The Big Easy is a fascinating blend of history, jazz music, parties, fine dining and architecture. We had the pleasure of being in the area for a couple of weeks which, despite unusually cold weather, allowed us time for exploration. Here are few highlights:
I love the French Quarter with its historic French/Spanish architecture, narrow roads, and quirky shops. We downloaded a handy Frommers Walking Tour onto my phone – no need for a tour guide! During that tour we explored the (high priced) French Market. Budget tip: Creole seasoning packets were $4.50 at the Market, I found the same exact ones at a nearby WalMart for $1.50! We also stopped at historic Brennen’s restaurant for breakfast and bananas Foster at its birthplace. Expensive, but oh so yummy!
We just happened to be here when my sister, Ruth, and her family were visiting. What serendipity! We took an afternoon paddleboat Mississippi River cruise on the Creole Queen, to the Chalmette Battlefield, a key site in the Battle of New Orleans. The cruise was nothing special – a quick half hour ride each way – but the battlefield visit was quite interesting. You can visit the battlefield national park by car, if you just want to see that. Entrance is free and talks are given when the paddleboat docks at 10:45 am and 2:45 pm. We had fun doing it together!
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans’ museum district is an engrossing look at that time period. I’ve been to a number of the world’s finest museums, and this one ranks up with the best, in my humble opinion. The museum’s immersive exhibits, spiced with a number of narrated movie clips, really bring that era to life. The museum is also huge, spanning multiple buildings. A 45-minute movie experience “Beyond All Boundaries”, narrated by Tom Hanks, is fantastic. An interactive submarine battle experience (“Final Mission”) isn’t quite as impactful, but interesting to participate in. The cost is $37 per person with all of the extras; plan to spend the whole day. We arrived mid-morning and simply couldn’t get to everything by closing. Well worth a visit! If one day isn’t enough, you can pay an extra $6 for a “return the next day” ticket.
To round out our New Orleans visit, we stopped in at the Oak Alley Plantation, a former sugar cane plantation, in nearby Vacherie, Louisiana. The $22 admission fee includes a guided tour of the Big House, “Slavery at Oak Alley exhibit”, and the Sugarcane Theater which tells the story of sugar’s impact on the people of Oak Alley. The beautiful antebellum Big House, framed in an alley of 240-year-old live oak trees, is one of the most frequently photographed views around. The Plantation hosts a restaurant which serves up local fare. I had the chef’s special: crawfish stew. Yum!
New Orleans is a fascinating place to visit but come prepared to shell out for parking downtown – $25 per day and up. I recommend downloading the Premium Parking app, which allows you to find parking lots/garages, pay by plate, and even reserve a spot in advance. A little planning makes the parking process much less stressful.
During our time in the area we experienced a spell of historically cold weather, including freezing rain and ice. What IS it about ice this winter? In any case, due to the many bridges and elevated roads, every main artery in and around New Orleans was completely shut down for several days until the weather warmed and the ice melted. Adding to the misery, frozen/burst water mains put the city under a boil water order for days. Not a big deal for us, as we are self contained, but it made for interesting times.
Soon it will be time to leave the land of gumbo, jazz and Mardi Gras and head westward!