Visiting New Orleans: The Basics and Layout
Recovery Status for Fall 2006:
New Orleans is well on its way back to re-claiming its place as a fully functional tourist destination. The recovery was aptly demonstrated with decisions to hold Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest celebrations in Spring 2006 as usual, as well as by Tulane's "miracle" graduation ceremony that featured past Presidents Bush and Clinton. In fact, all five New Orleans universities—Tulane, Loyola, Xavier, the University of New Orleans, and Dillard—have reopened
All but a few of the 13 airlines that serviced the City are shuttling flights in and out of the City. Taxis, bus service and the street care are functioning. Touro, Tulane and Charity hospitals have all been reopened for months. It is reported at the close of summer 2006 that 103 out of 140 metropolitan area hotels are open, with over 70% of the original 38,000 hotle rooms available. Of these rooms two-thirds are open to visitors, while the remaining third is contracted to various agencies. Ninety percent of downtown hotels are open, however, the Fairmont and the Ritz Carlton continue to be closed for renovation. Both are expected to re-open by the end of the year. Remediation contractors in all the restored hotels conduct room-by-room assessments against EPA standards. After remediation work is completed, the clearance process includes visual inspection, as well as sampling for airborne fungal spores and ongoing monitoring. Restaurants are re-opening daily with any of the famous chefs back in their aprons, including Paul Prudhomme, Susan Spicer Donald Link and John Besh. Before any establishment serving food can be reopened it is examined by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals for compliance with all regulations regarding water safety and food handling. To give you a better sense of the situation you should call ahead to your hotel and favorite restaurants to be sure they are ready for you or check on the site here for opening status. Air and water are safe for visitors (government air testing results). Harrah's Casino, the convention center and Riverwalk are open, as are museums including Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Contemporary Arts Center, the National D-Day Museum and the Aquarium of the Americas.
To Begin at the Beginning:
To get acquainted: New Orleans (population 500,000) is not the capital of Louisiana (that is Baton Rouge), but it is a major port town, a federal and state court center, a regional business hub, and a national convention seat. The six-by-twelve block "French Quarter" on the Mississippi River is the oldest part of town and now serves as a recreational playground. The French Quarter, and the burr of business high-rise buildings adjacent to it, constitute the "downtown" of New Orleans proper. Stretching further uptown in a crescent shape, along the north bank of the Mississippi River, is the handsome Garden District with its stately residential neighborhoods.
New Orleans has renamed its international airport after jazz legend Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is 15 miles west of the city in neighboring Kenner, Louisiana (airport info: 504-464-0831). Transport to or from the airport is usually done by cab or the commercial hotel shuttle van, although some hotels offer a transport service. For a single person, the $10 shuttle ride is the best value although you will probably have to ride to a few other hotels before yours comes up. A taxi is a pretty good value for a couple of persons (the rate starts at $28, plus a fuel surchage), but the fare goes up pretty steeply for per additional persons so it makes pretty good sense for a foursome to take two comfortable cabs rather than one crowded and expensive cab (airport cab operations: 504-464-2701). In hot weather it is a good idea to make sure the air conditioner is working before engaging a taxi.
If you rent a car, be sure to get directions to your hotel by way of the easiest route: Interstate Highway 10 eastbound. Los Angeles-to-Jacksonville Interstate 10 skates by the northern perimeter of the New Orleans airport and then runs directly north of greater New Orleans, passing within half a dozen blocks of the French Quarter.
New Orleans proper is a crescent of land comprised of the French Quarter, the residential uptown area and the Central Business District in between. Those familiar with New Orleans will detect that this general description ignores Mid-City, the Lakefront, the Ninth Ward, Faubourg Marigny, etc., but the simple crescent layout includes most of the high points of interest to the tourist or vacation visitor. This guide does not look to exclude destinations in obscure corners of the city, but the visitor to New Orleans is poorly served by wandering. New Orleans street geography is irregular, the driving is difficult, parking rules are strictly enforced and the neighborhoods are checkered and sometimes unsafe.
Fortunately, the essence of New Orleans is concentrated in a band stretching uptown from the Quarter to Tulane University and just beyond. Even hotels as central as the Superdome can leave you beached in an ugly belt of concrete real estate and you will find yourself riding Disney-style courtesy vans (or gypsy taxis) that take much of the fun and spontaneity out of your visit. So, to get down to cases: What is the best location? Probably the hotels on Canal Street, or within a few blocks of Canal Street where you can drive straight from the main highways and maintain easy access to your car, but where you can walk half-a-dozen blocks or less to get to the French Quarter.
You Decide - Three Possible Sections of Town for your Hotel:
French Quarter – Nothing beats the feel of waking up right in the Quarter, but demand there is usually greatest so hotels and guesthouses fill up quickly. Parking is a headache (except at one of the hotels with private parking facilities). Also, driving access to and from your French Quarter hotel is confused by a tangle of crowded, one-way streets. It will be hard to navigate your way in and it may be slow to get out when you need to. In parts of the Quarter (notoriously Bourbon Street) your hotel may be noisy most of the night, although there are also tranquil sections of the Quarter if you seek them out.
Uptown – Locals escape the clatter and confusion of the French Quarter in the lush, antebellum beauty of uptown New Orleans. Few southern cities can match New Orleans for the quiet grace of its mansions and oak-shaded streets. The Garden District is the residential portion of what was originally the city of Lafayette (incorporated 1833), located four miles from New Orleans proper down the old New Orleans & Carrollton Railroad that operated up St. Charles Avenue (where the solitary streetcar line is now located). The oldest continuously operated streetcar in the country now runs the length of St. Charles Avenue, the “Main Street” of uptown New Orleans. Uptown the noise and parking problems are minimized and glimpses of authentic local life are revealed. Staying uptown allows access to the Quarter (via streetcar is one option), but the entertaining sights and sounds of the famous French Quarter are more distant.
Central Business District – The cluster of high-rise buildings between the French Quarter and the uptown residential district house major government and regional business concerns. The CBD nowadays is as safe for the pedestrian as the French Quarter (meaning that it is reasonably safe during daylight, and at night in well-lit, populated areas). There is also a downtown “warehouse district,” previously associated with the Port of New Orleans, which has been revived as an artistic center and annex to the merriment of the French Quarter. A number of big-name hotels thrive in the business district and room availability is maximized. In the CBD traffic moves efficiently, though the French Quarter is never more that half a mile away. The downtown areas nearest the Mississippi and nearest the Quarter outshine the more bleak and isolated sections near the Superdome, the train station and Business Highway 90.
This site, cloudtravel, offers comprehensive visitor's information about New Orleans. If you want hotel information, click here. If you want to jump directly to a page about New Orleans restaurants, then click here. Or click here for a page about the best things to do while you're in town, and to start at the top click here for the New Orleans Guide Executive Summary.
© Copyright 2006 Chris Cloud.
Last update: 9/5/2006; 8:33:26 PM.