Known alternately as “The Crescent City” from its location on the horseshoe bend in the Mississippi River, or “the Big Easy” from the casual attitude of the people who call it home, “‘Nawlins” is a town so unique that no other city in America even tries to compete. The city, named after Orleans, a city located on the Loire River in Central, France, is well known for its distinct architecture, and cross cultural, multilingual heritage. New Orleans is equally famous for its cuisine and music. Widely acknowledged as the birthplace of jazz, live music can be experienced throughout the city, all day, and every day.
The bars never close and the distinct sounds of New Orleans jazz are a backdrop for your days and nights in the Crescent City. New Orleans Jazz is hard to describe. It’s an evolved and evolving form of music, born a long time ago and reborn every day by musicians young and old, in beautifully elegant clubs like Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse and on street corners throughout the city. It is joyful, soulful, noisy and quiet all at once. It’s an amalgam of influences from all the great port cities of the world and from the great history of New Orleans and the South. So bring an appetite and be prepared to sample some of the finest cuisine in the country, and get ready for the party. New Orleans is a town that swings. We strongly suggest a visit to truly appreciate the magic that is New Orleans, but until then, come along as we roll through the Big Easy in one magical day from sun up to sun down in the “City That Care Forgot.”
1. Cafe Du Monde
Let’s begin with an early breakfast at the world famous Café Du Monde in the French Market. Originated in 1862, the cafe thrives, serving beignets (the Louisiana’s state doughnut), coffee with chicory mixed with hot milk known as cafe’ au lait. The Original Cafe Du Monde Coffee Stand was established in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, closing only on Christmas Day and when an unusually strong hurricane stops by for a visit. Beignets are square French style doughnuts, lavishly covered with powdered sugar and served warm. Oui, oui.
Café Du Monde
800 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116
2. French Quarter
The original settlement of New Orleans, known originally as “Vieux Carré” “French Quarter” or simply “The Quarter,” is the oldest neighborhood in the city. Established by the French in 1718, the location was, and is still, a valuable site for trade due to its strategic position along the Mississippi River. The district, bounded by Canal Street, Decatur Street, Esplanade Avenue and Rampart Street, is a National Historic Landmark. The French Quarter represents a rich tapestry of international influence with cultural contributions from the French, Spanish, Italians, Sicilians, Africans, Irish, and others. Like gumbo, “The Quarter” is a tasty stew full of surprises and magic.
3. Natchez River Boat Cruise
All aboard! Next stop is a relaxing river ride aboard the steamboat Natchez. The stern wheel steamboat sails along the banks of the Mississippi accompanied by a traditional New Orleans Jazz band and provides a view of New Orleans that must be experienced to be truly appreciated. The Natchez voyage is a two-hour cruise that steams out of the French Quarter daily at 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM with evening dinner cruises departing at 7:00 PM. The cruise is a great way to relax on your Day in New Orleans. Lunch is served and cocktails are available.
4. Audubon Aquarium & Insectarium
As part of a family of museums and parks dedicated to nature, The Audobon Nature Institute has celebrated the Wonders of Nature since 1866. With 11 amazing facilities to choose from, a visit to any of the museums or parks is a rewarding experience for visitors of any age. For our day in New Orleans, we’ve selected the two that are adjacent to the Steamboat Natchez wharf.
Aquarium of the Americas
Located on the Mississippi River adjacent to the French Quarter, The Aquarium immerses you in an underwater world. The colors of the Caribbean reef come alive in an exciting walk-through tunnel and Southern sea otters frolic in their very own 25,000-gallon exhibit. Touch a sting ray, meet a parakeet, and get up close and personal with gigantic sharks, tarpon, and rays in an immense 400,000 gallon Gulf of Mexico Exhibit.
The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium
Located in the U.S. Custom House on Canal Street, The Insectarium is one-of-a-kind treat and a total workout
for all five senses. As North America’s largest museum devoted to insects and their relatives, you’ll discover why insects are the building blocks of life. Along the way, you’ll be shrunk to the size of a bug, wander through a Louisiana swamp, join the audience of an awards show for bugs, (by bugs), and be captivated and delighted by thousands of butterflies in the amazing Asian garden. Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium is located a few blocks from Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in downtown New Orleans.
Visit: auduboninstitute.org for more information.
The Cities of the Dead
Like all things in New Orleans, the city’s cemeteries are unique and unusual. Because the city is built on a swamp, the deceased are buried above ground in elaborate crypts, tombs and mausoleums. Over time, the cemeteries, with elaborate sculptures, individual wrought iron fences, and decorative artwork, have evolved to resemble small villages commonly referred to as “Cities of The Dead,” and have become attractions that are well worth a visit. While we were in town, we stopped by Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and found the experience to be memorable and more than a little spooky. Founded in 1833, Lafayette #1 is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and contains crypts belonging to many historic individuals. The most famous cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery #1, is a short distance from the French Quarter. Located on historic Basin Street, St. Louis Cemetery #1 is the burial place of the legendary “voodoo queen” Marie Laveau. Some individuals still practice rituals at her grave, and New Orleans lore holds that visitors must turn around three times and knock three times on her tomb for their wishes to come true. Many of these “Cities of the Dead” can be visited on guided tours.
Take a trip into New Orleans’ past on the oldest continuously operating streetcar (locals call these vintage electric rail vehicles “streetcars” – never trolleys.) in the world. With mahogany seats, brass fittings and exposed ceiling light bulbs, these beauties have rumbled along the steel rails of the city for over 150 years representing the charm and romance that is New Orleans. There are three different lines: St. Charles, Canal Street, and the Riverfront. Each one originates downtown and each takes you to different parts of the city. The St. Charles line is a 13.2 mile ride from Carondelet at Canal Street in the Central Business District through the oldest and most majestic section of uptown New Orleans, then rounds the bend in the river to Carrollton at Claiborne Avenue. Next it cruises along St. Charles Avenue past antebellum mansions, historic monuments, Loyola and Tulane universities, and the sweeping grounds of the Audubon Zoological Gardens, shopping centers, fine restaurants and hotels.
One-way fares are $1.25 and can be paid with exact change when you board. One, three and 5-day unlimited ride passes are also available for $5, $12 and $20 respectively. See the Regional Transit Authority (RTA)’s website at www.norta.com for a list of places to purchase these. Please note that passes are non-refundable and non-replaceable.
7. Bourbon Street
While all of New Orleans cannot be defined by this little slice of sin, the effect that Bourbon Street has on the city is undeniable. There is a casual irreverence to the place that colors the Crescent City in a boozy neon glow that beckons visitors with sights and sounds that can only be found on this block stretch of vintage New Orleans. Tourists stroll with drinks in hand experiencing the music and food, strip clubs, honky tonks and bars. It’s a place where four-star restaurants go toe-to-toe with noisy bars and where scantily clad saloon girls beckon from doorways while wide eyed tourists gawk. Everyone bobs to the rhythm of live jazz, rock and roll and infectious revelry.
8. Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse
While in New Orleans, we had the honor to meet Jazz great and two-time Emmy winner, Irvin Mayfield at his beautiful Bourbon Street Jazz Club, Irvin Mayfield’s Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta Hotel. Irvin’s Jazz club is on Bourbon Street, three blocks off Canal in the heart of The French Quarter, in the heart of New Orleans and is the ideal headquarters for the man who embodies the spirit of New Orleans as the de facto Cultural Ambassador for the Crescent City. The club offers a high end vibe coupled with down home sophistication, live music, great food and drinks, and is open every single day of the year. To see more on Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse click here.
We were lucky enough to see a few Second Linings during our day in New Orleans and they are a treat to behold. It is impossible to not get caught up in the music and swagger that accompanies these joyous occasions and everyone’s invited to join the party thru the streets. It’s another example of the one-of-a- kind moments that happen every day in New Orleans. Second line parades are descended from the city’s famous jazz funerals. Except for the casket, mourning and a visit to the cemetery, they contain the same traditions as they march and dance along the city’s streets. There are dozens of different second line parades put on throughout the year, usually on Sunday afternoons, and held in neighborhoods all across the city. They range in size, level of organization and traditions, but in all cases, they will include a brass band, jubilant dancing in the street and members decked out in a wardrobe of brightly colored suits, sashes, hats and bonnets, parasols and banners, melding the pomp of a courtly function and the spontaneous energy of a block party, albeit one that moves a block at a time. The parades are not tied to any particular event, holiday or commemoration; rather, they are generally held for their own sake and to let the good times roll.
Let the Madness Begin – Mardi Gras
If New Orleans is famous for its French Quarter, beignets and Bourbon Street, one event surpasses them all as the city’s legendary signature piece – Mardi Gras! Mardi Gras is a season of revelry, madness, music, parades and parties. People wear comic costumes and attend spectacular masquerade balls and the gaudy and the gorgeous all come together in a tradition that dates back centuries and must be experienced to fully appreciate. Mardi Gras, (French for Fat Tuesday,) is the single-day climax of the season. While Mardi Gras undoubtedly has pagan, pre-Christian origins, the Catholic Church legitimized the festival as a brief celebration before the penitential season of Lent. The date of Mardi Gras is set to occur 46 days before Easter and can fall as early as February 3 or as late as March 9. The single custom that most distinguishes Mardi Gras parades is that of throws – (medallion necklaces and colorful aluminum coins called into crowd participation events unmatched anywhere. “Throw Me Something Mister” is the battle cry of the million-plus people who line the parade routes.
A Carnival krewe is led by the captain, who is the permanent leader of the group. Each year, a king and queen are selected to reign over the parade. While most clubs select their royalty from within their own ranks, krewes such as Bacchus and Endymion invite guest celebrities to ride as their monarch or parade marshal. Stars such as Billy Crystal, Dennis Quaid, Wayne Newton, Tom Jones, Neil Sedaka, Paul Anka, Dolly Parton, John Goodman and Harry Connick, Jr. have been so honored. In fact, The Krewe of Orpheus was founded by Harry Connick, Jr.
To learn more, contact:
New Orleans Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau.
2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130 504-566-5019.
If your travel plans don’t coincide with Mardi Gras season, don’t fret. You can always visit Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World to get in the Mardi Gras Spirit and see and experience the place where Mardi Gras floats have been created and constructed since 1947. Guided tours are conducted daily that provide detailed overviews of the history of Mardi Gras including the one of a kind experience of actually visiting the “Float Den” where the magic and mayhem come to life. Mardi Gras World is located on the East Bank, at the end of Convention Center Boulevard. Open 7 days a week from 9:30am to 4:30pm. Tours are offered every 30 minutes with the last tour starting at 4:30pm. Tours last approximately one hour.
For group reservations, please call the Sales Office 888 492 0650. MardiGrasWorld.com
New Orleans is a survivor; triumphantly rising from the ashes of devastating fires, surviving the ravages of the Civil War, and the horrors inflicted by Hurricane Irene and the BP oil spill, the city bounced back with a resilient strength that is admirable and undeniably New Orleans. It’s a town that is justifiably proud of its roots, steeped in history, architecture, music, cuisine and deep historical importance. Many New Orleanians consider their town more like a country than a city, displaying an attitude of fierce independence and rule-bending southern pride that resonates along every street, and in every parish.
Thanks for coming along on our Day in New Orleans…We hope we provided a glimpse at the magic that can only be found in the Crescent City. Although our day was jam packed with sights sounds and activities, there is so much more to see…Stay for a week and you will take away memories that will last a lifetime. Until next time, just remember to enjoy! “Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler” or as we say in New Orleans, Let the Good Times Roll!
Special thanks to: Jenn Lotz, Irvin Mayfield, Lucien Barbarin, Windsor Court Hotel, and all the people of New Orleans for their gracious hospitality.