This was our first trip to New Orleans, and we were all very excited. I did my usual routine of “plan for everything” and had the addresses for the GPS along with google map directions printed out. The weather forecast had a high chance of rain, so I made sure everyone had a small umbrella to carry while out exploring. I had a list of my top three things to do, along with travel time and method from the hotel for each. I had even made a list of suggestions for Michael and the girls to do while I was busy with the conference. I felt good about my plan.
Que Murphey’s Law. At about two hours into our drive one teenager declared she did not feel well. It was a long drive after that, filled with stops so that she could run to the nearest restroom. Over the next few days everyone except myself took turns with a 24-hour stomach bug. I had not planned for anyone being sick nor did I plan on the city having water issues due to a recent winter storm which caused the tap water to be undrinkable. We were told to drink only bottled water, use bottled water to brush our teeth, and take quick showers making sure not to open our mouths and ingest any water in the process. These things happen are a part of traveling. A good life lesson in dealing with the minorly inconvenient and uncomfortable.
I didn’t plan on ice from the recent cold burst forming on the interstate and causing the roadway to be closed and us rerouted into a twisting, long, detour while trying to find Marti Gras World either. I wanted to skip this and just go to the hotel but even our sick traveler knew it would be our only change to see the place where Marti Gras floats are made, and she insisted that we go. It was a great place and I’m glad we stopped to see it. Be prepared to pay for parking, and if you are there in late January as we were dress warm because this is a warehouse and it is very cold inside.
The tour began with a video explaining the history of Marti Gras, then we were guided into the warehouse where artists were working on this year’s floats. All around were fixtures from past floats, which are altered and re-used when possible. It was so interesting to see the artists work and to see full sized floats also. This was a great way to learn about Marti Gras history and traditions. I came away knowing at least four things that I will never forget;
- There are several days of parades and celebrations for Marti Gras. This means the season lasts about two weeks not just one weekend.
- There are organized Krews which are responsible for the parades and themes each year.
- The people on the floats throwing beads and such always wear masks.
- The city of New Orleans refused to commercialize the Marti Gras celebrations, therefore the Krews pay for the parades and floats each year.
The work done here is amazing! Each artist has an area to do their work. It felt a little intrusive as the tour went through while they were working but it was very interesting to see. Marti Gras World is also a great choice for those visiting New Orleans with teenagers, especially those interested in art.
This warehouse holds several full-size floats. These are getting ready for their debut in the 2018 Marti Gras Season.
After Marti Gras World we headed to the Crown Plaza Hotel.
This hotel hosted the conference that brought us to New Orleans. Warning: there is only valet parking. It costs $22 a day, which not an unusual amount for a large city. The hotel has a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We did not eat there due to family members falling ill but on the last night Michael and I did go down and enjoy a few drinks at the house bar. I loved the Bourbon House because they serve unique creations inspired by my favorite spirit, bourbon! I had the Bourbon Side Car and Michael had the Voodoo Child. Both were so good we went back for one more!
The hotel also offers a great fitness center. The best in a hotel I’ve seen so far. It has plenty of machines, weights, and benches. Most hotel fitness centers offer one treadmill and one elliptical machine, so you often arrive to work out only to find you’ll have to wait. Many fitness centers don’t offer weights either. The hotel even provided complementary headphone should you be without your own! I was only able to use the fitness center once but when I arrived there were two other people already working out. I was thrilled to see how much space there was and that I would not have to wait for a machine.
Part of my trip planning always includes looking into the local public transportation options. New Orleans has a great public transportation system which includes street cars which was a first for all of us. I used the NORTA website which had everything needed to help us find our way around. The web site offers an app which has maps and time schedules for buses and street cars. It even has a trip planner that will show you which route to take and how long to expect the journey to take. We purchased one day pass which was well worth the $12 cost for a family of four. I had everyone download the app before we left and when entering the bus or street car we only had to show our pass on the phone. So easy!
When we weren’t using the street cars we were using Uber. This was our first trip using Uber, but it will not be the last. Michael was very happy with how easy it was get a driver and that it didn’t cost a ridiculous amount for each ride. Some of the drivers offered great advice on what to do or not do whil
While I was at the conference Michael and the girls were out exploring. On the first day they went on a Segway tour of the city. The City Segway Tour is a great idea if you are traveling with teenagers. They were very excited about using a Segway and the tour guide Chad did great job of making the journey entertaining. Michael said the tour was great but there were moments when he was concerned about the traffic the tour had to go through. So, it is good that riders must be 12 years old or above.
On the second day of the conference Michael and the girls went to the aquarium. Ironically the thing they enjoyed most at the aquarium was the bird aviary. Notice the trolley outside. The trolley can get you to nearly everywhere you will need to go in the city, or to at least within a couple blocks of it.
Every evening we went to dinner at a restaurant dictated by my foodie guide, my sixteen year old daughter. She took on the responsibility of looking into the vegan and non-vegan choices in New Orleans that we should explore. I was very happy to learn that there were so many restaurants that were either completely vegan or offered several vegan choices. The Bear Cat offered an awesome vegan cheese nacho plate that was so good my family insisted on returning there on our last day the day just so I could try them (I missed the first visit because of the conference). If you decide to go be prepared for a wait. This restaurant is popular and often busy, but it is worth it. They were right. This vegan nacho cheese sauce is awesome! They also had a BBQ Pasta that even the picky eater enjoyed! The sauce was creamy with a smoky BBQ flavor that was not overwhelming.
Next door to the Bear Cat we found Ice Cream 504. With light flavors like fig, king cake, petit fours, and sugar cookie it was very hard for the girls to decide. Fortunately, the owner encouraged the non-vegan duo to sample as many needed to make a good choice. Michael Southhall-High Priest of Ice Cream, is justifiably proud of his fabulous ice cream and the fact the ingredients are always fresh as well as gum and gluten free. The friendly high priest asked each girl a few questions before offering some advice as to what they may like. Where there is cream there are bound to be cats so while the girls enjoyed their treat we were able to visit with the neighborhood felines.
One afternoon I had a long lunch and we went to the By Water Hideout. The menu focuses mainly on crepes, vegan and non-vegan. It has a bohemian atmosphere, complete with a house cat to keep you company if you are alone. Yummy sweet crepes and lavender lemonade are on the menu as well, which made for a great treat!
The three things I wanted to do most in New Orleans consisted of:
- Faulkner House Books
- Lafayette Cemetery
- Marti Gras World
Mart Gras World was done. During the long lunch break at the conference the family came back to hotel and we all walked to Faulkner House Books. On the short walk we came across a jazz band in the street and young lady creating poems on the spot. She asked us for a few inspirations before beginning then went to work on an old type writer
Faulkner House Books is small and tucked away in a narrow alley. It was once the home of William Faulkner and now hosts other authors and rare additions within shelves full of novels and poetry. I was very happy to find one of my favorite novels there, Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe.
As we continued toward lunch we walked around Jackson Square. Nearly every city has a section like this where street performers or artists can show and sell their work. This is great if you are lucky enough to be traveling with teenagers who will enjoy getting to peruse the various artwork and speak with vendors. We all found something to take home and remind us our trip.
I found this beautiful print by Mousie. The great thing about Jackson Square is that I was able to speak to Mousie myself. She told me a little about the various prints and herself while I shopped. She also signed the print before we left. Check out her website! I’m sure I will be ordering some more prints from her soon.
New Orleans is a city filled with history, art, and music. The music especially is everywhere and incorporated in everything. It also has a large homeless population. I don’t know if this is a post Katrina condition or a symptom of something else. We were approached for cash a couple times but never harassed or intimidated. Like most large cities it is not a place to explore after dark if you are with kids. Our hotel was alongside Bourbon Street. Once the weekend hit the rowdiness began near sunset and continued into the early morning. When going out for coffee the remaining partiers could be seen staggering home. For families I would choose a hotel away from the French Quarter.
On our last day I was able to see the Lafayette Cemetery. This outing was not appreciated by the teenage travelers. It was loudly pondered why this was interesting and what it was that I wanted to see. I chose this cemetery because it is one of the few within the city that you do not need to schedule a tour to see. Many of the historic cemeteries have been vandalized. Those in charge of their care have taken to only allowing visitors at certain hours or with guided tours.
I don’t know if we when we will be back in New Orleans, but when we return I’d like to focus on the music within the city more. Music is everywhere in New Orleans but because this was a work trip for me, meaning early mornings, and our kids are still teenagers, we didn’t go to the clubs or bars where we could have enjoyed some more of the music created here. I would also go to the National WWII Museum. We passed this up thinking the teenagers would not enjoy it. After several locals told us more about the museum and the great exhibits I regretted not making a point of visiting it. We are planning a cruise soon so maybe we will leave out of New Orleans and have another change to explore. Until then,
Au Revoir New Orleans.