Nicknamed the Big Easy for its laid- back attitude and Mardi Gras celebrations, Louisiana’s largest city is quite unlike anywhere else in America. By Jeannine Williamson
Shaped by a melting pot of European and Caribbean cultures, the French Quarter is the main tourist hub where wall-to-wall boutiques, antique shops, restaurants, bars and live music venues rub shoulders with quirky voodoo stores that are a Caribbean legacy.
With its key location 90 miles upriver from the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans is known as the gateway to the Caribbean. It’s a fantastic city to recommend to clients for a pre or post-cruise land stay before they head out to sea or embark on a traditional adventure on a paddle wheeler along ‘Ole Man River.
Ships dock at the Erato Street and Julia Street cruise terminals, near the city centre.
TOP SIGHTS & ATTRACTIONS
Bourbon Street: This nightlife hotspot is the place to find multiple drinking venues and jazz bars that open until the early hours, including the novel revolving Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone.
National World War II Museum: Housed in three buildings in the refurbished Arts/Warehouse district, the museum features dramatic and engaging exhibits.
New Orleans Museum of Art: an impressive gallery set in a tranquil 1,300-acre park that includes the beautiful Besthoff Sculpture Garden.
Mardi Gras World: At any time of year you can take a behind-the-scenes look at the dazzling annual spectacle.
Aquarium of the Americas: See the penguin colony and the vast Gulf of Mexico exhibit with sharks, rays and sea turtles.
WHERE TO SHOP
Royal Street: Filled with individual shops, this colourful thoroughfare is one of the city’s oldest streets. From 11am to 4pm daily it’s closed to traffic and attracts jazz bands and street performers.
Jackson Square: Facing the Mississippi and surrounded by historic buildings, this is a centre for open-air artists who display their works on the iron fence.
Outlet Collection at Riverwalk: This modern mall offers savings of up to 65% at more than 75 stores.
Travel through the Louisiana swamps by boat and snap pictures of alligators from a short (but safe!) distance. Take a city tour and discover diverse districts including Treme, America’s oldest continuously inhabited African-America neighbourhood, and the tree- lined Garden District with grand colonial mansions.
See the final resting place of legendary ‘voodoo queen’ Marie Laveau on a guided walk around the elaborate tombs at St Louis Cemetery. Take a night tour of some of the best bars and microbreweries, with the option to end the evening at a music club such as the Irvin Mayfield Jazz Playhouse.
Downtown New Orleans is flat and very walkable and numerous streets connect the Mississippi waterfront with the French Quarter. The trams, or streetcars, double up as a mode of transport and tourist attraction. The St Charles route dates to 1835 and is the world’s oldest continuously operating streetcar line. Single fares are only $1.50 and a day pass costs $3. Take to the river on the traditional Steamboat Natchez which runs two-hour harbour cruises with live jazz, plus lunch and dinner cruises, from $31pp. The Algiers ferry runs across the Mississippi between the French Quarter and Algeris Point and offers great views of the New Orleans for a fare of just $2.
WHERE TO STAY
All the major hotel names are here, but for some extra atmosphere check into one of the boutique hotels. The International House is a cool property occupying a striking Beaux Arts building close to the French Quarter.
WHERE TO EAT
Start the day with an ‘eye opener’ cocktail and three-course breakfast at Brennan’s, a unique institution celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Famous for the signature dish Bananas Foster, flamed in rum by your table, it opens at 9am and also serves food throughout the day.
Azamara Club Cruises has a 16-night New Orleans to Miami itinerary, departing on October 26, cruise only from £2,499pp, including drinks and gratuities. 0844 493 4016
Fred. Olsen offers an 11-night Treasures of the Mississippi itinerary on American Cruise Lines’ American Eagle riverboat, departing New Orleans on November 3 and priced from £4,556pp cruise only or option to package flights and extension 01473 242678
Cruise lines sailing from New Orleans
- American Queen Steamboat Company
Cruise lines calling at New Orleans include:
- Celebrity Cruises
- P&O Cruises
Bourbon theme on American Queen
Bill Samuels Jnr, son of the founder of Maker’s Mark bourbon, is one of the star guests on the American Queen’s Bourbon-themed cruise on the Ohio River between St Louis and Cincinnati.
Highlights of the cruise include: onboard Bourbon tastings and semi- nars; Bourbon-enhanced menu items; Bourbon-themed gifts; a cooking with Bourbon demonstration; distillery visits; and a performance by the Jug- gernaut Jug Band.
There’s also a Special Land Event, including a city tour of Frankfort, Ky., a guided tour of Buffalo Trace Distill- eries and lunch at the famous Claudia Sanders Dinner House.
Seven nights onboard in an inside cabin, including flights from the UK and one night pre-cruise in a hotel, from £2,295pp for an inside cabin on July 10-18, 2016.
All packages include the one-night pre-voyage hotel stay, all meals and soft drinks onboard, shore excursions in all ports, complimentary wine and beer with dinner and a host of other amenities.
Visit lightbluetravel.co.uk or call 01223 568904