courts, and then come back and meet them.
We went down the stairs, scanned our passes in the gates, and then realized the trains there were headed the wrong direction. We went back upstairs, crossed the street, and went down the stairs on the other side. That’s when we learned that if you scan your pass more often than every 18 minutes, it won’t let you use it. Which is REALLY DUMB.
Rather than wait around for 18 minutes, we went back over to Eataly. The Marimekko store next door had just opened, so we went in there and I bought my required purse, plus a few other things. Then we went to Eataly and picked out our picnic food, wandered aimessly, gawked at the produce, and searched in vain for a bottle opener for the beer we were buying.
Wendy and Amelia still hadn’t arrived, so we walked over to a Walgreens and 7-11 in search of a bottle opener. Neither of them had them, which was really strange. We decided to go sit at the park across the street and wait.
We sat there watching a running class in progress, people sprinting around the park and being encouraged by way-too-enthusiastic trainers. We also watched people getting sandwiches at Shake Shack, and I was a little sad we weren’t in need of a meal. We finally heard from Wendy and Amelia, having arrived to do their shopping. We met them outside the store and walked to the subway, where we were permitted to use our passes again. Oh, and we found a liquor store along the way, so we were finally able to obtain the bottle opener we needed.
We rode up to Central Park, and walked in a ways to find a spot for a picnic. The weather was perfect, and we picked a spot on a hillside overlooking the amusement park. Our picnic consisted of fig bread, cheese, fruit, and beer. Delicious.
We said bye to Wendy and Amelia and walked up the west side of Central Park to the subway station at the Dakota. We hopped on the train and rode back to the hotel, where we dropped off my gigantic Marimekko bag (which I’d gotten pretty tired of carrying around). Since we had a long walk ahead of us that evening, we decided to change and wander over to the Algonquin to have a drink in their super-famous lobby bar.
The place was quiet and comfortable, and the servers all seemed to be old guys. There’s a cat named Matilda who lives in the lobby, and the front desk staff was hauling her out from behind the counter and putting her on the desk for people to see. Matilda did not seem thrilled about it.
Post-drinks, we walked to the train and rode over to Chelsea. It was another long walk from there to the McKittrick Hotel, where we had tickets for Sleep No More at 6pm. It was a little after 5pm, so we rode up to the rooftop bar, called Gallow Green. We got cocktails, and found a table under an arbor. The rooftop was really pretty and the weather was still glorious, so we wished we had longer to hang out there.
Jumi came up to join us after a bit (she’d been wandering doing nerdy things all day), and then it was time to head into the show. We rode back downstairs and waited in line to get into the hotel. (The ‘hotel’ is actually a set of three warehouses they converted for the show.) We headed inside, and were instructed to leave everything at the coat check – purses, phones, and everything. Matt brought cash for the bar, and that was about it.
From the moment we walked in, everything was dimly-lit. The check-in desk handed each of us a playing card for the show. Matt and I had 7s, and Jumi got a 6. A lady punched a hole in our cards, put her finger to her mouth and whispered, “Shhhhh!”, and pointed us up the stairs. We headed up into complete darkness, through a series of winding hallways. I couldn’t see anything, and clung to Matt’s shirt lest we get separated.
We finally emerged into a parlor area that was entirely red velvet. There were small tables around a stage, bartenders pouring champagne drinks, and a very unusual lady doing spoken-word bits on stage. We got drinks and a table, and figured out what was going on; they were staging people for entrance by number, according to the cards you were holding. We hung out for a while, and then they called our group.
We were all handed Venetian-carnival-style masks to put on. They were hard white plastic with huge pointy birdlike noses. It was hella creepy seeing crowds of people wearing them. We piled into an elevator with about 15 other people, and the guy running the elevator explained how it worked: you were free to wander wherever you wanted, and they encouraged you to pick an actor or group of actors and follow them around to watch the story unfold. We were also supposed to investigate everything that we found along the way, but we were not supposed to talk to each other; they encouraged us to separate so we could all experience it individually. The elevator stopped on a top floor, and the door opened and one person walked out. The guy running the elevator quickly slammed the door behind them, and we rode to another level. Suddenly I did become kind of nervous about losing Matt and Jumi, because I had no intention of wandering around there by myself.
We got out on the third floor, and decided to go up a level rather than following the crowd into the building. We found that floor mostly empty, and the first room we entered looked like a creepy hospital room, lined with cots. The room was super-dark, so we had to use the tiny lamps to read all the crazy handwritten medical charts we found on all the walls and tables. There was an outline of a person on one of the cots that appeared at first to be made of stones, but it was actually potatoes. I DON’T KNOW.
One of the next rooms was even darker, and it was a graveyard. There were tombstones and piles of dirt everywhere. Then there was a room of bathtubs, and a forest maze that I was pretty sure we’d end up trapped in. In one corner there was a hut made of twigs, and a pair of actors came rushing past and ran inside. We tried to open the door to follow them in, but one of the guides gestured to discourage us. Instead we went around the side of the hut and peered through cracks in the walls to watch them. There’s something about the show that turns you into a really creepy voyeur.
After being thoroughly freaked out by that whole thing, we went down to the third floor. There was a series of bedrooms and parlors there, and they all smelled strongly of mothballs. We rifled through drawers and looked at photos. The drawers contained things like bird feathers, stones, notes, and jewelry. Then we wandered into what appeared to be a battlefield, with falling-down walls, broken statues and crumbling foundations laid out like a maze. That room led into a bedroom with a bathtub right in the middle of it, and that’s where we found Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. He was naked in the tub, washing off blood. They didn’t really speak so much as shout meaningless words, gesticulate, and rush around in a dancelike, incredibly gymnastic way. They were fighting, lifting each other up, walking on the walls, and doing flips and jumps all over the room.
There was a large crowd standing around watching them, and we’d all have to shift around as they rushed around the room. Seeing this crowd of blank-masked people standing in a tight circle and staring was really incredibly creepy. There were windows into the room from the battlefield area with cloudy, broken glass, and you could see masks peering in from there, too. The crowd was entirely silent, occasionally gesturing at each other when they were ready to move on.
Macbeth eventually went tearing out of the room, and a large group went running after him. We decided to hang back a little and went downstairs. There we found a village full of shops and offices, and several actors wandering in and out. There was a tailor, a doctor, a taxidermist, a candy shop, a detective office, and a few other things. We watched some of the actors fighting in the hallway (I think one of them was MacDuff, but it was hard to keep track of who was who), and one of them walked across the ceiling supported by the other actor. It was kind of amazing.
As we squeezed down a dark hallway, a couple other actors came tearing past and went into the little room we were about to enter. A bunch of people followed them in, and Matt walked through the door. I was about to go in when one of the actors pushed me back (he was soaking wet, by the way) and slammed the door. Jumi and I just stared at each other, shocked. I was pretty sure my husband was going to be murdered by Macbeth.
We lingered around outside the door for a while, and finally it opened and he escaped. They’d apparently been having some kind of interrogation in there, and he was part of a small crowd that got to witness it.
At one point we were in the taxidermists’ office poking around at stuff on a desk, when suddenly an actor came running in followed by a crowd who crammed into the room. I ended up stuck directly next to his desk, where I had to watch him flop a raven on his table and start stabbing it with pins. I know it was fake, but holy crap. I was so happy to escape after that.
After wandering around that level for a while, we headed downstairs. It had been a couple hours, and people seemed to be moving toward the ballroom on the lower level. A bunch of actors were dancing in there, so we watched that and then went to look around the fake hotel lobby and restaurant (which had a ton of silverware glued into crosses lining the walls… it was pretty awesome). We circled around there for a while, and started to realize that we’d basically seen everything. (We learned later that that wasn’t even close to true – we’d missed an entire level with naked witches dancing, and a bar – but it still felt that way.) We kept going down stairways and passages and ending up in the same place, so I was wondering how the hell we were even supposed to get out of there when we were done. Suddenly there was a lot of movement from the actors, so we picked one and joined the crowd that was tailing him around the building. He ran down the stairs into the ballroom, and as we emerged there we realized that the vast majority of the spectators in the building were there too.
People kept entering the room, and the actors got up on the stage for the final scene. I couldn’t get over how remarkable it was that they’d managed to round up a 5-story building full of people and get them all into the same place at the same time with no actual prompting. It just worked out that way.
(For a far better writeup than I can provide, please read the NYT piece on Sleep No More. We want to go back and see the things we missed!)
After the show, we all piled out into the lobby to collect our things. We got to keep the scary-ass masks, which was awesome. We made the mistake of walking out without going to the bathroom or having a drink of water or anything (much less dinner), so it only took a few blocks to realize that was going to be a problem. I had to stop at a convenience store for water, Jumi has to rush into a restaurant and use their bathroom, and Matt had to stop at Dunkin Donuts to use their restroom, too. It was a long walk back to the train, and we were all store from our million miles of walking. (Who thought it was a good idea to wear high-heel sandals to walk all over NYC, by the way? Oh right, that was me.)
It was well past dinnertime at that point, so we decided to go get some fancy drinks instead. (It made sense at the time.) We took the train to Grand Central Station, and went up a level from the main lobby to the Campbell Apartment. Having spent plenty of time at Prohibition at the W Hotel/Foshay Tower in Minneapolis, which also happens to be a former tycoon’s office, we felt right at home there. It was indeed fancy.
We ordered drinks, and noticed they had a cheese plate on their snacks menu, so we got that too. Our server was super-nice and incredibly scatterbrained, but I’m guessing part of that had to do with the fact that it was after 10:30, they were supposedly closing at 11, and a huge wedding party had just walked in the door.
We got our check around 11 and took the train to Times Square, after much debate about whether the Times Square shuttle was actually a bus or a train (it’s a train, sort of like a monorail running between the two stops). Times Square was as shitshowy as usual, plus the baby was there. God, could anyone be creepier? Blech.
At that point we realized that we’d actually not really eaten any dinner, so we decided to stop at the Long Room again, across the street from our hotel. As we arrived, we saw a big crowd in the street outside the Belasco, where NPH’s run as Hedwig had just ended. We walked up to see what was up, and he was leaving the theater right at that moment. We didn’t see him, but we did get to watch a guy running down the street shrieking, “NEIL PATRICK HARRIS SIGNED MY FOREHEAD!!!” Awesome.
This time the staff was far more attentive at the Long Room, and we got gin and tonics and more food. We hung out there til a bit before 1am, and then went to the hotel to sleep.
Since we had a 3:30 flight out of LaGuardia, we had a bit of time to see more of New York on Monday morning. We checked out, left our bags at the hotel, and met Wendy and Amelia at the Millennium. Wendy talked to the concierge to arrange a shared ride to the airport in an SUV, rather than having to deal with the two-taxi thing again.
Down the street at the Belasco, the Neil Patrick Harris signs had all been replaced already.
We walked down to Bryant Park for the Subway. For the first time, I realized you could see the Empire State Building from there. You know, we’d only walked around there about 8 times already.
We rode up to the stop just south of Central Park and walked the couple blocks over to one of the outposts of the Momofuku Milk Bar. Momofuku has played a big part in our lives, since we ordered a Crack Pie and had it shipped to our wedding. Plus David Chang is awesome.
The staff there acted like it was their first day, forgetting to do things like give us the coffee we ordered, but at least they were really nice about it. We finally left with everything we’d purchased, and walked a couple more blocks to a fountain next to Central Park. We sat down and ate our delicious breakfast. (Blueberry bagel bomb, you’re the best.)
Jumi headed off to do more nerdy things (sorry, Jumi, but it’s true!) and the rest of us walked back over to the subway to take Bally on an important adventure. Conveniently, the West 4th Street Courts (aka The Cage) were located directly above the subway platform in Greenwich Village. We didn’t have to go far to find them!
There were a bunch of teenage girls playing, and they were way better than any of us could ever hope to be.
We headed back downstairs to the train, and rode to Grand Central station. Because Shake Shack was there, and we were hungry again. I have a deep love for train stations, and I liked Grand Central even more knowing that their Shake Shack’s lines weren’t very long, and they had very nice bathrooms in the basement.
Plus Shake Shack sold beer. That’s just plain civilized. (My mushroom burger was great, too.)
We still had a bit of time to kill after lunch, but wanted to be near the hotel, so we went back to the Algonquin for a cocktail. I was really hoping Matilda would be awake so that Amelia could see her! She seemed to be missing, however.
We heard from Jumi that she was on her way back, so we walked back over to our respective hotels and got our bags from the front desk. Our SUV was waiting for us out front, and we quickly realized that was the way to go as far as LaGuardia. If it had been JFK or Newark we’d have taken the train, but this was pretty easy too.
I was briefly annoyed that LGA didn’t seem to have a PreCheck line, but then the agent checking boarding passes handed me and Matt crumpled sheets of paper. They stated that we didn’t have to take our shoes off, so I guess that’s their version of PreCheck (unsurprisingly). There was nobody at security anyway, so we were through quickly. Matt and I went to hang out at a bar while the others went to the gate, and got to witness a lady so drunk or stoned she couldn’t get on the plane. We showed up for the lineup process, and the plane boarded very quickly. I think I’m a fan of Southwest Airlines!
We stopped long enough for dinner at Midway again, then flew back to Minneapolis and were landed by 9pm. We hopped the train, walked the long block to Matt’s car, and then it was a quick drive home from there.
Matt came to meet me downtown, and we took the train to the airport for our flight. TSA Pre-Check was fast as always, and we were on our flight in no time. It was a tiny plane, too, one of those with 2×2 seats and maybe 40 passengers. The previous passenger was apparently a spine doctor from Montana, and he was kind enough to leave behind some fascinating reading material.
It was a very fast flight, and we arrived almost half an hour early, around 4:45. We had to stand in the taxi line and then wait in traffic for a while, but we were still at our destination by 5:30. It was a house we’d rented off VRBO in Marigny very close to Bywater, and it was gorgeous.
According to the listing, the shotgun-shack-style house had been featured on a remodeling show, and it showed. The owners were in New York half of the time, so the (really excellent) artwork was all NYC or New Orleans-themed. Everything was very nice, especially the kitchen.
Plus there was a hot tub on the patio, which was one of the main reasons we’d rented the place. It would feature prominently in our plans every day.
We settled in, then walked around the corner to the convenience store, Hank’s. It was a horrendous dive of a place, with far more liquor and smoking-related products than food, but it had everything we needed: local snacks, beer, bread for making toast in the morning, milk, and my new discovery, N.O. Brew iced coffee.
We hung out on our patio drinking iced coffee (me, since I couldn’t drink) and Abita Amber (Matt), and then decided to head over to dinner. We decided on Oxalis, which was less than a mile from our house.
Walking through the neighborhood was fantastic. It was so much nicer being in an actual residential area, than a hotel over in the business district near the French Quarter. It meant we’d have to take transit or walk farther to get to the touristy stuff, but it was worth it. There was a ton to see in our neighborhood, too.
We got a table on the patio at Oxalis, and ordered the cheese plate and bruschetta. Then Matt ordered mussels and frites, and I had a really excellent beet salad. The manager came out and talked for a while, and she knew a lot about Minneapolis. Plus her main references for it were 1) liberals and 2) Prince, so we liked her a lot for it.
From dinner, we walked back the other direction past our house to Frenchmen Street, home of some of the best jazz clubs. We were a bit early for the show at Snug Harbor, so we bought tickets and hung out in the bar for a while. It was pretty quiet there, but started to fill up before the 10pm show.
The doors opened, and we went upstairs and found a table on the railing overlooking the band. It was Delfeayo Marsalis and a really large band that completely filled the stage. They were really entertaining, and invited one of Trombone Shorty’s cousins up on stage to play along for a couple songs.
The most interesting part of the night was when an old lady right up front had obviously recorded one of their pieces on her phone (which was against the rules, obviously), and decided to play it back immediately afterwards. Delfeayo told her “we can’t complete with ourselves!” and tried to joke it off, but it was totally awkward because she just kept playing it and laughing. Finally a lady nearby had to shoosh her. SO WEIRD.
Toward the end of the show, the entire back of the balcony emptied out as a tour group of old people headed to their bus. We walked out shortly afterward, and saw a huge tour bus blocking Frenchmen Street with all of them piling on. We walked the half-mile or so back to our house, and headed to our very comfortable bed.
Thursday, I got up much earlier than I usually would on vacation (this was entirely to do with not drinking, I’m sure), and took up the spot I would every morning in New Orleans: at the patio table with my knitting and espresso from the machine in the kitchen, followed by iced coffee (and Bally, of course). I was well-caffeinated indeed.
The sun was glorious… it was still not even close to spring in Minnesota.
Matt got up a while later, and we had breakfast and headed off to be tourists. Our section of Marigny looked like this:
As we got closer to Frenchmen Street and the Quarter, the houses looked more like this:
There were several different ways to walk there, so we varied them a lot to see different things. The shortest walk from our house involved heading directly toward the river and then cutting over toward the city, because of the wedge-shaped neighborhood.
Our first stop was the French Market. Going on a Thursday morning was a good choice, because it wasn’t terribly crowded.
I bought a heart-shaped wall ornament from a guy selling milagros, Matt got a sweet tea, and we picked up a bunch of hot sauce for his dad. We wandered around the crafty booths at the market, and then headed down the riverfront. Near the Jax building, we stopped for burritos at Felipe’s Taqueria, which was like a really good version of Chipotle.
We made it all the way down to the Riverwalk area past the aquarium, and figured we’d go walk through there. (Cruise ports are always weird and interesting, and there was a ship docked there that day.) There was construction all over the place, though, so it took us a while to figure out how to even get in there. We finally did, and discovered that there were a couple empty restaurants open, but the mall area itself was totally closed for renovation.
We headed across the street to Harrah’s instead. The air conditioning was a welcome relief after walking that far in the humidity, so we decided to sit and play some video poker for a while, which had the added bonus of getting Matt free beer.
After that, we walked up Canal Street toward Bourbon Street, following a trio of juggalos. I really wanted to take a photo of them, but sadly failed. We wandered around there, then went down to Royal Street and did some shopping in the many cute stores there. We tried to get into Arnaud’s French 75, but it wasn’t open til later. Then we tried the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, but that was full. (It’s been my life goal to sit at that bar since I’ve known about it, and whenever we go in there it’s totally full.) From there, we walked over to Jackson Square to see the cathedral.
There was a band playing at Maison Bourbon at 4pm, so we had a bit of time to kill before then. We stopped into a voodoo shop, then went over to get a drink at Pat O’Brien’s. We headed directly to the back bar, knowing that the drinks there were cheapest (I’m not entirely sure why they do that, but it’s awesome). I was excited to see they had an N/A cocktail menu, and ordered something called a Cool Breeze, made with cranberry, pineapple juice, and soda. It was delicious, and even came in a souvenir glass we actually wanted to keep. I rinsed it out in the bathroom before we left.
We crossed the street to Maison Bourbon, where the band was setting up. We were pretty much the only people there at that point, so we got seats at the corner of the bar backing up to Bourbon Street.
There was a trough of horrifying-looking water beneath the entire bar, and the place smelled a lot like trash. (Granted, a lot of the French Quarter smells that way, due to the trash cans that sit out on all the sidewalks. Space is kind of limited there.) I had to be careful to not drop my flipflops and get a horrible disease.
We watched the Swamp Donkeys‘ first set, which was pretty entertaining. I did a lot of staring at the activity on Bourbon Street, too, because by 4:30pm it was starting to get a little ridiculous.
We were getting hungry, so we decided to go get our first po-boy of the trip. On the way, we passed Chris Owens, otherwise known as “the bar where we saw a rat running across the dance floor late one night.” We also saw a guy clutching a hand grenade, seemingly unable to stand up. His friend was trying to help him stand.
Don’t go changing, New Orleans.
Killer Poboys is located in the back of a bar right off Bourbon Street called Erin Rose. It’s a friendly little place, and the owners are basically geniuses for having such a restaurant in the building. We ordered at the windows, then grabbed seats along the wall near the jukebox. Matt got a beer and queued up some music, and I watched the super-drunk bros at the bar, glad for their sakes they were eating gigantic sandwiches.
Our po-boys arrived shortly. Mine was roasted sweet potato, braised greens, and a pecan/black-eyed-pea spread. It was AMAZING, and I confess that I still have fantasies about it. Matt had rum-glazed pork belly (they warned him about it being too good), and we split some jalapeno Zapps, too.
Post-poboys, we decided to walk back to the house for an early-evening hot tub break. We took Dauphine Street, which was really quiet despite only being a block off Bourbon, which by that time was swinging into full shitshow mode.
Have I mentioned that I really loved walking through the neighborhood? There’s so much to see, and people like to hang out on their stoops that time of day. You really don’t see that much in the northland.
We sat in the hot tub for a long time, then showered and got dressed again. We headed out in the same direction as the previous night, crossing the tracks into Bywater. Our dinner choice this evening was Maurepas Foods, a friendly little restaurant that seemed even more neighborhood-oriented than Oxalis.
Matt was very excited by their excellent cocktail list, which included a Malort drink (Chicago shoutout!). We ordered fried breaded cauliflower, stewed greens with broad beans and oatmeal gnocchi, and a strawberry and creme fraiche salad. (The oatmeal gnocchi was the best by far.) After dinner, we kept on going down Burgundy (NOLA pronunciation: bur-GUN-dy), almost all the way to the river. (Hence the name ‘Bywater’.) There, a block before the street ended, we found Vaughan’s Lounge, which is famous for Kermit Ruffins’ until-recently weekly sets.
We went in, paid the $10 cover, and found seats at the bar. The place wasn’t too crowded yet, but the band (Corey Henry and the Treme Funktet) was already in full swing, and people were dancing. It was clear that it was mostly locals there, which made us happy.
Matt ordered drinks, and we watched the band. I actually watched the people most, because they were fascinating. My favorite was an old guy sitting by himself at a tiny table on the dance floor, flagging down every woman who made eye contact with him, no matter what their age. It was hilarious.
The band was amazing, and loud – the place was small, but that wasn’t the only factor. They played a long set, until about 11:30pm, and then took a break. At that point, everyone headed to the back of the bar, because they were serving free red beans and rice. A lady even walked along the bar, informing everyone that they needed to go get their free red beans and rice. So awesome.
I was sleepy (that’s the downside to not drinking – you don’t have staying-up-late superpowers), so we decided to head back to the house. Matt ran to the bathroom before we left, and came back fuming because a dude had actually broken the latch on the door trying to barge in. (I guess he really had to go?)
We were apparently supposed to be scared to walk the streets of Bywater and Marigny at night, but I couldn’t think of a single reason why, unless it was the giant cockroaches you’d sometimes scare up on the sidewalk. (They were pretty gross, but still.) Once we got to the train tracks, Matt made me hold his drink so he could fulfill a lifelong dream:
Don’t tell his parents.
I got up, had my usual toast and tons of coffee on the patio, and then we prepared to head out. Our first stop was the knitting store a couple blocks away, because I’d been unprepared to get so much knitting done on the trip, and needed more needles. The little old lady running the place was adorable, and I never thought I’d ever have need to hold such a prolonged conversation about the upsides and downsides of various circular needles.
It was way more humid than the previous days, and was raining a little on and off, so we carried umbrellas along. We walked down to Frenchmen Street, and met a lazy cat along the way.
We were in search of coffee and beignets, but the line at Cafe du Monde was really long. We walked a couple blocks further and stopped into the place in the Jax Brewery building, where they served us (really excellent) iced coffee and beignets right away.
Post-beignets, I told Matt we should try stopping into the Carousel Bar again, since we had to go near there anyway and it had just opened for the day. I figured that way, we stood the best chance of actually being able to sit at the bar. And I was right!! There were a couple of seats open, so we took them. I just had a water, which I’m sure the bartenders didn’t love, but whatever. Matt had a Vieux Carre, because it was invented there.
We hung out for a couple rotations, eating their snacks and watching the other patrons, most of who were obviously staying at the hotel (trust me, you can tell). We learned that there’s no door for the bartenders to leave, so they have to CLIMB OVER the bar when there’s a seat open. I felt bad for the older guy working back there. It looked tricky.
From there we walked over to Canal Street and hopped on the trolley to the Garden District (activating our transit passes for the first time). For reasons that were never fully explained, the trolley stopped halfway there and we had to all pile off and get on a bus instead. The majority of us got off the same bus at Washington, and walked over to Lafayette Cemetery #1. (Apparently there was a tour starting right then, but we chose to look around on our own.)
The overcast and occasional raindrops seemed appropriate for the scene.
After circling the cemetery for a while, we stopped to admire Commander’s Palace before we headed onward. (Matt wanted to go, but they have dress codes!)
We walked down to Magazine Street, heading toward the shopping districts. I was already pretty tired of walking, especially considering my hip and knee issue was acting up. We stopped into a shop to pick up some more souvenirs, and then Matt looked up one of our chosen lunch destinations on the map. It said it was less than a mile away, so we decided to walk it anyway.
After walking what felt more like 10 miles, we still weren’t even close. But we kept onward, because we knew it was there somewhere. I was pretty miserable, because my hip was starting to feel weak, which meant some awesome limping and sort-of-dragging it along. Not awesome.
FINALLY, we got to McClure’s BBQ. (It ended up being 1.7 miles. Thanks, Google Maps!) I was more excited about the possibility of sitting down in air conditioning than I was about the food. Until the food arrived.
Matt had three meats, mac and cheese, and greens. I had an amazing smoked mushroom sandwich, cole slaw, and cornbread. It was fantastic, and they had a huge rack of various barbecue sauces to try.
After lunch, we decided to be smart and ride the bus back instead. Conveniently, there was a stop directly in front of the restaurant, and it showed up right away. We rode back to the business district, and hopped off near Lee Circle. Our destination was a cocktail bar called Bellocq, at the Hotel Modern.
Google said they opened at 3pm, but the door was locked. Someone opened it right away, though, and said that they were just getting ready and would open at 4. We waited in the courtyard, since it was 3:55. We ended up being the only people there for the entire time, but that was fine. The bartenders were awesome, and full of good information.
Their specialty was cobblers, lower-proof cocktails usually made with some kind of wine. Matt had a madeira sour and a Lillet cobbler, and the bartender made me an awesome gingery non-alcoholic drink.
We hung out there for a while, then decided to go back to the house for some hot tub time before dinner. Google Maps said there was a bus arriving about 6 blocks away in 10 minutes, so we went over there and sat at the bus stop. After a while it became clear that the bus wasn’t coming, so I checked the schedule again and we’d have to sit there forever for another one. I went with Google’s next recommendation, so we walked another 8 blocks to a different bus stop, just in time to see the bus we wanted pulling away. AAGH. (My hip and knee were ready to be amputated at that point, too.) Finally, we found one arriving in a couple minutes, figured out where to wait, and it actually showed up. Conveniently, that one dropped off only a block from the house, too.
We stopped into Hank’s for more diet pineapple pop (my favorite!), snacks, and iced coffee, and then went to the house and climbed in the hot tub. After a half-hour or so it started raining a little, so we got out and went to shower. While I was drying off I realized that it was pouring like crazy, so I hoped that would let up in time for us to leave again. It kept up for 20 minutes or so, and then tapered off to a light drizzle. We put our shoes on, grabbed our umbrellas, and headed out to walk to dinner at 13, about 3/4 mile away.
We got a block down the street before it started pouring again. Two blocks down, it was pouring twice as hard. We’d never even experienced rain like that, and it was coming in at such an angle that our pants were getting totally soaked no matter what we did. Three blocks down, we found a tiny overhang to huddle under while we waited to see if it would let up. It showed zero sign of doing so, though, and we decided to just go back to the house.
We turned around so that our fronts could get soaked, too (at least we were even). (When your underwear get drenched in a rainstorm even though you’re carrying an umbrella, it’s time to give up.) I clutched my purse under my arm like a football so my electronics didn’t get wet. And Bally! He’s absorbent, after all.
Back at the house, we called 13 to order delivery po-boys. They said they weren’t delivering that night (I wouldn’t want to, either), so we found a place called Love Lost Lounge instead. They were kind enough to deliver us some very delicious banh mi an hour later. The rain still hadn’t let up, either, so the satellite TV didn’t work. Which was fine, because we wanted to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs (Minnesota Wild vs the Blackhawks) and they didn’t get it there anyway. So we propped up our phones on the table, and watched the game that way instead. Internet to the rescue!
Shortly after the end of the game, our phones started blaring that horrible sound they play during severe weather alerts on TV. Neither of us knew our phones had that feature, so it was kind of a surprise. What was even more of a surprise, though, was when they started doing that in unison while we were asleep at 2am. We survived the flash floods in New Orleans, thankfully!
By Saturday morning, the rain had stopped. I wiped down the patio furniture and started a load of towels in the laundry, since we’d used all of them cleaning up from the downpour. I discovered a monster blister on my foot, too, which explained a lot of my walking distress the previous day.
We had breakfast, then walked down to the French Market RTA stop to get on the trolley. The trolleys that run on the riverfront seem to be in no damn hurry at all; we sat there forever before leaving.
We took the trolley to the end of the line (near the cruise port and convention center) and headed up Julia Street to find our lunch destination, Cafe Carmo. We ordered at the counter, and went outside to get a table on the sidewalk. Matt got a cocktail, and I had my coconut water delivered directly in the coconut. Awesome.
We had an order of gougeres that were amazing, and I had an open-face fake-meat ‘sandwich’ on plantains with salad. Matt had a yellowfish tuna sandwich. Everything they had there was excellent. There was a lady hanging out at the next table with her adorable English bulldog, and the dog kept trying to get to Matt for food. It was really cute.
After lunch, we walked over to the World War II Museum. (No, I don’t exactly know why New Orleans has a WWII museum – it used to be the D-Day Museum, but they do.)
The place is really large, with three or four big buildings across the street from one another. Only one of them appeared to be fully in use, though. It’s the one with most of the D-Day exhibits. It was really well-done, and appropriate for someone like me with a short attention span. I just wish they’d have had more on the atomic bomb (it was one long wall in a corner, with a couple videos), but that’s mostly because it’s one of the eras I’m nerdiest about.
We saw the exhibits in the main building, then crossed the street. There’s a big, definitely fancy restaurant in there, and a giant hangerish building sponsored by Boeing that didn’t seem to have much set up yet. The entire building in the photo above is still under construction, too.
Regardless of the construction, I liked the museum a lot, and it’s not the kind of thing I expected to find there. Plus Bally got to go in a tank!
We stopped at the cafe for a drink (and to sit down), and then decided to walk back toward the French Quarter. Why we didn’t take the bus, I’m not positive. It’s how we are.
If we’d have taken the bus, we couldn’t have experienced this amazing New Orleans wisdom, though:
We figured we had some time to kill before Steve and Colleen arrived, so we were on our way to another cocktail bar. Colleen texted that they’d landed as we reached Canal Street, so we changed our plans and decided to head back to the house right away. I looked up the bus schedule again on Google Maps, and we went to the stop to wait. While we were standing there for 10 minutes or so, it started raining again. Not quite the downpour from the previous night, but still a lot. Watching the people without umbrellas was pretty amusing.
The bus took us to Franklin, and we only had a few-block walk from there. We cleaned up and took up positions on the front stoop to wait for our friends from Seattle to arrive. It was a pretty entertaining game, asking “Is that them?” with every passing car… the passers-by were very interesting, to say the least. They finally showed up, and we went inside to hang out.
A little while later, we made our obligatory daily trip to Hank’s with Steve, where they noticed someone had spray-painted “All Hanx are Bastards” on the wall. The guy behind the counter every time we went in definitely wasn’t the friendliest, but he wasn’t exactly a bastard. We got more coffee, more milk, and all the flavors of Zapps they had to offer. Including Voodoo Zapps, which were obviously the most exciting.
We sat around on the patio for a while, then decided to walk to dinner. Our destination was 13, the place that had been unable to deliver the previous day. We walked over to Frenchmen Street, which was already in full-on party mode, and stopped at the front door because of a sign stating that no one under 18 was allowed on the premises because they had gambling machines. That meant not even Steve and Colleen’s daughter, who was riding in a stroller.
We decided on Marigny Brasserie instead, because Matt and I had had lunch there before and it was good. (Plus if I’d eaten there before, that meant there was vegetarian food.) We went in to ask about a table, and the surliest hostess ever told us it’d be about 20 minutes. That was fine, so we put our names down and grabbed chairs in the bar by the stage.
A band was setting up, and everything seemed normal until one of the guys playing pulled out the largest musical instrument I’d ever seen. He explained it was a kora from Mali. The main problem was that when he played it, it looked like he was humping a calabash the whole time. Colleen and I couldn’t look at it without laughing.
We sat there watching the band for a long time, and Colleen finally gave up and went to ask about our table. Surprise! It was ready for us. (I don’t know if they didn’t bother looking for people on the list, or what. We were just happy to be able to eat since it was after 9pm and we were all hungry.) Our server brought drinks, and the appetizers came out pretty quickly. They didn’t have a vegetarian appetizer, so I waited.
As far as we could tell, there was one server in the entire place, which was totally full at that point. She was trying to be friendly, but mostly looked harried and acted like everyone asking for things was imposing. Everyone sat with empty classes for a long time, until we managed to flag the server to ask for them. My entree was godawful, but I ate it anyway because we had waited so long (and it was the only vegetarian thing on the menu). They apologized and offered to buy me dessert (I don’t eat sugar) or a drink (I wasn’t drinking). When the check arrived, THEY HADN’T REMOVED THE ENTREE.
So, basically, this was the one place in New Orleans I’d recommend avoiding completely. We should’ve checked the reviews, because they’re also terrible.
Anyway, after dinner we walked back to the house and hung out in the hot tub, so that was awesome.
Saturday morning, I did my traditional patio-knitting til everyone got up. Once we were all assembled, we piled in the car and headed to City Park to the second-most famous coffee-and-beignet stand, Morning Call. It was raining while we drove, but let up a little in time for us to walk there and get a table.
There was a jazz band playing, and service was unbelievably quick. I think we had our beignets within 5 minutes of ordering them, right at our table. I liked the fact that you could dispense your own powdered sugar, too.
It started raining again while we sat there, with varying degrees of heaviness. Even the ducks gave up and decided to head indoors.
We waited for the rain to stop again, and walked across the street to the sculpture garden. It was dry for a bit, but really gloomy-looking.
We walked around a bit, and it started sprinkling. We all had umbrellas, though, and the stroller had a raincover, so we didn’t mind that much.
Then it started raining harder, to the point where it was hard to walk around. We kind of huddled together to get out of it.
Then it started pouring again. Matt and I took up shelter under a giant tree. The rain was coming in huge waves across the lake.
We gave up on seeing the rest of the park, and headed to the car. Of course by the time we got there, it had pretty much stopped raining.
Though we’d had breakfast less than an hour ago, it seemed like a good time for lunch. We went about a half-mile up the road to Mo-Pho. Though it was in a strip mall with a Burger King and a Subway, it was actually really nice inside. Plus they had small-batch soy sauce on the table, so of course we had to sample it.
I had a BBQ tofu po-boy (it was actually a banh mi, but who cares)? It was excellent, and so were the chips that went with it. Matt had the world’s largest bowl of pho.
Even though we were way more than full from lunch, we had to walk next door for a sno-ball. I wasn’t planning to get one until I saw that they had sugar-free flavors, and then I had to try one. The sugar-free pineapple was pretty good, despite having to ignore the warning about not eating yellow snow. Steve won the flavor contest, though: his was called Silver Fox.
We got back in the car and drove up to the southern edge of Lake Pontchartrain, because none of us had seen it before, apart from crossing the bridge toward Mississippi. I couldn’t believe how big it was (you can’t see the other side, so it might as well be the ocean). The rich-people houses butting up to the levees were pretty interesting, too.
From there, we headed back into the business district to go to Rousse’s, an actual grocery store than didn’t just have booze and Zapps. We only needed a few things, but of course ended up spending almost an hour there shopping for stuff. Steve and Matt both got t-shirts, and we got more coffee and snacks than we could possibly consume. We piled all our stuff in the car, and went back to the house for some hot tub time.
We spent about an hour in there, and then went to clean up. By the time Matt and I were ready to go, the babysitter had arrived for Steve and Colleen’s daughter. She was a kind of odd little old lady, but she seemed really nice. We said goodbye, and headed off on foot to Frenchmen Street.
Finally, we were able to go to 13 for dinner. (After trying twice, we were determined.) We got a table in the back, and Matt and Steve ordered frozen Irish coffees, which looked AMAZING. We split an order of totchos, and I had a mushroom Philly (which meant “Motown Philly” was stuck in my head forever).
After dinner, we walked over to the French Quarter. Since they had never been to New Orleans before, Matt and I had compiled an essential Bourbon Street list for them, things that you have to do no matter how stupid and touristy (and some of them are just awesome.)
The first stop on that list was Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, because it is a bar with no lights. Sure, there’s electricity for the fridges and a new flatscreen TV showing sports on the wall, but at night it’s still totally dark with only candles on the table. I love it a lot.
Right outside the bar, we encountered a giant man with a tiny, tiny horse. I almost had a stroke, I was so excited about it. I wanted to get a picture, but I’m sure I’d have had to pay for it.
After the men finished their drinks there, we walked down to Pat O’Brien’s, because everyone needs to try a hurricane there. Matt and Steve got theirs in gigantic plastic go-cups, and Colleen and I both got Cool Breezes. I won’t even be embarrassed about it, because they were seriously delicious.
From there, we wandered slowly down to the other end of Bourbon Street. Matt noted that the strip clubs had become WAY more graphic than last time we were there, because we could see some legitimately hardcore stuff from the street. It wasn’t too much of a disaster yet otherwise… I definitely didn’t see anyone falling down yet, nor was I hating everyone because I was totally sober.
Our next stop was an abrupt change: Arnaud’s French 75. I was very surprised to find it nearly empty.
We felt very fancy there, and the guys ordered the bar’s namesake cocktail. Bally got his photo taken on one of the animal-print chairs. I pondered how such a nice, historic place could be around the corner from one of the biggest potential shitshows in the country. That is exactly why New Orleans is one of my favorite cities on earth.
We had limited time with the sitter at the house, so we decided to head back that direction. Matt and I insisted upon one last drink for Steve, though: the notorious HAND GRENADE.
We headed back toward the house on Royal Street again, and Matt and Steve noticed that there were at least six different haunted New Orleans tours going on. They decided they should probably start their own tour company, just making stuff up as they went. They reasoned that if they did the tour in that Ken Burns reenactment voice, everyone would think they were legit.
When we got back to the house, the babysitter told Colleen she was worried about us walking back, because it was such a bad neighborhood. Uh, what? That was confusing. We hopped in the hot tub in our terrible, dangerous neighborhood, and hung out there until midnight.
I got up a little earlier than usual, since we had to check out of our awesome VRBO house by 10am. We did our usual toast and massive-amounts-of-iced-coffee breakfast, and then packed up and took everything out to the car. Steve and Colleen were staying another night, and had a room at the Hotel Monteleone. They chose it because of the rooftop pool for their daughter, not because of the awesome rotating bar.
The view wasn’t too bad, either:
We left the car with the valet and headed down toward the riverfront to get breakfast. We got a table at the French Market Cafe, where I discovered that not a single item on the menu was vegetarian. Thankfully, they still had their breakfast buffet running, and it had one of the best biscuits I’d ever had. So I was happy.
After breakfast, we went to the French Market again, since they hadn’t seen it yet. I found a couple really cute prints of a shrimp and crab to take home for our kitchen, and Colleen got a voodoo doll. Not the kind you stab with pins, but one to make you happy when you feel sad. Who knew?
From there, we walked back into the Quarter and down Royal Street to do some shopping. We stopped into a few art galleries and some some really fantastic (and way too expensive) stuff. We also discovered that the haunted or unhaunted nature of property in the French Quarter seems to be a big selling point. I’m not sure if haunting makes it more or less expensive, though.
I was really thirsty (it was way hotter than usual), so Matt and I went into Pat O’Briens to get drinks for everyone (since they couldn’t take their daughter inside). The guys got juleps, and Colleen and I had Cool Breezes again. They were delicious!
Matt and I wanted to go see Armstrong Park before we left, and were shopped-out, so we headed that way while they went back to the hotel for a nap. It was only about six blocks away, but it felt like a lot in the heat, and after having walked so many miles already.
We hung out on a bench in the shade in Congo Square for a while, then went to see the Louis Armstrong trophy and the lakes in the rest of the park. I didn’t know the place was so big!
We headed back to the French Quarter, texting Steve that we’d be at Kingfish, the cocktail bar we’d wanted to go to a few days earlier. He said he’d meet us there. We grabbed seats at the bar, which had a gigantic photo of Huey Long at the opposite end. There were a few people there that may have been there for days at that point. They were in a pretty entertaining state.
The bartender was awesome. She made me an N/A drink with ginger beer and her own homemade bitters, and all the drinks involved crushed ice made the old-fashioned way, with a huge mallet and canvas bag. (Every time she had to make ice, everyone stopped to watch.) She told us her boyfriend was actually playing at a bar in Minneapolis that weekend (a show I later found out one of our friends had attended). Steve joined us, and we ordered a few appetizers – fries with bleu cheese, three kinds of cracklins, and BBQ shrimp on a waffle.
After a while, I wanted to go back over to Bourbon Street for some people-watching, so we went to Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House. The older lady working behind the bar was crabby as hell, but at least she didn’t charge me for my multiple Diet Coke refills. I bought Matt and Steve shots of Fireball (we’d been discussing them at the previous place), and they decided to have absinthe, too, since Steve hadn’t experienced the drip yet. I texted Colleen what was going on, and she was a little bit apprehensive. If I couldn’t drink, though, they were going to have to cover my portion as well.
Then it was time to head to the airport, sadly. We walked back to the hotel, got the car from the valet, and they drove us to the airport. Our flight was delayed a little, til 6:30, but it was otherwise uneventful and we were home by 11pm (after taking the train downtown to get the car). Not bringing a change of clothes for the cold was definitely not the smartest thing we’ve ever done!
Matt and I saw this cruise itinerary that we really loved about a year and a half in advance. It was cheap, so we booked it. Then we decided to take advantage of the fact we’d be leaving from San Juan, and take a side trip to Vieques, which I’d wanted to see since I learned about the bioluminescent bay there.
Our cruise was great, despite some seasickness, and Matt celebrated his birthday in St Lucia. I got to see some things I’d always wanted to, like the Pitons and Maho Beach in St Maarten, where the giant planes come in right over your head. And then we went to Vieques, and I absolutely fell in love with it. I can’t wait to go back.
(The entire photoset is here on Flickr.)
Read from the beginning below, or jump to each day:
We had a very very early (pre-6AM) flight from Minneapolis to San Juan via Chicago, and given the dangers of flying in February in the Midwest, I started worrying about a week in advance. As the day neared, it became clear that we were in for a substantial amount of snow right around the time we’d be leaving for vacation, and I figured there was no way we’d ever make a 45-connection in Chicago, even we even managed to escape Minneapolis on Friday morning.
Thursday afternoon, the blizzard rolled in. Matt put his car in the garage in preparation for our trip, and I parked on the snow emergency route alongside our house, which meant I stood the best odds of getting my car out even in bad conditions. Usually Minneapolis waits until a storm is over before they declare snow emergency, but this time they were panicking in advance, too: they decided to start it at 9pm, which means my car had to move or get towed.
So let’s just forward to 8pm Thursday evening, when we and two neighbors spent an hour digging and pushing my car out of the intersection it was stuck in. We finally maneuvered it into a spot where it would be safe from towing til 8AM Saturday morning, but it was clear there was no way we were taking that to the airport. The snow was still coming down like crazy. We instead dug out the driveway as best we could, snowblowed the walks, and crossed our fingers before heading to bed. It never occurred to me that there was the possibility we wouldn’t even be able to make it to the airport in the morning.
I got up at 3AM Friday, put on my coat and boots, and went out to shovel the driveway again. I then came in and showered, finished packing bags, and we hauled everything out to Matt’s car in the garage. Thankfully, he was able to back it out onto the street, which had been cleared enough that it was driveable. I ran through the new snow on the sidewalks (it had been constant all night, and still hadn’t stopped), stashed the garage door opener and keys where our friends and family could find them (they were stuck with the job of trying to get my car free, and then shoveling), and hopped in the car to go to the airport. The roads were in terrible, icy shape, and it was actually a good thing it was so early in the morning, because nobody was out to crash in it. Matt drove very, very slowly, and we got to the airport on time. The flight was still scheduled on time, too!
We dumped all our winter gear in the car and went to the terminal. Pre-Chek was a breeze, and we stopped to get coffee and water for the flight. We boarded on time, but then we had to wait for de-icing. I occupied myself with the Skymall shopping list.
It was light by the time we de-iced, and we knew that we weren’t making the flight in Chicago unless they held it. Talking to the people around us, though, it sounded like many of us were headed to San Juan on the same flight, so that gave us hope that we’d make it.
Did you know the de-icing is orange? I’d never noticed that before.
We were indeed late to Chicago, but TripIt notified me right away that our second leg was delayed as well. They were clearly holding it for us. Matt and I were the first from the MSP flight to get there, and the gate people looked relieved that we were finally there. A whole bunch more people crowded on, and the flight ended up being entirely full.
It was a 5-hour flight, which is over my general limit for sitting still, but somehow it wasn’t that bad. (One of the reasons I prefer Delta is that you always lay over in Atlanta heading to the Caribbean, and that breaks up the time pretty well.) We had seatback TVs for entertainment, so we flipped around and I finally decided on Runner Runner, which killed a bunch of time. For the first two hours there was enough turbulence from storms that they couldn’t even get the carts out. They finally served food and drinks, so we got meal boxes and switched to the USA-Canada hockey game. And that’s when the inflight television cut out, because we were over the ocean. Sigh. (It’s probably for the best, since our team lost.)
Since they still had movies showing, I switched to Real Steel. I only made it half an hour before I had to turn it off and switch to the flight map. It was that bad.
We landed in San Juan only half an hour late. It had just rained there, but the sun came out as we landed, which I appreciate. We got our suitcases and grabbed a cab to Casa Blanca Hotel in Old San Juan. The lady at the desk told us they were working on something in the area so the power was out temporarily. They also had no elevator, but I knew that from the reviews. The porter brought our bags up for us, so that wasn’t really an issue (nor was the power, since we just wanted to head out again anyway). The hotel wasn’t anything fancy (the decor is nice), but it was a great price in a really excellent location in OSJ. God forbid you’d have to drive anywhere there, or even sit in the back of a cab in traffic.
It was late afternoon, so we decided to go get a beer at Old Harbor Brewery. The rain arrived there at the same time we did, but we weren’t terribly sad about sitting inside at the bar. We sampled their offerings and got tostones while we waited for the rain to let up. We ended up talking to one of the locals at the bar, who started exclaiming about how much he loved Prince when we told him we were from Minneapolis. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that someone has that association with my city, rather than the Mall of America, our mediocre pro sports teams, or a bunch of people living in igloos.
We decided to make another stop before dinner, mostly because we didn’t want to go to two dive bars in a row. I’d read really good things about El Farolito, so we walked over there, stopping to see some sights along the way.
It was a tiny place, with 6 seats at the bar and a balcony of questionable stability with a table on top. Matt and I sat at a chess board at the bar and ordered drinks. Then we started asking the bartender about the rums we hadn’t seen before, so he put together a tasting for us. I didn’t expect a really young guy to know much about them, but he absolutely did. We enjoyed the Brugal Anejo and Ron Barcelo quite a bit.
From there, we went off in search of dinner. I’d wanted to try Cafe Puerto Rico because they had some vegetarian versions of classic Puerto Rican food, but they were closed due to the lack of electricity in the area. (Thankfully, we’d seen that it had returned at our hotel.) Our bartender had recommended Cafe Berlin for vegetarian food, so we went with that instead. It had a monstrous menu, and was totally not what I’d expected at all. We got a seat on the patio, and ordered mojitos. The menu had tofu criollo, in addition to other vegetarian food. I was thrilled.
After our surprisingly good meal, it was time to head to El Batey, one of the greatest bars on earth. I had to use the restroom right away when we got there, so I took a picture so you can see the ambiance in there.
There were only a few people there when we arrived. Our bartender was Filipe, and he was something. He decided he was Matt’s best friend, and would come over and spend several minutes discussing films with him while other people waited for drinks. It was pretty entertaining.
We ordered Barrilitos, but somehow Filipe misheard and we ended up with a Medalla as well. We gave it to Bally.
While seated at the bar, I was also sitting inside a lamp that had a million business cards taped to it, forming a growing chandelier. Matt was wearing his Mac’s Club Deuce shirt (in honor of another excellent dive bar), and we found a Mac’s card taped inside the lamp. I verified that the pool room was not a dirt floor, as I’d remembered, just concrete. We also managed to locate our names on the wall from our previous visit. They’d been written over a bit with other graffiti, but they’re definitely still visible.
A group came in loudly, and I ended up talking to one of them who was next to me at the bar. They’d decided on an impromptu three-day trip to San Juan, which sounded like an excellent idea to me. The guy was drinking Dimple Pinch, which struck me as really strange… later we started to see it at every bar, and I’m still not sure what’s going on with that.
After a while, Matt went to the bathroom and the tab appeared in front of me. I didn’t take it personally; Filipe was kind of in a state. We paid up and headed back in the direction of our hotel, but weren’t quite ready for bed yet. We decided to stop into a too-brightly-lit bar called the Douglas Pub (which I’d coincidentally seen earlier and made fun of because it looked so crappy). I was ordering a rum and diet just as Matt pointed out the Fireball tap, so of course we had to partake in that too. And after that, it was definitely time to go across the street and up the many stairs to bed.
Saturday morning, we hauled our bags down to the lobby, checked out, and left them with the staff there. We headed down the street to La Mallorquina, since La Bombonera is currently closed for renovation. When in San Juan, you must have a mallorca for breakfast.
I had a mallorca con queso, and Matt had the standard jamon y queso. And, god, their coffee is fantastic. I don’t know why it’s so good, but it’s probably something to do with full-fat milk. Delicious.
After lunch, we did some more shopping and wandering in San Juan. It was raining on and off, but not much.
At some point I’ll remember where everything is in San Juan (OSJ is small, after all!), but I still can’t get it right. I at least know what general area I can find things in.
We headed up in the direction of El Morro to see La Iglesia de San Jose, because it’s the second-oldest church in the Americas. I know I’d see it before (I have photos of the statue of Columbus nearby), but I didn’t really know the history. Along the way, we encountered the customary cats hanging out on the street. I think this guy was annoyed that I woke him up for a photo.
The church is under renovation, so there’s a lot of scaffolding and you can’t go inside. Still, this time we knew what we were actually looking at.
I’ve been in El Morro a couple times, so we didn’t go in. We wandered around the giant park surrounding it, where tons of people were flying kites. The rain was now totally gone, and it was gorgeous outside.
We headed back through cat alley (there were at least 12 of them in there), walked through an awesome neighborhood, and came out along the city wall.
Seeing La Puerta (the city gate) never gets old. This walk at sunset is amazing.
We were near the Cathedral de San Juan, so we decided to actually go inside this time. I’d read that the remains of Ponce de Leon were in there, and I was set on finding them.
The cathedral is amazing, and in really good condition for a building that’s been in use for over 500 years.
We circled the outside, checking out the alcoves and many creepy shrines. (I can’t help it; religious stuff makes me nervous.) We found Ponce de Leon along the left side, near the back of the church:
Since we were across the street from Hotel El Convento, we decided to stop in for a drink. We found a very lovely courtyard full of tables, and had a seat at the bar. While we can’t afford to stay there, we can at least afford a mojito there. We sat and watched them setting up for a wedding that night. (I’d be shocked if they didn’t have weddings there every weekend.)
From there we headed back over near the city wall, because I also wanted to revisit Cappila del Cristo. I’d only recently learned the legend about it (that they used to race horses down Calle Cristo, and one rider couldn’t stop and went flying over the city wall at the end of the street), plus the gates were actually open this time.
The altar was amazing. This is to the right as you go into the chapel, behind gates.
The left side was photos and history, plus this impressive array of milagros:
After that, it was time to find some lunch. Because we’d walked past it earlier, we knew that Cafe Puerto Rico was still closed. We walked back down Calle Recinto Sur toward the middle of town to see what we’d find along the way. We finally decided on Lupi’s, because we were dying of hunger and knew they’d have something vegetarian. We got a table on the street, so we could people-watch while we dined.
After lunch, we walked down to where the cruise ships docked when they’re stopping in San Juan. That was boring, so we wandered back up in the direction of our hotel. We decided to stop and have a beer at the Jamaican restaurant there before going to get our suitcases. We hung out talking to the girl working at Blessed Cafe about other parts of Puerto Rico for a while, and then headed across the street to Casa Blanca. We got our bags and a taxi, and it was time to leave San Juan. SIGH.
The check-in process on our ship was really quick (it was 3pm, so we were fairly early), and we were on board in no time. They gave us glasses of champagne as we got on, and we decided to go directly to the cabin to check it out. As usual, we had carry-on bags and our suitcases would be delivered later.
We had cabin 7047, a veranda room on the port side near the forward elevators. Our cabin steward, Socorro, stopped by shortly after we arrived to introduce himself. I made sure to tell him it was Matt’s birthday that week. I’d also ordered the birthday package for him for our sailaway that day, so I expected to find champagne and a cake and such awaiting us, but it wasn’t there for some reason. I figured I’d wait and see if it showed up before telling Matt about it.
We’d sailed on the Celebrity Summit before, so we knew what to expect. The only big difference this time was that we had the beverage package; we’d gotten the basic drinks package for free with the booking (it covered anything up to $7, and if you ordered something more expensive you paid the entire amount, not the difference.) Based on my research, we’d decided to upgrade to the premium package, which covered everything up to $13. Plus if you went over, you only paid the difference. Based on our tab at the end of the last cruise, it was worth it.
There were also a few changes to some of the bars and public spaces since our last cruise, so I was excited to see that. But having sailed on the ship before, we didn’t have to devote our first day to exploring everything, like we usually do.
We headed up to the pool bar to get a drink. I ordered a mojito, and ended up with this, which ended up being a frozen margarita. At least it was pretty good.
We did some more wandering around the ship, and then headed back to the pool area when our drinks were empty. This time we went up and got seats at the Mast Bar overlooking the pool (and the entire port area). We marveled at how much better the drink menus had gotten… they were way more sophisticated, with less focus on ‘boat drinks’ and more on actual well-thought-out cocktails. And the best part was we had already prepaid for them, so we didn’t have to deal with that part at all.
After hanging out there a while we were starting to get hungry, so we tried the burger bar. There was a 10 minute wait for a veggie burger there, so we went into the buffet next door instead and got pizza. From there we went out to the bar at the back of the ship and learned that they had awesome Jamaican bartenders. Marlon quickly became our favorite.
We got drinks and took them down to the room to see if our bags had arrived yet. They had, so we unpacked and got our room in order. We hung out on the balcony for a bit as we started to sail away, and then went upstairs to Marlon’s bar again. It was already dark, since we sailed at 8:30, so there wasn’t too much to see from the deck.
For dinner we didn’t care much for dressing up for the dining room, so we went back to the buffet. Matt had sushi, and I had a giant salad and Indian food that was pretty decent. After that we went down to Michael’s Club, since it was one of the bars that had remodeled since our last trip. Then it was the cigar and scotch bar, and this time it was the craft beer bar (which also had scotch). That seemed pretty much perfect for us, and there were several things on the menu I’d never tried before. We had some beer, and hung out talking to an awesome couple we met from Pittsburgh. Also, we noticed that there were Canadians EVERYWHERE on the ship, and it made it especially easy to identify them because (in addition to their hilarious accents), they were all wearing hockey-related clothing. It was in the middle of the Olympics, so that at least made some sense.
We headed to the casino, where I went to play craps and Matt blackjack. I did well at craps for a bit, and then everything went badly. I took the rest of my chips and joined him at the blackjack table, where I got wiped out the rest of the way. Thankfully, he was at least doing well. When we were done playing, we went to grab a beer and take it up to the room.
At some point in the middle of the night, I woke up and threw up like crazy. Hello, seasickness!
I slept really late on Sunday, and felt terrible. I got up and threw up some more, dressed, and we headed up to the buffet to eat. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to handle eating anything, but I had some coffee and a slice of cheese pizza. (It was already after 11, so they didn’t have breakfast anymore.)
I’ve had trouble with seasickness plenty, but I get the head-spinning vertigo kind, not the nausea. I have inner ear problems, so I figure that’s just par for the course. (I also feel like I’m rocking for weeks after every cruise.) The worst part is at night, because the head-spinning has weird effects on your brain and you have trouble sleeping. Generally Dramamine helps with that, though, so I wasn’t too worried about it. Being sick to my stomach, and really sleepy, was entirely new, and a horrible feeling. I spent the entire day wondering who I was going to throw up on.
We got mojitos at Marlon’s bar, and I drank very very slowly, mostly just to have something to do. I also got a giant bottle of Evian – one of my favorite perks of the premium drinks package was the ability to get a liter of Evian anytime I wanted – and worked on downing that in case I was dehydrated. Matt got lunch eventually, and then we went downstairs to play shuffleboard. I felt slightly better walking around barefoot in the sun, at least. (It also helps being able to see the horizon, and having that movement match with the sensation of it in my head.)
After shuffleboard, we went up to the Mast Bar and sat in the round booth next to it to play Hive. After a while we went to go sit at the bar, and ended up talking to a Minnesota Vikings fan and a guy who used to work on cruise ships, and now just hangs out on them a lot. From there we went to the room, because I was feeling crappy again and needed to nap, and then throw up again. FUN TIMES FOR ALL.
Later we went to Rendezvous to play canasta. People were dressed up for formal night, so we decided to have dinner in the buffet again and then dress up afterwards if I felt up to it. I was able to eat some salad and Indian food again and felt slightly better, so we changed and then headed to Revelations, the lounge at the very top of the ship, for Motown night. The band was really great, and I was happy to sit and do nothing and be distracted from being so sick.
I only made it til 11pm that night, which was almost a stretch anyway. Thank god Matt is a good sport… he insists that he doesn’t mind if I have to go back to the cabin and feel crappy! I’d brought along Sea Bands from my parents, so I put those on my wrists and took a Dramamine before bed. That at least made it so I was able to sleep through the night.
On our first visit to Barbados, we had intentions of going to the beach. We saw Bridgetown, visited the Mount Gay distillery, and then planned to go to the beach after lunch. Those plans were derailed when I left my camera in a cab going to lunch. Thankfully I got it back, but we never made it to the beach. I aimed to fix that this time.
We got up early, got breakfast and an excellent cappuccino from the coffee cafe (another big improvement on this cruise), and then went down to get on the shuttle bus in port. That dropped us at the pier shops, which you have to wind your way through in order to make it outside. From there, it was a short walk to the taxi stand. They piled everyone heading to a certain location in a minibus – Matt and I got the cramped front seat with our driver Roberts – and we were off to Rockley Beach (otherwise known as Accra).
I was feeling much better than the previous day, thanks to Dramamine and my Sea Bands (which I only wore overnight). I was still dizzy, but at least didn’t feel nauseous constantly.
We drove through Bridgetown, where Roberts confirmed that Big John’s, the awesome roti place where I discovered the loss of my camera, had indeed closed. Sigh. We dropped some people off at one stop south of town, and then headed onward to Rockley. There were some older Brits in the back, and all one of them did was ask semi-uncomfortable questions about the differences between England and its former Caribbean holding. He also complained about the price of everything, including the cab ride, which I thought was pretty reasonable at $15/couple.
Our driver dropped us at the Tiki Bar, and made arrangements to pick us up at 3:15.The deal there is you pay $30 for two chairs and an umbrella, and you get $40 (Bajan, which is $2-t0-$1 USD) ‘tiki bucks’ to use at the bar. Since we had no other plans besides beach and beer, that sounded fine to us. Plus the place was nearly empty when we arrived. We got chairs and a couple of Banks and hung out looking at the ocean.
I could look at this forever. It’s amazing.
We went for a swim after a while, and discovered there’s a sand bar a ways out that you can swim to. From there we were able to walk most of the way down toward the other end of the beach. We hung out in the water for a really long time, and then retired to our chairs again for more Banks. The Bajans are proud of their local beer because the reef-filtered water is so different from the volcanic water on the other islands, and for good reason: it’s delicious. We started ordering them in fours at the bar, because it was just easier.
After a while we went to swim again, and then switched to their delicious rum punch. I wanted to stay there longer, but Roberts started milling around the bar around 3pm. We went to use their bathrooms-in-a-cave one last time, and then climbed in the van. The Brits for some reason hadn’t used their tiki bucks up, so they were rushing to use them while a group of us sat waiting in the van. I was not a huge fan of them, but at least it started raining on them while they were still outside.
In the van, we ended up talking to a lady who was on the British P&O Oceana ship in port. She said she was in the middle of a 28-day cruise from Southhampton that was delayed for a few days because the weather was too bad to leave port. I felt like we got really lucky with just a blizzard!
Roberts dropped us at port. It was too late to go back into town, so we got a Mount Gay and coke at Coconuts, the bar at the dock where we’d previously celebrated having recovered my camera. We hung out there for a bit, eavesdropping on dumb girls. There was a wedding that had just taken place, apparently involving people from the Oceana, who got an ovation when they wandered into the bar. Awesome.
We headed into the port shops to look for interesting duty-free liquor (they had nothing special), souvenirs, and snacks. We got a set of the same awesome Banks dominoes we’d brought back for my father-in-law last time, because they’re the best; they have a little metal tack in the center that makes them slide well, and they’re really heavy. We picked up some snacks from the grocery store, including a pack of Go Ahead, because they’re my favorite British snack.
We ended up on one of the last shuttles back to the ship, around 5pm. We watched sailaway from our balcony, then took showers.
We then headed to Rendezvous to play canasta again before dinner. It was finally time to act like civilized people and have dinner in the main dining room, so we went down there about 7:30 and had hardly any wait for a two-person table. (The change in the way dining works on cruises the past few years is my favorite… it works like a regular restaurant now. You don’t have to show up at a fixed time and sit at a big table with strangers if you don’t want to.)
I had a porcini mushroom napoleon that was incredible, and really good potato masala curry. Matt had scallop crudo, French onion soup, a ribeye and red wine. We were way too full for dessert.
After dinner, we headed to the martini bar. We’d expected to find it packed – it was by far the most popular bar on the ship – but we had no trouble getting seats at the bar. This was another of the newly-redone spots, and it was great. The bartenders did flair, things like pouring 7 small cocktails from stacked shaker glasses all at the same time, and they were adorable. Also, the bartop was frozen… it was cold metal that they drenched with water, so it frosted over completely. It was a great setup. Their drinks were excellent, too!
The couple we’d met from Pittsburgh showed up, so we re-introduced ourselves again, as we’d of course all forgotten each others’ names. We ended up talking to them for a long time, and realized we have a ton in common. They even got married in Key West, and talked about moving there too!
They headed to bed, so we decided to do the same. After grabbing a to-go Manhattan, of course. We had them on our balcony, and then went to bed.
Tuesday was Matt’s 35th birthday!! We got up early since we had a date with a catamaran at 8:15. Getting up to this view from the balcony was pretty excellent.
Since we were in a hurry we’d pre-ordered room service breakfast the night before. While many of the room service items (and delivery) are free, we had $150 on-board credit to burn, so we went all-out for his birthday. I got a truffle omelet (I’ve seriously never seen so many truffles in one place before), and Matt got a salmon and caviar omelet. We ate on the balcony overlooking Castries.
After breakfast, we got off the ship and met up with our tour group. This was our only pre-arranged excursion through Celebrity, so I kind of forgot how it works. You all stand in huge lines waiting for people to show up, and then you usually pile on a huge bus to wherever you’re going. (It’s not that appealing.) Thankfully, our catamaran was docked nearby so we could walk there. We hopped on board, and got a seat around the netting at the front.
My seasickness was definitely less than the first couple days, but it was still always there. I felt a constant sense of motion no matter where we were, and it was exhausting. Still, I was in the Caribbean. That makes everything better.
We headed out of the bay where Castries is located, and turned south. The crew told us a lot of interesting facts along the way, including some strange things about the history of the oil-storage (not production or processing) industry in St Lucia. It was entertaining.
Our first visit was to Marigot Bay. It was gorgeous! It’s a very narrow bay, lined with resorts, restaurants, and docks.
I decided I should probably own this bar. (I like any bar you can boat to.)
This was the Sandals resort, which I tried not to judge too hard because it looked super-nice. Plus, you know, I arrived on a cruise ship, so it’s basically like a floating Sandals resort. Hopefully without all the swingers.
We sailed around in the bay for a bit, and then headed back out and south again. After a while, we turned into a smaller cove with a beach, called Anse de Cochon (i.e. Pig Beach). I don’t recall why it was called that… something about wild pigs, I’m guessing? Anyway, there were a couple other catamarans there with people swimming and snorkeling.
We pulled up near the beach, and the crew threw the rope to a couple of the locals, who tied us off to a tree. Then the locals all jumped in their kayaks and paddled out to the boat to sell their wares (mostly turtle trinkets, bead bracelets, and every purchase came with a free coconut). They paddled around the swimmers, too. So funny.
Matt and I went to swim for a while, and the water was surprisingly cold for how far south we were. We did a loop around the boat, then hung out bobbing in the water and watching the hardcore snorkelers.
After a while, we all climbed back up the stairs onto the boat. The kayakers took their boats out of the water, and untied us from the palm tree. Then the captain announced that the bar was open, with free rum punch and beer.
So you can imagine how it went after that. It was awesome. Here are a bunch of Minnesotans we met, taking full advantage of the rum punch. (We did too.)
Bally chilled on the cargo net.
We headed south again. The crew pointed out Soufriere, one of the main tourist spots in St. Lucia, nestled amongst the hills. It was clearly a former volcanic valley.
Along the way, we spotted a gigantic sea turtle and pilot whales jumping in front of the boat. So awesome!
Next up was the main attraction: Gros and Petit Piton. I’d wanted to see them since we first started visiting the Caribbean. They’re a UNESCO World Heritage site, and they’re really incredibly impressive.
I took about 400 pictures of them; rum punch may have been a factor. I’ll spare you and just post the one here.
The boat turned to head back to Castries, so Matt and I turned around and hung our legs over the side so we could see the coast. There was plenty of rum punch going around, and we got to talking to an old lady who really wanted to tell Matt everything about her life. We noticed we were starting to get sunburnt, so we put on more sunscreen (we’d been really good with the SPF30 so far, or at least that’s what we thought).
We arrived back in Castries around 12:30 or so, and decided to stop back on the ship quickly to change and reapply sunscreen, and get a gigantic bottle of water for the walk into town. We did that quickly, then got back off the ship in search of food and shopping. It took a bit to get through the cruise port (in that area with the red rooftops on the left), but we escaped and headed down the road. We asked someone for directions to an ATM so we could get Eastern Caribbean Dollars, and they pointed the way into town.
There was a shortcut through what appeared to be the fishing docks, and a guy there asked us if we wanted to buy water. (It was a million degrees out, or so it felt.) We said we preferred rum, so he took us into a little shack of a shop that looked to be abandoned. There was a lady behind a counter, who apparently didn’t have rum but could sell us a couple Pitons (the local beer). We asked if we could take them with us on the road, and she said yes. (I’m still not sure it was actually legal, but whatever.) We got them in plastic cups and headed toward town.
Coincidentally, it was also St. Lucia’s 35th birthday!
We walked to the bank that had been pointed out for us and got EC$ from the ATM, then noticed a big open-air ‘sports bar’ restaurant nearby with three different names on it. (That’s how you know things in the Caribbean are good.) We went up to the window by the kitchen and I asked the lady if she had anything vegetarian; she said she could do rice and peas with a salad, and that was good enough for me. They didn’t have a full order of jerk chicken left, so Matt got a plate with the remaining pieces and some curry goat.
The food was excellent, and we got a couple more Pitons at the bar. They had semi-functional wifi there, so we took advantage of our first phone signal in a few days.
After lunch, we walked over to the craft market nearby. As we walked in, there was a pair of Americans sitting on a bench in the shade, looking exhausted. They held out a baggie with a couple aloe leaves in it, saying, “We bought this and can’t use it all, do you want it?” We very gladly took it, since we were burnt to a near-crisp at that point.
We found a lady in the market with a spice stand, and bought half of what she was selling. We refreshed our nutmeg stash (the huge collection we had from Grenada was aging), got some tamarind, hot sauce, peppercorns, and various other things from her. Then Matt wanted to check out the local rum selection, so we were standing there wondering where we should go for that when a guy came up with a rolling cart full of water and soda, and asked if we needed anything. We bought water, and asked him where we could find a nearby liquor or grocery store for rum.
Not only did he show us the nearest one, he took us there, along with his rolling beverage cart. He led us across the street to the grocery store (he said it would be the cheapest spot… we took his word for it) and brought us to the rum aisle. We thanked him and gave him a tip, and he headed out. The store was air conditioned, so I thought about standing in there forever. Instead we picked out some Chairman’s Reserve Forgotten Casks (seriously, they had a fire at the distillery in 2007 and lost several barrels, only to discover them later and bottle them), which was indeed REALLY cheap locally.
It was getting late and the sunburn was really starting to hurt, so we headed back toward the ship again. We cut through the fisheries complex and went back to the port, then stopped in a few shops there to get the required souvenirs. I was really excited about the fact that we had fresh aloe to cover ourselves with as soon as we got back to our cabin.
We did that, and then covered ourselves with sheets and blankets to keep the sun off us, because it was streaming full into the cabin. No, I don’t know why we didn’t just close the curtain. Sometimes these things don’t make sense. Matt had certain feelings to express to the sun as he hid under a robe:
We’d also arrived in our cabin to find a bottle of wine and plate of shimp for Matt’s birthday, from our cabin steward Socorro. It’s possible that Matt laid in bed with the shrimp plate and drank directly out of the bottle of wine, but I’ll never tell. Socorro had also arranged some towel swans on the bed. Bally was a fan.
We watched sailaway from our balcony, and then showered and got dressed up for dinner. We had reservations that night at Normandie, the fancy Titanic-themed (I know) restaurant. We’d had dinner there before, and it was excellent.
They didn’t seem to have quite as much in the way of vegetarian food this time (or were just slightly less accommodating), but I was happy regardless: I had a really good mushroom risotto, then a goat cheese souffle. Of course there was a pile of bread always at the ready, and we had good champagne to drink. I couldn’t even finish the souffle; while it was excellent, it was so rich I couldn’t handle it any more. (That concerned our waiter, so I had to reassure him that I was fine.) Matt decided to go super-oldschool with Dover sole, which they delivered to the table on a rolling cart. The server prepared it tableside, removing the bones with two giant serving spoons, rather than knives. It was incredible.
We were stuffed after those dishes, and figured we’d manage to make room for their awesome tiny dessert assortment. (Since I’m not really a sweets-eater, I like any time I can taste desserts without wasting a bunch of them.) But then the cheese cart arrived, and it was basically a small deli case full of amazing things. I picked out one cheese, and the guy talked me into three of them. He then made a plate with honey, dried fruit, nuts, and various other things before handing it over. Holy crap.
And then the birthday cake arrived. We didn’t know about or expect the birthday cake, but there it was: a big 6″ square chocolate thing with candles in it and ‘Happy Birthday’ on top. Matt did a good job of being appreciative, because we were dying of fullness. After he blew out the candles, they took the cake away, cut it in half, and brought it back for us to eat. Then they brought the tall tray of dessert appetizers, and finally the tiny desserts we were actually expecting. It was dessert torture. I mean, you definitely get your $40 worth out of the meal, but holy crap. It would take six people to eat the entire meal we had. And everything was great.
After dinner, we tried to get into the theater for the burlesque show, but it was totally full already. Instead we decided to just grab a beer at Michael’s Club and go back to our room to hang out for the evening. Between the gigantic meal, the sunburn and my seasickness, we were exhausted. We ended up watching trick-shot pool on one of the sports channels, which I then fitfully dreamed about all night. I finally woke up enough to take a dramamine and ibuprofin for my sunburn, and was able to sleep after that.
Between the seasickness, the painful sunburn, and the overnight storm we rode though, I didn’t sleep very well again. We got up at 9 and went up to breakfast, which included my traditional gruel (mueslix) and a mini-croissant with cheese. The coffee in the buffet was so bad we decided it was called Maxwell’s Foreclosure. Blech. (Thank god for Cafe al Bacio, with their excellent espresso drinks.)
It was raining quite a bit when we left, and a lady in the elevator said the ship was refunding pre-booked excursions. People who had just gotten off the ship were all huddled under tents waiting for the rain to stop, but we were prepared with our umbrellas. We walked through the cruise port part of St John’s, looking for something resembling a cab stand. Eventually a guy approached us asking if we wanted a tour, and I told him we just needed a taxi to Nelson’s Dockyard. He told us there wasn’t much to see there, maybe only an hour’s worth at the museum, and that we should take a tour. I insisted that we just wanted a ride there, and finally he agreed to take us for $40. That was higher than other islands, but it was also a lot farther.
On the way, he told us about Antiguan history, and a lot about their local dishes. Matt and I made mental notes. They use pumpkin a lot, which was really interesting. In other respects it was very similar to Trini food.
By the time we reached Nelson’s Dockyard, the rain had stopped. We paid $16 admission, and asked about an ATM, since we didn’t have enough cash for a cab back. The lady at the desk said there was one in the market at the entrance, so we stopped into the booth. We both tried our Schwab debit cards, and the machine said it could not service our request at that time. That made us a little nervous, because we hadn’t had trouble at the ATM elsewhere. We decided to look for another one, or stop back later.
Nelson’s Dockyard is really incredibly scenic.
The weather had become perfect, though it meant we had to be really vigilant about sunscreen and shade with our sunburnts. We were just on the edge of being sick from them already. We decided to head to the museum first.
I feel like we’ve seen about 20 different British naval exhibits at this point (thanks to my nerdy husband), but it was still really interesting to hear how miserable island life was. Between the heat, humidity, bugs, and tropical diseases, I’m shocked anyone survived.
They had some pretty excellent old artifacts, including this set of wooden doors with soldiers’ names carved into them.
This was my favorite: “England expects that every man will do his duty.” Especially you, Antiguans whose country they stole!
There’s a wraparound patio on the upper level of the museum so you can overlook most of the complex. In the back there’s a little bakery:
From the museum, we went to wander around the grounds. There are docks encircling the whole peninsula, full of an incredible number of expensive yachts. We tried to figure out how many of them were charters or for hire, and how many private. There were definitely lots of both. Also, there was a mansion on a little island in the bay:
Bally had his obligatory cannon hangout there, too. (We also reapplied sunscreen at this cannon. It was critical.)
We decided to have some time in the shade at one of the bars along the marina (which also used to be part of the complex). We got a couple Wadadli, the national beer of Antigua, and hung out. I liked that even though it was a historic site, it still had writing all over the ceiling from past visitors. (While we were there, a group of women piled off a yacht and came in to climb on a chair and add their names.)
A bananaquit came to say hi while we were there, too.
It was unclear whether they had food there, and we didn’t feel like asking, so we decided to wander over to one of the other spots in the dockyard. We took the route along the marina, gawking at all the yachts. They were incredible, and it drove me crazy to not know all their stories.
We came across a small restaurant that I initially thought just served ice cream, based on the signs. Then I noticed a menuboard out front that listed roti! We went in and asked if they had vegetarian roti, and they did. Then it was officially my favorite day. Wadadli and roti for lunch, while hanging out watching yachting people do their thing.
After lunch, we walked over to give the ATM a try again. I got the same message, which made us officially nervous, since we’d have to get a cabbie who was willing to take us to an ATM so he could get paid, and what if we couldn’t get cash? Then I thought to try choosing ‘savings’ instead of ‘checking’, even though I only have a checking account at Schwab. That worked!!! We both got out some more EC$, and could then relax about the trip back. We headed back out to the dockyard to wander some more.
I’m not sure why the taxi driver had told us there was nothing to see there. There was a ton, and we’d barely scratched the service. There were a couple nicer restaurants, shops, and all the waterfront activities. There’s even a hotel there. It was really pretty, and I wish we’d had more time.
This is the side entrance to the hotel:
It was getting late in the afternoon, it was really hot, and the place was definitely emptying of tourists, so we decided to get a cab back. We could tell it was past tourist time, too, because it took us a while to get a driver.
This is one of the very old churches we saw along the way. I want to see more of Antigua.
Our driver dropped us back in St John, at the entrance to the duty-free area that every cruise port has. We stopped into a liquor store and got a bottle of English Harbour, and since we had some EC$ left and a bit of time to kill, we found a table at a bar a block from the ship called Cheers (of course). That’s where everyone from the three ships at the dock was sitting, too, but as long as we had a table and some barely-functional wifi, I didn’t mind. Presidenta and rum punch helped, too. Also, the place was run by a Syrian family, and we really wanted to know the story with that.
This white-rasta-jesus-looking dude was out dancing on the street and posing for pictures, then he came in for a beer. Haha.
Close to boarding time, we decided to head to the ship. There was an actual line of people down the block, all waiting to reboard. I’ve never seen that before.
We went to our room to clean up, then headed upstairs for pizza and a drink for Marlon’s bar, which we took back down to the cabin for sailaway.
We’d showered off our sunscreen, so we did our best to protect ourselves from further sunburn. Matt made himself look like an invalid. (I’m still laughing about it, too.)
I made a tent from my sarong and hung out under it. How cute are those sad octopi?? I love them.
Antigua was probably the most scenic island to sail away from in the sunset. I really want to see more than just the ‘former British colony’ part of it.
Once we were out to sea, we went down to the martini bar. It was shockingly uncrowded again…shocking because it’s a legitimately good bar. We also needed caffeine, so I ended up with the trifecta of awesome beverages.
We hung out watching Ivo and Neuman work their flair magic for a while, then headed to dinner in the main dining room. We got seated right away at table one, so obviously we were very important. I had broccoli soup and another really excellent Indian dish, and Matt had crab cakes and Cajun drumfish. We split creme brulee for dessert, and then went down to Michael’s Club for their scheduled Scotch tasting.
As far as we could tell, we were the only ones there for the tasting, which was fine with us. We had Highland Park 2001, Macallan Makers Edition, and Glenlivet 12. We hung out for a while after that chatting with the bartenders (they’d become our favorites since we spent most of our time in there), and then grabbed a to-go Manhattan to take to the room, so we could go sit on our balcony and enjoy the stars.
I felt terrible again Thursday morning, because of the seasickness. The Sea Bands were helping me sleep, but they had no effect on the head-spinning exhaustion during the day. I ate a very small breakfast of gruel, and we stopped at Cafe al Bacio for cappuccinos before getting off the ship.
There were six ships in port that day, something we didn’t even think possible. They were the Holland America Eurodam, which we’d sailed on in the Mediterranean (it was pretty exciting to see it again), a second Celebrity ship, Princess, MSC, and one of those gigantic Royal Caribbean ships. Which meant at least 12,000 tourists were wandering around the island that day. That’s kind of incredible.
We walked through the port shops to the taxi stand, which was of course a gigantic mess. We found the line for cabs to Maho Beach, and waited there for 20 minutes or so because a van showed up for us. We piled in, and it started raining almost immediately. The driver tore up and down hills and through towns on the way there, and it was all I could do to not throw up all over the place. I was glad I had a gigantic bottle of water along with me.
The driver dropped a group of people at Mullet Bay first, which was at the end of a potholed road through a golf course. Then he headed back to Maho Beach and dropped the rest of us at Sunset Bar and Grill. As expected, there were people everywhere, and I doubted we’d find anywhere to sit. However, the place is gigantic, so we were able to get sets right at the bar. We ordered a couple rum and Cokes, and went to check the flight arrivals on their board.
I had learned of Maho Beach after our first visit to St Maarten, and I was really excited to go back and see it. I remember seeing the first photos of it and thinking they had to be photoshopped, because that couldn’t possibly be real. But no, there’s a tiny beach at the end of the airport runway that regularly has huge jets landing. The largest ones are those coming from Europe, obviously.
There’s a road separating the beach from the airport fence, with constant taxi traffic and people walking back and forth (especially on such a busy tourist day). There’s the Sunset Bar at one end and the Driftwood Boat Bar at the other, and the beach is packed with people swimming and watching for planes. When they’re arriving, everyone lines up with their cameras, and when they’re leaving, the brave (or stupid) people cross the street and cling to the fence. When the planes fire up their engines for takeoff, they get blown across the street and down the beach. Then everyone has to scramble into the ocean to retrieve whatever items got blown in there by the jet blast.
So I’d read all of that, and thought it was hilarious, and that I had to see it. I didn’t realize just how incredibly great it would be.
While the bigger jets didn’t come in til afternoon, there were small planes landing constantly.
We had another drink, then decided to get an appetizer. Our plan was to hang out there for a while and then walk over to have lunch at the resort across the beach, so we figured we’d do that a bit later. There were planes to see, after all.
It rained really hard a few times, and everyone came in to huddle in the bar. We were under the shelter (which made our sunburns happy), so we were already in a good spot. We ate and sat around watching for incoming planes. It was easy to figure out when they were coming despite the umbrellas in the way, because everyone would get out their cameras.
Around 1pm, the big jets started to come in. Delta was first, and it BLEW MY MIND. It was fantastic, and everyone cheered as it landed.
The sun came out, and it was gorgeous outside. We had another round of drinks and waited for the Sun Country plane.
The Delta plane turned around at the gate pretty quickly, and went back to the runway to take off. People clung to the fence for their lives, and a lot of them ran across the street propelled by the jet blast. (It gave me fond memories of being blown out the doors at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. RIP.) Other people lost their hats in the ocean and had to run after them. I was laughing hysterically. It was the best.
Then an American flight came in, and I got video of it. I’ve only watched this twenty times already.
There was a while until the AirFrance jet arrived, and at that point we knew we had to see it. We decided we might as well just commit to spending the day there, and ordered lunch. I was glad they had a veggie burger on the menu. (It was really good, too!) A band set up on stage and started playing reggae, so it was basically my favorite place ever. Beach, rum, good food, and reggae… that’s all you need, right? That goofy Captain Morgan statue didn’t hurt, either.
Then it was time for the big plane. We could tell it was coming in because there was a mass rush to the edge of the patio. I’d never been so excited for a plane to land… at least, a plane I wasn’t on at the time.
It was awesome.
Then it was time to head back to Philipsburg, because we wanted to do some shopping and hopefully revisit Juggie’s Place. We found a cab driver wandering around the bar, and he gathered up a few more passengers before leading us to his van. Along the way, he kept trying to poach fares from other drivers. It was really entertaining, but the other drivers weren’t thrilled about it.
He dropped us in the center of town, and we set off to wander (after reapplying a heavy coat of sunscreen). The only directions I had for Juggie’s Place read “by Diamonds International”, which seemed like enough until I noticed they had Diamonds International on every third block. We knew it was in a courtyard off an alley and figured we’d recognize it, so we walked down Front Street peering down every side street along the way.
We didn’t find it going one direction, so we turned and went back the other way. Still nothing, and I was getting really worn out. (Stupid seasickness.) We decided to stop into a duty-free liquor store to see what we could find there.
They had a massive collection of scotch, and there were a few rums we’d never even seen before. We sampled and picked up a bottle of HSE rum aged in sherry casks from Martinique there, and they wrapped it up for us to take back. We then decided to just go find a place to sit at along the boardwalk, since we couldn’t find Juggies.
Our ship was the last to leave that evening; we had a departure of 6pm, whereas most of the rest of them were 4:30 or 5. That meant the town was fairly empty at that point, and it was interesting to watch the locals closing things up. I remember what it was like being in Bermuda after the cruise ships left… it felt like a ghost town for a bit until local life resumed.
We got mojitos at the Blue Bitch Bar, and sat facing the ocean. The bartender was really entertaining. We hung out there watching people pass by, and then the rain started up again and everyone scrambled. (The bartender had a good point… why do people come running out of the ocean and try to hide when it rains? That’s the best place to be, isn’t it?)
Finally it was time to go, so we walked over to the water taxi stop and rode to the cruise port to board the ship. A few of the other ships had already left at that point.
We stopped at the martini bar for the drink, then went up to the room for sailaway on the balcony, followed by a shower. On the way out of port, we could see the end of the runway and the beach where we’d spent the day.
Later, we went up to Marlon’s for a caipirinha, then went to get dinner at the buffet. I had my usual salad bar and Indian food, because they didn’t have a lot of variety. (I was fine with that.) We then got seats at Rendevous to watch the Latin band. They were fantastic, as were the dancers – we had a few really good salsa dancers on board, apparently. That was followed by karaoke, which we were pretty excited to see until we realized just how godawful some of the singers were. It was so bad it wasn’t even funny, so we decided to move on.
Around 9:30, we headed to Michael’s Club again. There were a ton of Canadians at the bar (as usual), and we saw our Pittsburgh friends hanging out on the deck smoking. We hung out talking to them, and ordered beers. The bartenders seemed to be in an especially good mood that night, handing out snacks and a bunch of Chimay samples.
Round about 11:30, it was time for bed. We had to be up early for St Thomas the next day!
7am came way too early, despite our fairly early evening. It had been a week, and my seasickness was pretty much a permanent fixture at that point. It’s exhausting.
We’d at least planned ahead and ordered breakfast in the room, so we ate quickly, showered, and prepared. Our goal was to make the 9am water taxi at Red Hook, and we knew that would mean rushing off the ship. It was 8:15 by the time we disembarked, and Matt thought there was no way we should even bother hurrying at that point. I wanted to try, though, so we headed off in a hurry.
It had been pouring for a few minutes, and when the rain started to let up there was a huge double rainbow over the harbor in Charlotte Amalie. We left the port and headed through the duty-free shopping area, which was all closed since it was so early. We finally saw a parking lot full of really large taxi-shuttles, so I walked over and asked if we could get a ride to Red Hook. They put us in the backseat of the cab of a truck that had a penned-in bench area full of cruise people in the back, and headed off.
The lady driving the truck was in a HURRY. Which was awesome, because she knew we were in a huge hurry, too. I felt bad for the people in the back, though… we were seatbelted into an enclosed area, and they were sliding around on wooden benches in the back while she tore up and down hills, around tight curves, and slammed on the brakes repeatedly. But she got us to Red Hook in under 20 minutes, and we were just barely there in time for the ferry. I almost puked from seasickness and the ride, but that was fine.
We found Jessie (my former coworker) and her wife Kate in the ferry terminal. They were there on their honeymoon, so we’d planned to meet them and go over to St John. That worked out well!
We hopped on the ferry and were at the dock in Cruz Bay in 15 minutes. That was far preferable to the 45-minute ride from Charlotte Amalie, on the 10am ferry. (It runs hourly from Red Hook, and only a couple times a day from Charlotte Amalie.) We had plans to go pick up some beer and head to the beach, so we walked into town to find a grocery store. We couldn’t find one (despite the town being very tiny), but a local pointed us in the right direction. We picked up St John Brewers beer, plus some SPF 50 sunscreen so we didn’t fry again.
Kate said they’d been there the previous day to do some scouting, and found a beach that was a 5-minute walk. We figured we’d take a cab to Trunk Bay, but that sounded fine to us. We set off toward the entrance to the National Park (the island is almost entirely park) , and Kate led us to a trail head. It promptly turned into an actual dirt and gravel hiking trail.
We climbed up a hill over rocks, and at that point I was questioning this decision. I was so seasick that it was all I could do to stay upright, and we were both wearing flipflops. I figured it would only be five minutes, though, so that was fine.
Twenty minutes later, we got to the sign pointing down a steep hill to the beach. Our water was gone, but at least we had beer. We climbed down carefully and found Solomon Beach. It was nearly empty.
We set up in a shady spot under a tree, and sat there on the beach talking for a good long time with our beers. I started to feel less like throwing up as soon as I sat down. Seasickness is definitely NOT my favorite thing in the world.
After a while, Matt and I went to snorkel near the rocks. Then we all hung out in the ocean for a while, until we finally agreed it was time for lunch.
The hike back didn’t seem as arduous, but I still really wish we had water. We’re generally prepared, but the hike had been a surprise! Kate seemed fine, though:
We climbed back down to the visitor center, where I was perturbed to find a nonfunctioning drinking fountain. We headed into town for lunch, in search of St John Brewers. We found their brewpub on the second floor of a little mall.
I couldn’t decide if I was more excited for air conditioning or water, but I enjoyed the hell out of both (plus their beer). We had lunch there, then went downstairs to their gift shop for some souvenirs.
We still had a bit of time to kill before we had to be back on the ferry to St Thomas, so we went to a bar in Cruz Bay that they’d been to before. It was right on the beach, and we could see the ferry dock from there so we were unlikely to miss it. On the way there, we ran into our friends from Pittsburgh, who had come over on the ferry from Charlotte Amalie with the cruise excursion.
We had drinks there, watching people load up the ferry. Then we realized how late it was getting, and it was time to hurry. We said goodbye to Jessie and Kate, because they’d decided to stay til the next ferry. Matt and I boarded, and went up to the top to get the seats with a view. Probably not a great idea with the sunburn, but it was nice being up there.
Back at Red Hook, we piled into cabs back to port. I ended up in the back seat next to a couple from Georgia. The husband was hilarious, and kept wanting to talk about rum because he’d drank so many of them in St John. His wife kept shushing him, telling him he was bothering me. He wasn’t at all; it was good entertainment for the ride back.
We ran into traffic heading into town (the traffic we’d been warned about, that could make your ride to Red Hook take 45 minutes instead of 20). The driver dropped us at the duty-free shops, which were once again mostly closed because the ship was leaving soon. We walked back to the dock.
This is all I’ve seen of Charlotte Amalie in my two visits to St Thomas. I’m sure it’s a nice town, but there are way more awesome things in the USVI!
We boarded the ship with a six-pack of St John Brewers beers, figuring they’d probably take them from us and then we could bring them to Vieques. They didn’t even care, though, so we took them to the room and had one for sailaway.
It was a little sad leaving the Virgin Islands because it was our last night on the cruise. At the same time, I was sick to death of feeling like crap from the seasickness, so I was excited to be on land again. It helped that we had the post-trip planned, so we didn’t have to go home right away.
We showered and started packing our bags, because they had to be ready for the porters by 11pm. It was a long, involved process due to the many breakable souvenirs, including three bottles of rum. We took a break after a while and went to have snack in the buffet (I had a salad), then got a drink at the pool bar to take back to the room. We finished packing, then went up to Marlon’s bar to play dominoes.
After a while, we went down to dinner one last time in the main dining room. The meal was fine, but they seemed totally half-assed about everything since it was the last night. Our bread had no butter, Matt got the wrong entree, and service was slow. We didn’t really care, though. The food was mostly fine.
We stopped at our room to put our bags in the hall, then went to the martini bar for one last cocktail there. We sat around watching the awesome flair bartenders, and then headed to Michaels Club, where of course we found our Pittsburgh friends waiting.
Matt had been eyeing the Yamazaki the entire cruise, and he’d decided he was going to have it on the last night. (It was something like $45.) I had a Fin Du Monde while he had that, and we all got to taste it. When we went to close out, the bartender neglected to charge us for it. I’m not sure that was intentional, but it really seemed that way.
We exchanged contact info with our new pals, got a to-go Manhattan for the room, and headed to bed.