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Just in time to make your Mardi Gras plans, TPG Contributor Sarah Tomlinson covers the Big Easy for today’s Destination of the Week: New Orleans.
WHAT TO DO
It’s impossible to keep a city like New Orleans down. Long known for its raucous, free-spirited mélange of cultures, cuisines and musical genres, as well as half a dozen truly inspired annual excuses to party, including of course, Mardi Gras (February) and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, or Jazz Fest (late April/early May), as well as lesser-known but equally worthwhile fetes like the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (late March),the music-oriented French Quarter Festival (mid-April), the LGBT-oriented Southern Decadence (Labor Day weekend) party, and alternative rock festival Voodoo Experience (Halloween weekend), there’s always a good reason to visit the Crescent City.
Even in the wake of the devastating destruction and loss of Hurricane Katrina, the question was not if the city would recover, but when. Seven years later, reminders of the tragedy linger, including some residential buildings and warehouses that remain abandoned in the Ninth Ward. The city has not quite rebounded to the days when 10.1 million tourists visited each year, but it is still a popular vacation destination, and if anything, it seems evermore vibrant. Abundant refurbishment projects only enhance the city’s already eclectic architectural flavor, rather than inhibiting in any way the beauty and charm of its historical and culturally vibrant roots.
For tourists, the heart of the city remains the French Quarter. Stroll along catacomb-like streets, stopping at classic attractions like Café Du Monde. This crowded establishment, which has been in business in the New Orleans French Market since 1862 and is open 24 hours a day (except Christmas), may intimidate a bit with its frenetic energy and mob of eager visitors. But it’s fully worth vying for a table. Enjoy the decadently delicious beignets, square French-style powdered-sugar-dusted doughnuts, with a cup of coffee (introduced to America by the French via New Orleans in the mid-1700’s) with chicory (roasted and ground endive root added to coffee to stretch it when rations were scarce during the Civil War, and still a popular regional flavoring) or other drinks. Pick up some powdered beignet mix and ground coffee to replicate the experience at home.
The French Market also features restaurants, gift shops, a farmers market and flea market, as well as a free program highlighting the culinary history and culture of New Orleans on most Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.
Another sweet treat can be found in the traditional New Orleans dessert, pralines, made from boiled sugar, cream, butter and pecans, and cooked up fresh daily at a variety of French Quarter locations, including Southern Candymakers on Decatur Street. Other popular destinations in the neighborhood are the Pontchartrain Hotel, where Tennessee Williams is said to have stayed while working on A Streetcar Named Desire, and legendary New Orleans jazz venue, Preservation Hall. Magazine Street entices retail enthusiasts with antique shops and boutiques while Bourbon Street is an apex of revelry with its many musical venues and bars. Still undergoing renovation since Katrina, Confederate Memorial Hall Museum holds the world’s second largest collection of Confederate Memorabilia.
The waterfront esplanade offers an opportunity to shop, stroll and enjoy panoramic views of the city, which can also be enjoyed from one of the tours offered by the steamboat Natchez, which takes visitors along the Mississippi River the length of the city twice daily. Nearby are the convention center and Harrah’s Casino.
The newest up-and-coming neighborhood is the Warehouse District, near the convention center, which has an arty vibe thanks to raw industrial spaces stylishly renovated into hotels, art galleries, restaurants and bars. Nestled on the corner of one such block is a culinary standout Cochon, which features a butcher shop (open during the day to offer house-cured meats and sausages, sandwiches and small plates). For dinner, the restaurant updates traditional Cajun southern cooking with remarkably delicious and charming results. The welcoming, knowledgeable bar staff can guide diners through the bar’s moonshine and bourbon flights. Small plates offer the opportunity to sample many flavors and the sides are absolutely worth trying. Don’t miss the wood-fired oyster roast (a local delicacy that’s particularly well-done here) and order anything featuring pork belly (one special during a recent visit was such a perfectly rendered mix of flavors it almost evoked tears).
Other dining standouts include lunch at Napoleon House for a muffaletta sandwich and the house specialty cocktail, the Pimms Cup, or Coop’s Place, where the fried combo plate and gumbo are standouts. Both are located in the French Quarter. For dinner, marinate in old-school charm at Dickie Brennan’s Steak House, where steaks are served with Cajun spiced butter. Considered one of the best for local cuisine, including dishes that blend in Vietnamese influences, is Elizabeth’s Restaurant, where must-haves include the praline bacon appetizer and fried chicken plate.
The Marigny (or Faubourg Marigny) is a popular neighborhood for live music and is also home to its own take on Mardi Gras, renowned for its unique, colorful costumes, as well as the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, which offers arts instruction to area children and holds frequent performances and exhibitions.
Other sites worth visiting include the many historic cemeteries—because of the low elevation and high water table, graves were historically built above-ground, giving rise to a number of elaborate tombs, which have been spotlighted in films from Easy Rider to Interview with the Vampire.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations
What could more tellingly epitomize the spirit of New Orleans than the fact that its airport is named not for a politician, but for a jazz legend that once called the city home? The Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport serves roughly 2.5 million domestic passengers annually with a dozen airlines offering domestic and international flights in and out of the city. The airport is currently being revamped, which has meant the recent opening of several new concessions, including a New Orleans Saints store, selling the football team’s merchandise, and an outpost of the New Orleans staple, Perlis Cajun clothing, known for its crawfish logo.
The airport is located in Kenner, Louisiana, which is about 15 miles west of the French Quarter. The Airport-Downtown Express (E-2) picks passengers up outside airport entrance #7 on the upper level. The fare is $2, and the bus takes about 35 minutes to travel to downtown New Orleans. A cab to the city’s Central Business District averages around $33 for one or two persons, with the option available to pay by credit card, and takes 20-45 minutes, depending on traffic. Airport shuttles to hotels in the Central Business District cost $20 per-person, one-way or $38 per-person, round-trip. Call 866-596-2699 for information or to make a reservation.
The airport is served by Air Canada, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, United and US Airways. Southwest has the largest presence serving Baltimore, Birmingham (ends June 2, 2013), Chicago-Midway, Dallas-Love, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston-Hobby, Kansas City, Key West (begins March 9, 2013), Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Newark (begins March 9, 2013), Orlando, Phoenix, St. Louis, Tampa and seasonally Milwaukee.
Country Inn & Suites By Carlson, New Orleans French Quarter: Located on Magazine Street, walking distance to the French Quarter, this property is composed of seven unique 19th-century buildings. Amenities include complimentary in-room WiFi and a hot breakfast buffet. Rates in January begin at $123 or 38,000 points.
The Hilton New Orleans Riverside: Right on the banks of the Mississippi River, across the street from Harrah’s Casino and four blocks from the French Quarter this hotel’s room amenities include Hilton Suite Dreams bed by Serta, Hilton Clock Radio with mp3 player, and Executive Room guests have access to the Executive Lounge, with personal concierge service and complimentary continental breakfast and hors d’oeuvres. Rates in January begin at $239. This is a Category 6 property requiring 40,000 points for a free night.
The Roosevelt New Orleans: This property features 504 rooms, including 125 luxury suites and PURE allergy-friendly rooms. Guests can enjoy live music in the Blue Room, once frequented by Frank Sinatra, or relax on the rooftop bar. Restaurant options include fine dining at Sazerac, or more casual Italian fare at Domenica. Their Guerlain Spa, one of only three locations in the U.S. designated to carry the French cosmetics brand’s name, includes a Couples Suite. This is a Waldorf Astoria property. Rates in January begin at $179 or 50,000 HHonors points.
Hyatt Regency New Orleans: Reopened in 2011 after being closed for six years following Hurricane Katrina, the property includes 95 suites, a full-service FedEx office and 24-hour grab-n-go fresh market. Two bars and two restaurants include Borgne, from James Beard award-winning chef John Besh, who serves up Louisiana seafood with Spanish accents. Amenities include WiFi and high-speed Internet access, local artwork and natural stone baths. Respire by Hyatt hypo-allergenic rooms are also offered. This is a Hyatt Gold Passport Category 4 Hotel. Rates in January start at $146.30 or 15,000 Gold Passport points.
New Orleans Marriott: Located on Canal Street just blocks from Decatur and the attractions of the French Quarter as well as the National WWII Museum, this property features amenities including a fitness center and outdoor pool. Dining options include 55 Fahrenheit, the city’s newest wine bar, which offers more than 200 wines as well as cocktails and regional cuisine. Rates in January start at $219. This is a Marriott Rewards Category 6 property and requires 30,000 points (25,000 with PointSavers) for a free-night redemption.
New Orleans Downtown Marriott at the Convention Center: Adjacent to the Convention Center, this property offers guests access to 19 meeting rooms, plus 11 suites and a concierge level. There is an outdoor pool and fitness center. Enjoy a fresh take on French/Creole food at the hotel’s restaurant, Wolfe in the Warehouse. Rates in January begin at $239. This is a Marriott Rewards Category 6 property and requires 30,000 points (25,000 with PointSavers) for a free-night redemption.
Other Marriott properties include: Renaissance New Orleans Pere Marquette Hotel, Courtyard New Orleans Downtown/Iberville, The Saint Hotel, Autograph Collection, JW Marriott New Orleans, Courtyard New Orleans Downtown Near the French Quarter, and the Renaissance New Orleans Arts Hotel.
Crowne Plaza New Orleans French Quarter: Located at the corner of Canal and Bourbon Streets, this property is a launching pad for French Quarter adventures and trips to the nearby New Orleans Riverwalk, perfect for strolling, running, shopping or catching a riverboat cruise. Relax by the rooftop pool or stay on top of both workouts and work with fitness and business centers. Offers designated executive rooms and floors. Rates in January begin at $151.20 or 35,000 points.
Intercontinental New Orleans: Provides guests a prime viewing location for the St. Charles Avenue parade route during Mardi Gras season. Rates in January begin at $171.84 or 40,000 Priority Club points per night.
There is also the Holiday Inn: French Quarter-Chateau Lemoyne which is located in a historic building erected in 1847, which is close to Bourbon Street. January rates begin at $149.95 or 25,000 points per night.
Sheraton New Orleans Hotel: Many rooms at this Starwood property have great views of the Mississippi River or French Quarter. There are 53 suites, all featuring the Sheraton Sweet Sleeper Bed. Amenities include a business center, meeting rooms, a fitness center and outdoor pool. Regional cooking is served up in the hotel’s Roux Bistro, while cocktails can be enjoyed in the Pelican Bar. Rates in January begin at $179 per night. This is an SPG Category 3 property requiring 7,000 Starpoints for a free night.
W New Orleans – French Quarter: This whimsically modern 235-room property has a lantern-bejeweled outdoor courtyard where cocktails are served. Boldly colored rooms are reminiscent of a contemporary Alice in Wonderland. There are also four carriage houses and one deluxe suite. Rates in January begin at $199 per night. This is an SPG Category 5 hotel requiring 12,000 Starpoints for a free night redemption.
Fine Hotels & Resorts
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts is a program exclusively for American Express Platinum Card cardholders, who are eligible for extra benefits such as room upgrades, free continental breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more.
The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans: Located on Canal Street, one block from Bourbon Street. Rooms feature high-speed wireless Internet access, 24-hour room service and complimentary overnight shoeshine service. The property’s décor suggests the nearby Garden District’s antebellum mansions and a 25,000-square foot destination spa offers 22 treatment rooms. Rates in January begin at $299 per night or 40,000 Marriott Rewards points per night if you choose to use points instead.
W New Orleans: Located near enough to the French Quarter to allow access to the action, but removed enough for a more restful stay. Amenities include suites with 350-thread count sheets and Bliss spa-style bath products. For drinks and snacks, guests can enjoy an evening out at nightclub maestro Rande Gerber’s Whiskey Blue. Rates in December begin at $159 per night. This is an SPG Category 4 hotel requiring 10,000 Starpoints for a free night redemption if you choose to use points instead.
Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa Signature Card, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Windsor Court Hotel: This property is designed to resemble an English country house with a fine art collection and afternoon tea service. Of the property’s 322 rooms, 266 are suites, and all offer a private balcony or either a river or city view. There is a spa, fitness center and pool. Cocktails and food are served in the Polo Club Lounge and the hotel’s restaurant, The Grill Room. Rates in January begin at $234 a night.
Bienville House Hotel: This discount boutique hotel is located in a former grain warehouse that has been a hotel since 1835. It has earned both a Three Diamond Designation from AAA and a Tag Approved Accommodations, designating it as a property that welcomes the gay and lesbian community. Amenities include a heated outdoor saltwater pool, pet-friendly rooms and complimentary daily continental breakfast. Lunch and dinner are served at its fine dining restaurant Iris, which serves new American cuisine. Rates in January begin at $159 a night. It is a member of Sterling Hotels – Preferred Hotel Group with its “I prefer” program offering specials and amenities.