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Cruise Ship Embarkation Ports 
New Orleans
Sights to see & things to do

A Most Welcome Sight
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. 

Streetcar 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.

Getting There
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 Quarter. 

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 conversation.

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.

Chihuly's colorful chandeliers

In the hip and up-and-coming Warehouse/Arts District, you'll find the Renaissance Arts Hotel, 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, Emeril's, Arnaud's, Commander's Palace, Emeril's Delmonico, Bayona, Herbsaint, Restaurant August, G.W. Fin's, Bacco, Palace Cafe, Lilette, Brigsten's, K-Paul's, Cuvee, NOLA, Bourbon House, Broussard's and Antoine's.

Laissez les bons temps rouler... let the good time roll!

Resources
The official site of Greater New Orleans

Photos:
CruiseDiva.com Linda Coffman


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