Saturday, 17 November 2012

Along the Mississippi - Pt 7

Continuing our blissful journey along Old Man River on the new Queen of the Mississippi of American Cruise Lines. Day 6, New Madrid, Missouri...

All was quiet this morning as we awoke to another day on the Mississippi. We should have been underway since 6am, en route to our next destination, but a quick look out of our balcony revealed thick fog on the river. This would delay our departure from our mooring in Columbus, so breakfast took on an even more leisurely air than usual (highlighted by the daily poached egg special, today's being Eggs Benedict), followed by the second part of the Journey Through Time lecture from Riverlorian, Jim.

After the obligatory fresh-baked cookies in the Sky Lounge, there was also a Galley Tour with Chef Eric, which offered a great look at where all our wonderful meals were concocted, and we marvelled at how Eric's team produced so much in such a relatively small space.

Happily, the fog did clear soon enough for us to head back down-river again and, before long, we were in sight of New Madrid, tucked up behind a high levee. Once again, this is not a big town (although its 1,500 population handily out-numbers the 160 back at Columbus!).

It does boast a charming riverfront walk and this afternoon's tour is strictly a walking one with a local guide, hence the small-scale nature of the place is fairly evident.

After another excellent lunch (highlights being a gorgeous Harvest Pumpkin Soup - the latest in a long line of spectacular soups served up by the galley - a Cobb Salad and a Warm Stuffed Apple for dessert) it was time to gather for our shore excursion. 

There was a small bus for those who really couldn't make the walk but the majority did opt for the (gentle) stroll along the levee and into town, taking in the handful of historic pointers along the way, which included the 19th century Hart-Stepp House (now an art gallery) and a Boardwalk overlook of the river that showed various flood levels over the years (happily, none higher than the levee).

A stop at the small Historical Museum provided the necessary history overview of the town, once again with some major Civil War connotations, while a visit to the Higgerson School (below) featured an enchanting talk from a descendant of the school's founders, a lady who had been both student and teacher in this building (which was built in the Higgerson community in 1930 and moved to New Madrid in 1998 after the community died out). A visit to the Visitor Center and gift shop, and some shopping at the art gallery concluded a laid-back visit in glorious sunshine.

With such a low-key afternoon, there was still time to enjoy afternoon tea in the Sky Lounge and a stroll on deck, listening to the enchanting sound of the ship's Calliope.

Once again, Cocktail Hour at 5.30pm led nicely to the evening's main meal, with Chicken Bordelaise, Potato Encrusted Striped Bass and Chicken & Shrimp Jambalaya all on the menu. The Bourbon Pecan Pie was every bit as good as it sounds and, not for the first time, to waddled off to the Magnolia Lounge for the evening entertainment.

There was a real sense of anticipation about the highlight here, too, as this was billed as the first of two successive appearances by The Mills Brothers. Now, this may seem a trifle odd for those old enough to remember the Brothers in their pomp (basically 1928-82) but this jazz/pop/vocal quartet from yesteryear have been revived by John Mills III (son of Donald Mills, one of the original quartet) and Elmer Hopper of The Platters.

With a three-piece backing band from Huntsville Alabama, led by pianist extraordinaire Peter Harrison, the 'new' Mills Brothers proceeded to thrill the audience with a series of classic hits from their full repertoire, including 'You're nobody til somebody loves you, 'Yellow Bird,' 'Paper Doll,' 'Lazy River' and a version of the Platters' 'Only You.'

It was fascinating to hear such genuine 'goldie oldie' classics given a modern revival and, with the benefit of the band doing their best Count Basie impression, it proved to be a thoroughly engaging evening. John Mills' own song, 'Still...There's You', was an absolute show-stopper and a fitting climax to another great day on the Mississippi. 

Proof positive that a trip along the 'Lazy River' with American Cruise Lines really can be both surprising and enchanting.

Next up - the big finale, Memphis