Flying into New Orleans you arrive at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. The City and the French Quarter are about 30 minutes away. As you exit the airport at ground transportation there is a taxi stand to coordinate your transportation. The cab fare is $33 for two people. As our luggage was only carry-on items we were at the taxi stand in no time and five minutes later we were on our way to our hotel. Mother Nature, our welcoming committee, announced our arrival into the city with a loud chorus of thunder and a few spotlights of lightening enhanced only by the drenching rain. At the time we were not aware that this was going to be the norm during our visit. We arrived at the Holiday Inn on Royal Street and were checked in within minutes. The Holiday Inn is an economical and comfortable place to call home during your stay. It is located one block from popular Bourbon Street and a short walk or drive to the river and cruise ship pier. The room was very large and cozy with a comfortable bed and especially comfortable pillows to help you sleep off a long day of sightseeing, or long night spent celebrating on Bourbon Street. The only downside were the small and slow elevators requiring your room card to be inserted to operate, which took several tries each time for it to be recognized. As the rain continued on our arrival day, our first sight to visit was the souvenir store across the street allowing us to make our very first purchase: two ponchos to remain dry while we explored all the city has to offer. Now properly outfitted, we were not going to let soaking rain stop us from exploring.
New Orleans and the French Quarter streets are laid out in grid style and once you arrive you really do not need any form of transportation other than good walking shoes. There is so much to explore, by foot is the way to go. If you remain in the area there is no need to incur the expense of a rental car – parking is almost nonexistent and navigating around all the pedestrian traffic is harrowing. A long weekend in New Orleans is a great way to get your taste buds tantalized and wanting more as it is impossible to see and do everything New Orleans has to offer. I always recommend arriving a day early for your cruise, but if your cruise is leaving from New Orleans you are going to want more than just one day. We were in New Orleans Friday to Monday and that was not enough time to explore and see and eat all. The city has so much to offer: fine dining, fine drinking, piano bars, jazz clubs, nightclubs, blues, museums, cemeteries, architecture, river cruises, zoo, aquarium, people watching, a little voodoo, antiques, shopping, gambling, art galleries, food, haunted ghost tours, swamp tours, and more food.
We left a lot unexplored, which will entice us to return in the near future. What we did sample and explore should give you some ideas in planning your pre/post cruise stay in the Big Easy. Here is a taste, a sampling of our short visit in the city:
DINING: From bakeries, food carts, deli’s, seafood, po-boys, gumbo, celebrity chefs and beignets to pralines, New Orleans has you covered – just don’t count calories. My main objective was to find a great po-boy. As I love seafood the shrimp and oyster po-boy was my first choice. In my search I received a recommendation to visit Mother’s Restaurant on Poydras Street for an authentic po-boy. We shared the Ferdi(baked ham, roast beef, debris, and gravy – no seafood). One is plenty for two and this was the best po-boy of our trip. I could have eaten all meals here, but there are too many places to miss. The Red Fish Grill on Bourbon Street has a wonderful double chocolate bread pudding. They are famous for their barbeque shrimp, but you can pass on this. The sauce is a thin, olive oil red sauce and is absent of all resemblance to barbeque that we are familiar with in other parts of the country. The French Market Restaurant on Decatur Street serves the best shrimp and oyster po-boy that we tried on our short stay. Also, rising to the top of the list is their gumbo: hearty and delicious. We saw many other dishes pass us by that will require a future visit to sample more fare. Desire on Bourbon Street is famous for its oyster bar, but don’t miss the turtle soup served with sherry. Turtle Soup is a rich dark base soup with fine strands of turtle meat delicious on its own, but adding the sherry enhances the flavors to a new level of taste bud excitement. At the Royal House on Royal Street we sampled the parmesan broiled oysters – delicious. Our main course was the seafood tortellini, which was big enough for two. I would pass on the seafood tortellini as the dish is overpriced for the abundant tortellini and scant seafood, even though it was very good. The Checkered Parrot, located next to the Holiday Inn on Royal Street, is a great place to eat if you are spinning from the cost of New Orleans dining. The Checkered Parrot serves great food at back home prices. For an appetizer we had homemade chips drenched in blue cheese dressing, blue cheese crumbles, tomatoes, and bacon – a meal in itself and just as we finished they brought our main dish – the seafood platter(again, a lot of delicious food and not overpriced). All our dining venues served large enough portions that I could not consume by myself. It is a great start to expanding the stomach in preparation for your cruise. As we did not have a place to keep leftovers, we shared all of our meals and we were always wanting more because the food is so delicious, but never wanting more because the food was so filling. To start your morning the famous Café du Monde on Decatur Street serves café au lait and those delicious pillows of heaven called beignets. The weekend morning lines are VERY long. If you can wait to get your fix, the Café du Monde is open 24hrs and you can always order at the take out line. As delicious as these crispy fried doughnuts smothered in powdered sugar are, I wouldn’t wait in the long lines for them. Actually, I can’t think of anything I would want to stand in such a long, slow moving line. On the same block is Aunt Sally’s pralines. You can watch them make them fresh and while watching, sample these fine creations of sweet delight. Don’t forget to save room in your luggage so you can take home several boxes. So many places to choose, so little time, and so many more to explore. I can’t wait to return to try more.
ACTIVITIES: Along the riverfront you will find more than just water. Don’t miss the Audubon Aquarium, especially on a rainy day. There are a great number of species to see. Kids love the place and adults become kids while viewing all the varied life forms. Nearby is the steamboat Natchez offering two daily jazz cruises and one evening dinner jazz cruise. The Creole Queen also offers a Mississippi River exploration cruise as well as a dinner cruise. The riverfront has a winding brick path with lamps and flags and benches to rest and watch the river traffic pass you by. The Riverwalk Marketplace contains high-end shops and many eateries including a mini Café du Monde to satisfy your beignet fix. Along Decatur Street and fronted by a line of carriages waiting to take you on a grand tour is Jackson Square and the St Louis Cathedral calling on all cameras for a photo stop which is even more beautiful when the skies are not cloudy all day. On the weekend local artists display their hard work for your home decorating pleasures. All streets are alive and more crowded on the weekends, but the excitement brings out the spirit of the city and the crowds are not bothersome. Jump on the streetcar ($1.25 per person each way/stop) on St Charles Ave and enjoy a scenic ride on your way to the Audubon Zoo on Magazine Street. This is one of my favorite zoos and is a must see if visiting New Orleans more than a couple of days. Audubon also has an Insectarium located on Canal Street. We did not visit the Insectarium, but the line indicated it is popular. Louis Armstrong Park, along N Rampart Street, is a short walk and a relaxing place to stroll and enjoy a quiet break from the populous French Quarter. You can discover the French Market on your stroll on Decatur Street and N Peters Street. Food and souvenirs at reasonable prices fill the covered shopping arena and if it is a typical hot and humid day, stop at a snowball cart and choose your flavor for a cold, refreshing treat. Near the cruise ship terminal is Mardi Gras world offers a glimpse into the preparations and planning that make the Mardi Gras parade so popular. No matter how long your stay in New Orleans, there are plenty of activities to keep you as busy and occupied as you desire.
NIGHTLIFE: Synonymous with New Orleans is jazz, Mardi Gras, and Bourbon Street. Frenchman Street is popular with locals for jazz and blues, but Bourbon Street grabs the attention. New Orleans supplies nightlife to satisfy all. Day or night you can take your drink with you while exploring the sights. You cannot carry an open bottle, but carrying a cocktail while exploring the city is common and not having one in your hand makes you feel like you are missing something; plus, a nice frozen drink in your hand helps to keep you cool. In the evening Bourbon Street is blocked off to auto traffic. Caution is needed at the intersections as perpendicular streets still have moving traffic albeit very slow with the large crowds enjoying the sights and sounds. Jazz, blues, country, and rock can be found on Bourbon Street. Enjoy the jazz bands that suddenly appear on the street to play for your enjoyment. There are two popular drinks that are well marketed and are must tries: the hand grenade found at any Tropical Isle establishment and the Hurricane found at Pat O’Brien’s. The hand grenade is a powerful drink in a tall vessel with the bottom shaped like a hand grenade. The ingredients are a secret (even the number of shots in the drink are secret), but the drink is very refreshing and will catch up to you quickly. The Hurricane is also a potent drink that may make you stumble after indulging in too many; however, while the ingredients are no secret, the proportions are, but you can buy the powder mix to take home with you. There are many different places to spend your evening, but I recommend Pat O’Brien’s piano bar for a great time: have a few Hurricanes, request a song, and sing along with the crowd. As you stumble home from your evening, on almost every corner you will find a Lucky Dog hotdog cart just in case you need something to absorb the alcohol. There are so many places to visit in a short period of time it can be difficult to capture the vibe if you only spend a short time at each place, so pick one or two that peaks your interests and enjoy a great time.
New Orleans is a great historical city with so much to offer one day cannot cover it all. When planning your cruise allow enough time pre/post to enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer.