On January 19, 24 of us met in the parking lot of U Can Dance, www.ucandancestlouis.com.
We pushed and shoved our luggage for a seven day cruise into several vans and an SUV. We then formed a convoy and headed down I-55 to New Orleans. The lead vehicle was driven by a police officer who set his cruise control to 80.
We arrived in Hammond, LA, at dark-time. Our van decided to check into the hotel first before meeting the others at dinner. Due to a communication error, we ended up at La Quinta Hotel instead of the Quality Inn. You should have seen the look on the clerk's face as we staggered into the lobby, punch-drunk from 10 hours of driving, hungry, and laden with luggage like mules.
Then you should have seen the looks on our faces as the clerk told us he had no reservation for U Can Dance! A phone call and short drive later, we checked into our lovely hotel.
Some of us went across the street to Don's Famous Seafood Restaurant. There we had seafood chowder and my friend, Arlene, picked up some crayons (pertinent later in the story).We slept soundly. After a hot breakfast at the hotel, we headed into New Orleans across the I-10 causeway.
We arrived in the French Quarter on Sunday morning: streets were clean from the Krewes' parades the night before and the Quarter was already going full blast with bars, music, and souvenir shops. When we got to Jackson Square, my friend turned left while the rest of the group turned right.
The group was soon asking, "Where's Waldo?" because my friend was wearing a red and blue striped top and had disappeared into the crowd. Thankfully we re-united at the cruise ship dock, but the nickname, "Waldo", stuck for the rest of the week.
After check-in we carried our luggage on board (a valuable tip to you future cruisers) and immediately headed to the free buffet. At 5:00p.m. sharp, our ship, The Norwegian "Star", pulled out into the Mississippi River. A few hours later we were in the Gulf of Mexico heading South.
We had our mandatory safety drill, called mustering. I skipped the Magic Show, Photos with the Captain, the "Band-on-the-Run" performance, and on-board Mardi Gras parade by the staff. Instead I went to bed, gently rocked by the waves and slept soundly.
Next day, January 21 was a full day at sea. The Star has tag-lines of "Cruise like a Norwegian" and "The Happy Ship". There are small signs all over the boat, like "Norwegians use chopsticks" in the Japanese Restaurant and then there is a daily newsletter with an itinerary for all of the entertainment, like "Second City".