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Touring the US East Coast - Day 12

Written By:
Alain Kasteleyn
February 21, 2014

We need to leave Miami today, and indeed Florida. It’s a shame really as we’ve had a great time in The Keys… in Miami… in ‘So-Be’, but we’ll be back at some point in the future! We know we are heading somewhere exciting though, and that the trip is far from over. We’re off to New Orleans and southern Louisiana. That’s a first visit to this part of the USA for us, so we’ll be busy looking around, meeting people, checking things out and seeing what we think of the place.

Before doing anything this morning we headed down to the beautiful pool at the James Royal Palm Hotel. Our luggage was already packed and left in the room, and we could not resist a final couple of hours in the morning sun around the swimming pool. We weren’t disappointed either; it was a perfect start to the day and a perfect end to our time in Miami, but at 10:30 we headed back to the room, had a quick shower, made sure we’d left nothing behind and went down to reception to check-out. Berrit was there to say goodbye and gave us a little bag with some information and booklets in it. These were things that we could read and take into account when recommending the hotel to people.

The valet parking staff shouted a taxi for us, and a few minutes later we were in the car, bags loaded, and heading off to Miami International Airport. There was a ‘flat fare’ of thirty two dollars to pay, which meant that there was no metre running and we knew exactly how much we’d need to pay. Plus a few dollars tip of course! It took about twenty minutes to reach the airport and we were dropped right outside the American Airlines Terminal. Within no time we were checked-in and the bags were sent off to the plane. The Check-in Agent was super friendly, and said he was jealous that we were off to New Orleans. He then told us two restaurants we should visit when we were there.

We were flying to New Orleans, but we were planning to pick up a rental car and drive to Baton Rouge, and then the day after that to Lafayette; it would be three days before we actually went into New Orleans itself. We’d got First Class tickets for the flight, but these did not allow entry into the Admiral’s Club Lounge. How disappointing! But we ended up being lucky as the ‘Gate Keeper’ at the lounge said we could go in anyway. That was nice of him, and we were given a voucher each for a drink. Well, it was Bloody Mary time!

The flight took one hour forty minutes, and lunch consisted of a packet of pretzels and another Bloody Mary. No salad or sandwich, and this was First Class after all! We were ever so slightly disappointed, but had been told that the food in Louisiana would not disappoint, so we looked forward to a good meal later. The Flight Attendant gave us some more pretzels and some mints and said we should pretend they were dinner and dessert! She was nice and made us feel welcome on-board.

We flew over the Mississippi Delta as we came into land at New Orleans. There was a lot of water down there and also some dark clouds and mist. We were hoping things would pick up and any rain would hold back for a while. We were soon off the plane, and the bags were through and in the baggage hall in no time, so we gathered everything up and headed to Avis to pick up the rental car. You can either book one person as the driver, or pay an additional charge (approximately 14 dollars per day) to get an additional driver on your rental agreement. In Florida a second driver can be included for free, so we noted the difference between there and Louisiana. We’d booked one person as the driver, but the agent told us if you share the same address, as spouses or as co-workers, then the second person can be included for free. That worked! So there would be no jealousy with one of us driving and the other sulking in the passenger seat over the coming days.

It was a bit chilly in Louisiana compared to Miami – Noticeably so as we made our way to the car. We’d reserved an SUV (step down from a Range Rover) as we’d done in Miami. But once we found the car we saw straight away that it was not an SUV. We’d been given a Lincoln, which looked something like a hearse only twice as big. They’d upgraded us! Trouble was that the car really was huge, and the thought of driving it scared us a bit. Then (and we debated about excluding this bit from the blog) we could not for the life of us start the bleeding thing! How embarrassing; there was no key, only a key fob and a button to press on the dashboard, but this didn’t work. We tried all kinds of things and after twenty minutes decided to look for someone from Avis to help out. A lady came and told us we needed press on the brake pedal and then press the button. Hey-Presto – it worked! Eventually we were heading out of the car park and onto the roads in a huge car that made hardly any sound at all.

Good old Betsy was back out of the bag and set up on the dashboard ready to give us directions. Betsy is our Sat-Nav, don’t forget, and she’s a godsend! She didn't need to ask for directions, and saved us the embarrassment of having to. We could never do that!

We joined the Interstate – I-10 – and headed west to Baton Rouge. Once we were on the outskirts of the city, the heavens opened and it rained like crazy. The traffic slowed down and we were forced to crawl along as the driving conditions were so bad. There was thunder and lightening, rain and more rain. We just took out time and decided it was better to get there late rather than not at all. We left the Interstate and headed to the city centre. We had to drive through a foot of water at one point, and saw the water running like a river down the road. The rain had eased a bit, and Betsy sent us straight to the hotel. We were staying at the Hampton Suites for our night in Baton Rouge, and we saw straight away that it was quite a new hotel.

We did our check-in and then met Tracey the Sales Manager from the Baton Rouge Tourist Authority; we’d planned this prior to leaving The UK, and Tracey was there at the hotel waiting for us. We’d told her we were running late because of the weather, and she had told us to be careful. We’d had quite a bit of correspondence before leaving The UK, plus we’d confirmed our meeting and hotels in Louisiana whilst we were in Florida, so meeting Tracey was like meeting an old friend. The first task was to have a tour of the Hampton Suites Hotel with Reinhard, the General Manager. The hotel was really nice. It was centrally located, had a parking garage (which cost fourteen dollars per night), and had several types of rooms, some with balconies, a gym, restaurant and really nice friendly staff. Yes, we’d recommend staying here!

Tracey had planned to take us to a restaurant called Little Village, which was just round the corner from the hotel. This was handy, and just in case it started to rain we wouldn't get too wet. We started with a cocktail for aperitif and the waitress brought us some gorgeous bread to try. After that we tried some local dishes such as seafood gumbo, Cajun chicken and steak stuffed with crab meat. The food was amazing; the flight attendant on American Airlines was right, she knew we’d have some good food once we arrived in Louisiana.

After saying goodnight to Tracey we had a little walk down the main street. There were a few bars, and some other restaurants, but this being a weekday it was fairly quiet. We opted for a walk and some air rather than more drinks, and decided to call it a day once we arrived back at the hotel.

**Alain’s top tips**

  1. Airport lounges: In general airport lounges in the USA are only available if you pay an additional fee. A domestic First Class ticket sadly does not mean you will be able to access the lounge

    Prior to entry the lounge receptionist will hand you a voucher for one complimentary (i.e. spirit) drink. Occasionally there is beer and wine which is complimentary.

    Coffee is available complimentary and food is available for purchase (for example ten dollars for a sandwich), otherwise you can snack on peanuts and pretzels

    Servers expect a tip for serving you your drink, and/or bringing you food

    The lounges we visited (except the one at Washington Reagan Airport) tended to be a bit tired looking
  2. US coins: There are four main types of coin in the USA – pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. There is a one Dollar coin, but this has never caught on as the people love their one dollar bills, which of course show George Washington, so you’ll be lucky to see one of these.

    Penny – one cent
    Nickel – five cents
    Dime – ten cents
    Quarter – twenty five cents

    It’s hard to spend the coins, so use the quarters for parking metres, use the dimes and nickels for vending machines and drop the pennies in a charity collection box!
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