Following a conference in Independence, Mo. Doc and I decided to take some time and look around at places we’d never been. Our drive down the Mississippi River led first to Vicksburg.
We arrived in town at lunch time and headed straight to the highly rated Main Street Market (902 Cherry St, Vicksburg, MS 39183). This place was totally charming! Located in an old house, we took a small table by the window and enjoyed watching other patrons come and go. Doc and I ordered red beans and rice, shrimp and andouille stew, and coconut pie made the old fashioned way from a historic recipe The meal – the entire experience was nothing less than fantastic.
We had a reservation at La Quinta Inn & Suites Vicksburg (4160 South Frontage Road, Vicksburg, MS 39180). I am in love with La Quintas. If I have to pay more to stay in one so be it, although the price is usually, if not the cheapest in an area, still affordable. The thing that first sold me on the La Quinta chain was their beds. La Quinta has the most comfortable beds of any hotel I’ve ever stayed in including some pretty swanky ones. When I was younger, this wasn’t such a big deal. The older I get, the more important the bed has become. Soft and cushy with a thick pillow top mattress means I never wake up with a sore back when I sleep at a La Quinta.
The Vicksburg location was very clean, quiet, and comfortable. Just like every La Quinta I’ve ever stayed in (and I’ve stayed in LOTS of them). The room was well equipped with everything I needed including a desk and a reading chair with a lamp (finally a hotel that realizes people need a comfortable chair and light to read by!). I never have to call the front desk to get a hair dryer or an iron and there’s always a full length mirror in the room. Also always in the room is the least important, but not unimportant amenity – some art work on the walls. Nothing makes me feel more like I’m sleeping in an uncomfortable, cheap hotel than rolling my bags into a big, empty hotel room with nothing but a bed, a dresser with a TV perched on top, and lots of undressed white walls (Do you hear that Super8?). The free breakfast at La Quinta is always a plus and the Vicksburg location was as expected. I’ve read a lot of reviews complaining about the free breakfasts at all the different hotel chains but honestly, what do you expect? If you want steak with your eggs or an on duty chef to whip you up a ham and cheese omelette made to order with’just a touch’ of onion and green pepper, then I guess you’ll have to pay an extra arm or leg to stay at the Ritz, if you can find one. The free breakfasts at La Quinta are perfectly fine for a quick, healthy meal to start your day. The dining area is always bright and cheerful and there are always enough choices. And it’s FREE.
The reason for spending time in Vicksburg was to visit the Vicksburg National Military Park (3201 Clay Street, Vicksburg, MS 39183-3495, 601-636-0583). First of all, go immediately to the gift shop and buy the battlefield driving tour on CD. You’re going to need it. The CD makes the tour more interesting and gives you a better understanding of what happened here — complete with battlefield sound effects. I’ll admit, the entire thing was a bit much for me and if you’re not big on military history you’re going to think the CD and the whole experience is too much and too long. But at least you can turn the CD on and off if you want to get out and look around at the scenery. The CD tour is also good for seniors or those with mobility issues because you don’t have to get out of the car to read the monument plaques at all if you don’t want to. You could tour the whole park without ever getting out of your car and still gain a good appreciation of its historical events.
The one place you’re going to want to get out of the car is at the U.S.S. Cairo Museum (inside the Vicksburg National Military Park, 3201 Clay Street, Vicksburg, MS39183-3495). Reading the description of this before our trip I didn’t expect this stop to be a must-see. But my husband and I came upon it and we stopped because, well, that is just what you do. The CD says so. Once inside, it didn’t take long for me to realize that this was going to be a LONG stop. Doc was absolutely mesmerized by this place! The museum is small but very interesting. And the rangers working here were very well informed. Doc and one of the rangers spent quite a long time talking about all sorts of things with one question and subject leading to another. Back outside, Doc discovered the Cairo and he walked around pointing out various parts of the ship and telling me story after story about it. I’d never even heard of the thing but Doc knew all the details. You actually get to walk onto the ship and see it from the inside so that is one plus that I think even kids would enjoy.
Dinner was at the Beechwood Restaurant & Lounge (4451 Clay Street, Vicksburg, MS). This was one of my least favorite restaurants on our trip. I’m sure some people think it’s a great place. The locals who filled up all the tables seem to love it. And it wasn’t a bad meal. It just wasn’t our kind of place.
We were seated quickly with no waiting by a very friendly waitress and the service was good. The menu though, was heavy on giant steaks and seafood. There were a few burger offerings and the burgers, like everything else, were huge — ½ lb. Trouble is, Doc and I are not into “big” food. Neither of us could begin to finish any selection as described on the menu. There were a couple of salad options. I suspect they were big too. We ended up splitting a catfish and shrimp platter. It was very good and half the meal was plenty for us both. The waitress seemed shocked and concerned that we were eating so little. “So little? My half of the dinner could have fed a family of four.” She highly recommended the pecan pie. Was she worried that our tip would only reflect the price of one dinner? We ordered a piece of pie to share. We weren’t crazy about the pecan pie. I doubled the price of it anyway when I figured her tip…
The building is rather worn out although things seemed clean enough. I believe it might be described as “comfortable.” The atmosphere is very hectic and it is noisy with lots of families and clanking dishes, but this isn’t a place you go to talk quietly with a partner anyway. It’s where you go to stuff yourself with LOTS of meat or deep fried seafood at a good price. Lots of people are into that sort of thing. If you’re one of them, don’t hesitate to stop in. You’ll love the place.
The next morning we drove down the river to Natchez and the Melrose Plantation (Melrose-Montebello Parkway, Natchez, MS). There are lots of these old mansion homes along the Mississippi and many of them are open for tours. You don’t want to develop plantation overload by visiting too many and it is difficult to know which are most worth your time. Melrose had good reviews and the fact that it was run by the National Park Service put it at the top of my list. The day was HOT but the tour was packed full of information and our ranger guide was delightful and full of stories. He was a transplanted “yankee” and was having a hard time adjusting to the Mississippi heat and humidity. I said I was having a hard time adjusting to every meal weighing ten pounds – mostly because it was covered with nine and a half pounds of butter or gravy. He admitted to gaining weight since his arrival.
We toured the house and the out buildings and then walked around the grounds afterwards on our own. The grounds are not meticulously maintained but they were pretty nevertheless. Our tour was an hour and a half long which I believe is one of the longest tours available of any of the Mississippi plantation tours. Allow two hours. Maybe three.