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Visiting New Orleans - Not Just Bourbon Street: Executive Summary

Recovery Status for Fall 2006: A picture named NOLA Jackson Sq.jpg


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.


This page in the New Orleans Guide Executive Summary.   


To jump to the resource pages:

click here for basic city logistics and layout;

click here for restaurants;

click here for hotels;

click here for the best things to do while you're in town;

and if you want information pertaining to the annual Mardi Gras celebration which builds up this year to Fat Tuesday on February 8, please refer to this posting.


To Start at the Beginning: Why you are so lucky to be traveling to New Orleans


Could there be such a place? New Orleans is an American jazz capital with the fun of the Caribbean, combined with the food of the French, and all tied mysteriously to the pirate legends of the Spanish Main. Imagine paddlewheel steamers on the muddy Mississippi River, moss-draped oak trees and plantation houses, the soulful call of the jazz trumpet, balconies of iron lace and green plants overflowing their pots.  Before you arrive, New Orleans has transmitted to your memory the images of boozy parades, flamboyant Cajun chefs cooking up spicy dishes, and the Spanish influenced streets in the Old Quarter. In terms of food, fun and fancy, New Orleans is the carpe diem capital of the United States. The restaurants offer a Mecca of culinary delight and the City caters to the festive life.  No other American city is as ready to provide entertainment to all comers as is New Orleans with its tireless, good-time attitude.


Overview - Getting the Most out of a Trip to New Orleans

If you are a business traveler, your hotel and restaurant options may be limited by circumstance. 

But as far as you are able to choose, this guide sets out the best options in a concise format. It probably takes four or five days to hit the high points of New Orleans, and this presumes that you simply look over the French Quarter for an afternoon instead of inhabiting the Bourbon Street club venues three days running.  New Orleans has a lot of history. The Confederate Museum (929 Camp Street, New Orleans, LA 70130. 504-532-4522 - now has the new National D-Day Museum as a neighbor (945 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70130. 504-527-6012 - The Old US Mint is located at 400 Esplanade Ave. (504-568-6968).  For information about Chalmette National Battlefield call 504-281-0501. Information the Aquarium of the Americas is available at 504-581-4629. 


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For sports enthusiasts the Superdome offers daily tours (504-878-3663).   For information about New Orleans own Saints football team call 504-731-1700.  A public course, Bayou Oaks Golf Park, is located at 1040 Filmore (504-483-9396).   The Fairgrounds and Racetrack at 1751 Gentilly Blvd. is open from November to May (504-944-5515).


To get the most out of a New Orleans visit, you need guidance and good decision making because there are so many competing attractions vying for your dollars and time. In addition to visiting the City of New Orleans, there are the options of sportsman's activities in the region and the available tours of plantation mansions up the river, which could keep you busy for weeks (two plantation tours near the city are Laura Plantation, 888-799-7690, and Destrehan Plantation, 985-764-9315).  Unfortunately, most out-of-town visitors throw themselves at the French Quarter, eat whatever comes handy, and tire of the expensive tourist life of Bourbon Street long before they know what is really going on in New Orleans.  For some ideas take a look at my dozen best things to do in New Orleans.


In a nutshell: the best general advice -

The best general advice about visiting New Orleans is to select your hotel and restaurants wisely, planning the location of your hotel with care.  Plan each meal by identifying your restaurants in advance and reserving them. The importance of good restaurant choices cannot be overemphasized.  Dollar for dollar New Orleans restaurants are truly the best in the country, but there are plenty of second and third-string restaurants in New Orleans looking to grab your attention and get your business.


In a nutshell: the best restaurant advice -

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New Orleans restaurants are among the best in the country.  Zagat's Restaurant Survey awards two dozen different New Orelans restaurants with a score higher than 25 (out of 30) for food.  Many would agree that included among the best restaurants in town are Restaurant August, Bayona, New Orleans Grill, Peristyle, Brigtsen's, Dick and Jenny's and Jacques-Imo's Cafe, the last two of which are surprisingly inexpensive.  But for the purposes of a nutshell opinion, I'm going to recomend two signature New Orleans dining experiences: French Quarter and uptown Garden District. 


Galatoire's (209 Bourbon Street - 504-525-2021) is long famous in the French Quarter from Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire and other reasons, was gutted in August 1999 and completely restored after a century in business. It is one of only a handful of restaurants in the French Quarter that have maintained a 19th-century New Orleans dining room with the signature features of tile floors, gaslight fixtures, cane chairs, crystal water decanters and classic cajun/creole food handed down my oral history.  There is no experience quite like dining here so if you only have two meals in New Orleans, I'd recommend Galatoire's and Commander's Palace, referenced below.  Galatoire's still ranks as one of the best restaurants in town, but after the 1999 renovation an upstairs was added that robs patrons of the classic main room and sometimes provides second-rate, tourist-class service.   I would not recommend accepting a table up there. Galatoire's has some rules: jackets required for men in the evenings and all day Sunday and they usually only honor reservations for the undesirable tables upstairs.  Because there're a little fussy, and because the classic, 19th century French Quarter dining experience is so rare and wonderful, I'll recommend an able alternative to Galatoire's, which is Arnaud's (813 Bienville - 504-523-5533).  Anaud's shining main dining room is probably more enchanting than Galatoire's, though Galatoire's is more popular locally.  Arnaud's has also branched out into a secondary, Siberia dining area that should be avoided for the same reasons as Galatoire's tourist overflow eating area.  Antoine's, the oldest restaurant in New Orleans, also maintains a classic, 19th-century dining room, and it is locally popular, but I cannot recommend it.

The uptown recommendation, Commander's Palace (504-899-8221, is quintessential for a slightly different reason. It is a princely garden restaurant in a Victorian building located in the heart of the beautiful uptown Garden District. While it is true that no visit to New Orleans is complete without seeing the French Quarter, the same is true of the old southern residential district that is typified by this restaurant. Commander's Palace is expertly run by a nationally known New Orleans restaurant family, the Brennans (famous for Brennan's, Mr. B's, Dickie Brennan's Steakhouse, Palace Cafe and other local institutions). Many of New Orleans' most famous chefs are veterans of the Commander's Palace kitchen and it offers the classic uptown dining experience (quite a different pleasure than the French Quarter experience). If you are on a budget the prix fixe weekday lunch at Commander's is the way to go. Galatoire's is a' la Carte, but across the board is slightly less pricey than Commander's Palace.

In a nutshell: the best hotel advice -

It is wise to keep in mind that your hotel location will have a significant impact on the quality of your stay in New Orleans. Be alert to this fact when you are shopping for your hotel and be cautious of the partisan advice of a booking agent or reservations desk. Unless you have a reason to stay uptown (there are not the same number of good hotels uptown as downtown), you will probably stay somewhere downtown in the Central Business District (CBD) or the French Quarter. If you are considering a hotel located outside of the French Quarter be certain to consult a map before you secure your reservation. It is best not to let anyone book you further than three or four walking blocks from the French Quarter, and to avoid hotels further than a dozen blocks distant from the Mississippi River (let Baronne Street serve as your northerly limit). Otherwise you will miss more than half the charm. Don't let your prospective hotel convince you that they are "just down the street" from the French Quarter or let them trick you with talk about the convenience of their French Quarter shuttle service. If you stay out by the Superdome, you will be convenient to the arena, but for other New Orleans entertainment you will be taking taxis much of the time.  Taxi cabs are abundant in downtown New Orleans, but they are of the non-uniform, gypsy cab persuasion with a service ethic closer to that one might associate with Mexico than Switzerland. It is worth emphasizing that if you stay out in Kenner by the airport, or near I-10, you may as well stay in Houston: little of true New Orleans as will be at your command from that ungainly distance.

Generally speaking, for the person who does not care much about the romantic potluck of French Quarter hotels, I recommend those hotels in the Central Business District situated within two or three blocks of Canal Street.  (Canal Street is the wide, main boulevard that serves as the official western border of the French Quarter.) This area is home to many full-service hotels with few surprises; they are easy to reach on major thoroughfares and out of the way of the frustration and tangle of the narrow, one-way French Quarter streets. Typically these hotels also have ready parking to ease your arrival and departure.


Summary of the New Orleans Chain Hotels -


Wyndham has the beA picture named Bourbonlight.jpgst collection of properties overall, with Omni in second place.  Wyndham has good downtown, French Quarter and Convention Center locations. Omni has the Royal Orleans in the Quarter and the Royal Crescent near Canal Street in the Central Business District. Sonesta has two good French Quarter properties and the Small Luxury Hotels of the World group has two good member properties, one in the CBD and one in the French Quarter.  For something a little fresher, look for Hotel Monaco and W Hotels, both boutique chains now boasting properties in New Orleans.  The main Hilton, Sheraton and Marriott hotels downtown are frequent destinations for convention travelers and so deserve special comment.  Although generic in a hotel chain manner, each has something to commend it, particularly if all the parties of your group are staying there anyway.  As written up in greater detail in our hotel review, the Hilton is probably the best all around chain hotel in the high volume/convention category.  The Sheraton edges out the Marriott, but both have great Mississippi River views on one side of each property (request a “riverview” room).

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Last update: 9/5/2006; 8:35:00 PM.