We be cruisin'.

Over Valentine's Day weekend, we took a little trip. We returned from our mid-winter getaway on the Tuesday after V-Day. And boy did we come home to a rude awakening... no longer was a light jacket enough (or short sleeves, for that matter!), we had to break out the heavy winter gear!

We headed down to New Orleans the Thursday before to catch our cruise ship out of town. Our flight left super early, so we rolled out of the house at a little after 4am. We were actually pretty well prepared to leave the house on time, except for the fact that when I took the trash out, I discovered that the wind had blown our recycling all over our yard. And we are big recyclers. Of course we couldn't leave for a week and leave all that crap strewn everywhere, so we had to run around and pick all of that up before we could set out.

When we arrived in New Orleans, the plan was to hop a cab to the cruise terminal, drop off our bags, then maybe walk around for a bit. We collected our bags and headed outside, where I told the taxi dispatcher where we were headed. She radioed the cab, and he pulled up and loaded us in. And then the problems began. He asked where we were going, I said, "we're going to the cruise terminal." "What's the street address?" he said.

Uh, say wha? Is there more than one cruise terminal in this town?! I didn't bother to get the street address. I thought any taxi driver in New Orleans would know exactly where to take someone departing on a cruise. Apparently I was wrong.

Our driver did not speak English very well, so the next few minutes were a mess. I tried a few different ways of telling him where to go, but he just KEPT asking for the street address. Finally I called Sharon, a co-worker who I hoped would be at her desk, and asked her to look it up for me. And even on the effing Port of New Orleans website, there was no STREET ADDRESS. The place is on PORT OF NEW ORLEANS WAY for god's sake! I was pissed, and Bryan was in the seat next to me trying to get me to keep myself together and not go off on our little foreign cab driver. Sharon got on google maps and found the cross street, and he nodded his assent that he knew where Julia Street was. So I got off the phone with Sharon, and I'm like, dude, do you KNOW where we're going? And he says, "What is the hotel name?"

Holy hell.

Bryan stepped in at this point and said "Carnival Cruise, we're not going to a hotel." And the man said, "Well that's all you had to say, yes, Carnival Cruise. Okay."

I couldn't believe it. He doesn't know where to take us if we say "cruise terminal" but "Carnival cruise" works?! Oh. My. God.

Finally we arrived at the (only) cruise terminal. We handed over our bags and went wandering around until it was time to board. I was reminded how much I love New Orleans. Sure, there are parts that aren't so pretty, but the riverwalk is so nice...

We got on the ship and had some lunch, and then went to our room for the muster drill, where they make everyone get their life jackets and go to your muster station, where you would gather if the boat was sinking. Because it would certainly not be chaos if that was happening. Then it was time to set sail!

The next couple of days passed in a very similar fashion: wake up, eat breakfast, lay by pool, eat lunch, lay by pool/check out activities in main lounge, change for dinner, eat dinner, go to show/wander around. A completely relaxing vacation, where you don't have too many choices to make and everything is pretty much ready for you whenever you want it! :)

Our one port was Cozumel. We spent Valentine's Day there, and Bryan and I decided to do a mini jeep tour with snorkeling. Or "mini-yeeps" as our Mexican tour guides called them. :) The guides took us to the lot where all of the yeeps were parked, and we loaded in and headed for Punta Sur, a beautiful park with a road alongside the Cozumel coastline. It was a beautiful, warm day. We got to see a small Mayan ruin (damn, those Mayans were smart), some saltwater crocodiles and (I think) the oldest lighthouse on the island. We even stopped off for an authentic Mexican snack--chips and salsa! Yum!!

We were originally supposed to snorkel at Punta Sur, but the water wasn't clear there, so they took us to another spot for the snorkeling. We saw some cool stuff, and our guides fed the fish, which created an interesting frenzy. Lucky for me they were almost done eating before I realized that I was practically smack in the middle of a school of fish. I do not like fish touching me, I may have freaked a little had I realized sooner what was going on. Ha!

One of the most interesting things about Cozumel is how Carnival has basically built a whole new port there, complete with fancy-schmancy shopping and restaurants and such. When Bryan and I were on our honeymoon, we went to Cozumel for scuba diving on the ferry from the mainland. When we were there, the ferry dock was the same dock used for the cruise ships, and you walked off the boat into a very old part of Cozumel. Apparently that wasn't good enough for Carnival, so rather than helping to rebuild/revitalize that part of the island, they just popped up a new little town. Kinda crazy!

After our excursion it was back on the boat for more cruisin'... we pulled anchor and were headed back for New Orleans. We had one more day on the boat before they kicked us off and we had a couple of days in NOLA.

I had planned out exactly what we were going to eat in New Orleans. On our list: muffaletta (an awesome italian sandwich with this olive salad on it), gumbo, jambalaya, beignets at Cafe du Monde and po' boys. We had it all, and it was mmm, mmm, good. I love Cajun/Creole food. Let me know where I can get some in Richmond if you are aware of somewhere that does it right!

The day we arrived back in New Orleans, we decided to get in on a swamp tour. As if we hadn't spent enough time over the last four days on a boat... :) The tour bus picked us up after lunch and headed out to swampland. On the way we passed plenty of places that have *still* not been rebuilt since Katrina. It is really depressing and a bit surreal to see whole apartment complexes and department stores empty and rotting. New Orleans is in a period of rebirth, but they have definitely not recovered completely yet.

We met our tour guide Gerry and hopped on our boat. Gerry was awesome--the man knew everything. Not five minutes into the tour, we saw three or four wild boars in the swamp! I had no idea we even have those suckers in the US. The rest of the tour gave us looks at alligators, some big white birds whose name I forget, turtles... all kinds of stuff. In some ways it was disappointing to hear Gerry tell us that in 4-6 weeks we'd be seeing tons more rats and snakes and such, but when he described how we would have seen HUNDREDS of snakes hanging from the trees, I have to say I was glad we were there a little early in the year. :) He told us that he has had them FALL INTO THE BOAT. Holy God, I'd pass out right there. Or jump into the swamp, and subsequently be eaten by an alligator. Which might be better than hanging out with a snake. ;-)

After dinner Monday night, we headed to Harrah's for a little bit of poker, then made our way back to Bourbon Street, which was surprisingly dead. I guess the partiers weren't there yet, it wasn't quite Mardi Gras time. Bryan and I grabbed the requisite Hand Grenade drinks then made our way back down to see what was up at my favorite blues club. And would you believe that it was CLOSED? Talk about SAD!!! We were forced to check out a few other places, until Bryan's Hand Grenade got the best of him and he felt like he was going to keel over (he claims too much sours), and we headed back to our hotel (which was a block from Bourbon Street, awesome location!).

Tuesday we had most of the day to do a little more sightseeing before we had to catch our flight home, so we headed over to Mardi Gras World, where they create the floats for all of the parades. We figured if we weren't going to get to see an actual parade, we could at least go check out (some of) what we'd be missing. Mardi Gras World was pretty cool, although we were a bit miffed to find at the end that we could have just come in and wandered around for free--we had paid the $17/person for the "tour!" About the only thing we got out of that $17 that we wouldn't have gotten otherwise was the chance to try on some Mardi Gras gear and a movie about the dude that created Mardi Gras World... our tour guide was okay, but... not really worth that money!

After eating our muffaletta in the park at Jackson Square, it was time to head back to the hotel and catch a cab for the airport. We asked our driver about the wack-ass situation we had getting to the cruise terminal with our other driver, and he agreed with us that "cruise terminal" was enough for any cab driver in New Orleans. I was happy to be told I was right. :)

We got home late Tuesday night, and it was back to work on Wednesday. And because it wouldn't be a vacation if it didn't happen, I have been sick since a couple of days after we got back. Today I finally almost feel human again... but it was worth it. :) We had a great time!

You can check out all of the pictures from our trip here.

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