Sights to see & things to do
It felt good to be coming home to Louisiana again, but what would we—former
residents of Baton Rouge—find less than two years post-Hurricane
Katrina? After driving through the sad remains along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and skirting the edge of New Orleans'
infamous Lower 9th Ward, we were relieved when the iconic Superdome
came into view and we were once again in the New Orleans we knew
from years past—long before Katrina brought terrible flooding and death to sections of the city.
Banners welcoming visitors to the
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival were an indication that the
good times are rolling once again. Even Fats Domino has returned to his hometown to
perform and rebuild, an indication that you can't keep a city powered by
soul down for long.
on Canal Street
The myth perpetuated by the media
is that New Orleans continues to be a devastated and crime-ridden
city. The reality, as we saw, is quite different. While there is
crime, it's no worse in tourist areas than in any major city. We
felt safe, even walking after dark through the Warehouse District, a
part of town no one would have willingly visited before it became
the fashionable center of the booming arts movement.
As far as the city itself, it's
never looked better or cleaner. Damage in the French Quarter, Central Business
District, Warehouse/Arts District, and along the Riverwalk wasn't as
extensive as in the surrounding lower-lying areas. Other than some
bent street signs, there is little to indicate that one of the most
intense natural disasters in United States history blew through.
Hotels and restaurants have refurbished and reopened and music fills
the air. The steamboat Natchez plies the Mississippi and the
streetcars are running along Canal Street.
While their numbers have
diminished, residents of New Orleans are anxious to welcome you
back. So, go! Go now! Go to experience the authentic southern hospitality,
the fabulous food, the hot jazz, and the cool arts. Word is getting out, so go before
the streets of the French Quarter are crowded again. It won't be
long. Cruise out of New Orleans, but first, take a look around.
You'll be glad you did.
A half-hour to forty-five
minute drive from
downtown and the cruise terminals at Julia Street and Erato
Street (depending on traffic), Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport is served by
national and regional airlines that offer flights to and from most major U.S.
cities. By car, New Orleans is located on Iinterstate-10 and within a day's drive of cruise passengers
who reside in nearby southeastern and central states. For those who prefer to
cruise the rails before boarding their ship, Amtrack trains are an option from as far away as Chicago
(the famous City of New Orleans train) and New York (the Crescent).
Sights to see
& things to do
There's no better place to start
a day in New Orleans than at the Cafe
du Monde, the original French Market coffee stand since 1862.
(You didn't think Starbucks invented the coffee house, did you?)
Fortified with chicory-laced cafe au lait and sugary beignets, a
walk through the French Quarter is in order. Boutiques, antique
shops, and sidewalk cafes line the main streets of the Quarter.
Bourbon Street enjoys a raucous reputation for smoky bars, music
clubs, and strip joints, yet is also where some of the most elegant
restaurants and hotels are located. The architecture in the Quarter
deserves notice, especially the graceful balconies. Interestingly,
the city went up in flames during a time when Spain ruled Louisiana
and the buildings—and iron balconies—of the French Quarter
reflect that period of Spanish influence. Whatever
you do, don't pass up the opportunity to peek through iron gates
that guard the many private gardens throughout the French
Mardi Gras isn't the only party in
town. While it's the biggest and most famous, New Orleans is a city
of festivals. It's also the birthplace of jazz so it's no surprise
that it hosts the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the
French Quarter Festival. Synonymous with performing arts of all
styles (A Streetcar Named Desire, The Big Easy), The
City That Care Forgot showcases national and regional scholars,
writers and performing artists during the annual Tennessee Williams
Literary Festival. And then there are festivals celebrating food,
which just might seem to be ALL the festivals—food is that much a
part of Louisiana life.
Don't make the mistake that New
Orleans isn't kid-friendly. The entire family can enjoy a visit to
the Aquarium of the Americas or Audubon Zoo, share the interactive fun of
the Louisiana Children's Museum, or tour Mardi Gras World,
where the floats come to life across the river in Algiers. Older children's interest may be
piqued by the National World War II Museum (formerly the D-Day
Museum) or one of the many historic house museums in the city and
surrounding area. The steamboat Natchez offers an authentic
experience cruising along the river.
A big part of travel is relaxation
and... retail therapy. Shopping opportunities abound in The Big Easy
where you'll find everything from touristy (Mardi Gras beads, masks,
boas, tee-shirts) to sublime (local and regional foods). One of the
best reasons to drive to New Orleans is that you can cram your
vehicle full of purchases without worrying about how to get that
antique side table or framed painting home.
Should you want to take a break,
our favorite evening hang-out is The
Bombay Club, where the leather-bound drink list contains 100
varieties of specialty martinis and the music never overpowers
Where to stay
The downtown area is where
everything is happening. Adjacent to either side of Canal Street are
the French Quarter and Warehouse/Arts Districts with accommodations
ranging from intimate bed-and-breakfasts to luxury high-rise hotels. With
streetcars in service, as well as taxis and busses,
getting around is easy.
In the historic French Quarter—bordering
the Central Business District, but light years away in charm—the
Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street is refined haven in the center of all
the action. Rooms offer a view of the tropical courtyard gardens or
traditional balconies overlooking Bourbon Street.
In the hip and up-and-coming
Warehouse/Arts District, you'll find the Renaissance Arts
with the vibe of a contemporary art gallery and lobby displays of
Southern art. Look overhead for three Dale Chihuly glass chandeliers
on your way to the front desk. On Tchoupitoulas Street, it's within
walking distance of the French Quarter, Riverwalk, and most of the
city's major attractions.
At the base of Poydras Street in
the Central Business District is
Harrah's New Orleans
Hotel, with entertainment, restaurants, and—naturally—all the
casino action you could want.
Where to eat
Man doesn't live by java and
donuts alone, and while Cafe du Monde is the place to start
the day, we can't pick a favorite eatery in New Orleans. That being
said, we chose Mulate's for
dinner the night before boarding our cruise. Why? Because we love
good, authentic Cajun cuisine—the kind that excites your palate
and needs no Tabasco sauce to give it flavor. Plus, Mulate's
features Cajun music every evening and has a dance floor large
enough to execute a two-step. What more could former residents of
Louisiana want than good food, good music, and good times? Maybe
some oysters... give either Acme
Oyster House or Felix's Bar (across the street and a bit less
touristy) a try.
We didn't have time to revisit
restaurants we enjoyed in the past, but according to the New Orleans
Convention and Visitor's Bureau, there are now more than 1,500
restaurants open in the Greater New Orleans Metropolitan area. They
include such renowned establishments as Galatoire's,
House, Broussard's and
bons temps rouler... let the good time roll!
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