New Orleans... The Romance, The Revelry, And The RESTAURANTS!
By Angela Ash
New Orleans has been called everything from the Queen City to the Big Easy. But how often do you hear it called one of the most romantic cities in the world? Well, take notes, because you just did.
Strolling through the Garden District is like stepping back in time. Close your eyes and block out the sound of the street, open them again, and it is very easy to imagine that you are in a time long forgotten. Walk down a side street on Bourbon, erase the neon and blinking lights, and it works like a charm… again.
Walking around New Orleans at twilight is like being in a dream. The worries of that day are easily forgotten, as something that feels quite like magic takes a hold of you, pulling you down this street, and then the next. You may pass a graveyard where your favorite movie was filmed, stop into a couple hundred years old piano bar, have dinner in a lavish courtyard, or just “be”. The possibilities are endless.
Let’s explore a few.
Before you do anything, find that perfect hotel. Being the wonderful city that it is, accommodations in New Orleans can fill up quickly, especially when there are special events going on. And yes, I have the perfect place!
When deciding which area to stay in, I would definitely suggest the French Quarter and its surrounding locales. This is the area where you are going to do most of your shopping, take most of your tours, and visit most of the attractions. Plus, THAT, my friends, is where Bourbon Street is. Now, sometimes people who are very ill-informed will tell you that the area is dangerous or “seedy”. I feel that this is completely ridiculous. Of course walking down a deserted alley at three in the morning is not advised. But would anyone advise you to do that anywhere? I have never felt anything but completely safe when staying in the French Quarter. One good thing is that the Quarter is always filled with people, which definitely gives you a sense of safety. Now, should you hold onto your purse and watch out for pickpockets? Absolutely! But you should do that when you’re leaving the mall at home. Definitely… no question about it… the French Quarter is the place to stay.
As far as which particular hotel to book, I would highly recommend my new "happy place". Located just a few blocks from the French Quarter and the Superdome, Harrah's New Orleans Casino Hotel rises 26 stories, tastefully overlooking the great Mississippi River. With 450 gorgeous rooms and suites, there is a space just calling your name. I know it was calling mine.
This is a hotel that you can really "settle into". Whether you are visiting for a long weekend or for an extended vacation, this really feels like "home"... only a lot more luxurious! The pillowtop mattresses are probably among the most comfortable in the industry, and the bathrooms, complete with oversized tubs, contain every amenity imaginable.
And you might as well make a date with Lady Luck and venture into the casino. I mean, this place is great. This is definitely one of my favorite casinos, Vegas included. The ambiance is nothing short of inspiring, and every gaming option imaginable is there waiting… hopefully to give you money.
For those of you lucky enough to have earned a Diamond or Seven Star status with the lucrative Total Rewards player's program, you will also have special access to the Palms Room, a beautiful lounge boasting tasty bites and a full service bar. It is perfect for a quick treat before playing, or even for a meal... and it is all complimentary for Harrah's most rewarded players.
And Harrah’s is not all about gambling. The dining options are a reason to visit alone. I love Fuddruckers! This is by far the best burger in the world and, teamed with a heaping order of their famous fries, will satisfy even the biggest appetite.
Last but definitely not least, this place completely redefines the idea of "service". It is almost as if the employees can anticipate your every need. It is definitely also wonderful to be greeted by name by day two of your stay.
Harrah’s New Orleans
228 Poydras Street
Now that you know where to stay, where else do you EAT? I mean, let’s make sure that we cover the basics!
Muriel's Restaurant in Jackson Square should come with a warning label. It should read "highly addictive". This is not only one of the best restaurants in New Orleans, but is a strong contender for the best food in the country!
Boasting Creole cuisine that will literally befriend the taste buds, this is one dining establishment that begs to be frequented on every trip to New Orleans. With several unique dining areas to choose from, each and every visit will truly be a new adventure.
I believe that one of the secrets of this wonderful establishment is in the ingredients. The catfish is so fresh that it nearly inspires one to search for a fishing line. Special touches seem to embrace every dish, transforming what might be an ordinary meal into something especially extraordinary. No... "ordinary" is not a word that could ever be a description for Muriel's Restaurant.
Lunch, Dinner, and a Sunday Jazz Brunch are offered. A special pre-theatre menu is also available. You may access the menus, to better prepare for the dining extravaganza of your choice.
Muriel's also offers several areas available for meetings, banquets, and special occasions. I can not picture a more beautiful venue for a reception!
Do not say farewell without visiting the beautiful courtyard bar, or taking a perfectly crafted cocktail up to the Seance room, where the ghost of Antoine may join you for a libation or two.
801 Chartres Street
It seems that every great restaurant in New Orleans has its niche... its specialty. If this is true, than one thing is extremely obvious. Brennan's Restaurant should hold the patent on breakfast.
Since 1946, they have been serving sumptuous dishes in the heart of the French Quarter, to visitors and locals alike.
But back to the breakfast! Observing our fellow diners, I could see that Brennan's is, indeed, a tradition. There was a large family at a long table, who seemed to meet there regularly for birthdays and special occasions, and across the room was a couple from Florida, who commented that they never visit New Orleans without breakfast at Brennan's.
And not only is it a tradition, but it is an "experience". Starting off with fresh fruit and ending with crepes and Bananas Foster, which was created right within those very walls, is a treat for all senses. Be sure to set aside plenty of time to see, smell, and taste.
Speaking of "taste", be sure to have the Steak and Eggs Brennan, a 14 ounce ribeye, topped with eggs and a delightful Hollandaise sauce. Be sure to pair it with a glass of wine, or a signature "eye opener".
The only thing to rival Brennan's notoriety for their breakfast might be the service. Lee was 100% the most exceptional server I have ever been paired with whilst dining. He seemed to anticipate every request, often arriving as a genie emerging from a bottle with a third wish. His recommendations seemed to rival psychic predictions, as every member of my party was served with the perfect dish.
If you are not an early riser, especially in New Orleans, never fear. Dinner is also served, and I heard a rumor that it is as delectable as the breakfast. You may view the full menus to begin planning your visit. Sigh... if only they were scratch and sniff.
417 Royal Street
Ok.. if you are caught dead anywhere else for brunch, then just pack up your bags and go home. The Court Of Two Sisters is the place to be! This place is wonderful, and whereas a lot of restaurants may offer ambience, and another wonderful food, they have BOTH.
You may choose to dine inside, or out… in the fabulous courtyard. And the buffet is endless… or seemingly. There are so many choices that it can make your head spin. There is a fresh spread of tasty fruit, an omelette or eggs benedict station, and everything from carved turkey breast to turtle soup.
If anything could possibly make this experience even better, it is the soothing jazz music that flows throughout the courtyard.
You may view their brunch menu, as well as their dinner menu. They also offer a casual dining menu... truly something for everyone.
And while the Court of Two Sisters is best known for their Jazz brunch buffet (every day… not just Sunday), the dinner is superb. If you have a weekend in New Orleans, eat here twice!
The Court of Two Sisters
613 Royal Street
If you truly want a taste of New Orleans tradition, then Tujague's can not be beat! It is the second oldest restaurant in New Orleans, and has been in operation for over 150 years. With its tempting array of Creole inspired dishes, this is old New Orleans, fused with modern touches that blend seamlessly to create nothing less than pure inspiration.
In keeping with tradition, fresh produce is purchased daily from the French Market, thus supporting the city and providing patrons with nothing less than the absolute best in ingredients.
However, even the best ingredients are nothing without the recipes, and this is where Tujague's definitely wins the prize. The six course menu offers such options as beef brisket and shrimp remoulade, finishing up with perhaps the best pecan pie I have ever tasted.
Serving celebrities and presidents alike, this eatery must be experienced to truly fathom just how spectacular it is!
823 Decatur Street
If "eat, drink and be merry" is your slogan, then Pat O'Brien's is definitely the place for you! Since 1933, they have been dishing up delicious food, an atmospheric courtyard, and they even invented the Hurricane. Now that's just showing off.
While well known for their signature drinks, Pat O'Brien's can definitely hold their own in the food department. Serving up fresh catfish, alligator bites, and entrees ranging from cajun shepherds pie to the O'Brien's burger, the service is fantastic and the food is even better. My favorite is the New Orleans Trio, which serves up a hearty portion of jambalaya, red beans and rice, gumbo, or crawfish etouffee.
Pat O'Brien's Courtyard Restaurant
624 Bourbon Street
Ok, so far we have been fed and have a bed. Here comes the good stuff.
New Orleans is known for so many things. However, what do most people think of? Yup… Bourbon Street! I could go on for the next century about the night life on Bourbon, branching out onto Decatur and Royal, and the alleys in between. If you like jazz, it’s there. Want a little hip hop, no problem. Heavy rock? You guessed it. And New Orleans is the home to the goth and/or alternative scene. But the place that really piqued my interest… well, if you’re not careful, you might just miss it. Walk way down Bourbon. I mean, really… keep walking. And there she sits, a tiny gem amidst the pulsing dance beats and disco balls… Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop.
Legend has it that the pirate brothers Jean and Pierre Lafitte used this location as a blacksmith shop, which served as a front for well… let’s say a few businesses that couldn’t exactly hang a sign on the front of the building. It is said to have been built sometime before 1772, and also claims to be the oldest bar in the country. However, all I cared about was the deliciously romantic atmosphere, and that beautiful piano in the back corner. Now, people say that the bar is haunted, and several night ghost walks “happen” by on their tours. Doesn’t that make it even more tempting?
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop
941 Bourbon Street
Speaking of anything even remotely paranormal, you can’t say you visited New Orleans without taking a ghost walk or two, or finding yourself in the middle of a cemetery with goosebumps running up your arm. Obviously, the tour companies offering such excursions are numerous. I chose to go on several adventures with Bloody Mary's Tours on this visit.
The infamous Bloody Mary explaining the burial process
Bloody Mary's Tours offer, without a doubt, the best paranormal tours in the country. Unlike many other companies, a vast myriad of options are offered, either public or private, and... SURPRISE... not merely limited to the French Quarter.
But, as with all proper New Orleans stories, that is where we will start.
Many tourists or visitors to the Crescent City never leave the Quarter, and it is often easy to see why. A majority of the attractions and museums are located there, or close by on Canal Street. And of course, the Vieux Carre has no shortage of ghost tales, ranging from the bittersweet romances to the most grotesque, disturbing visions that one could ever possibly conjure.
But why use all of that imagination? Simply book Bloody Mary's Tour of the Undead.
This was, refreshingly, like no other French Quarter walking tour I have experienced. Blending ghost and vampire tales with unique New Orleans history, this tour reaches depths that not only gives examples and renderings of events and legends, but actually explains WHY public thought and action led to these occurrences in the first place. You will dig deep into the religions that formulated their way of life, often built upon mysticism, magick, and hereditary tradition.
And these tales are not spun from the safety of a hotel lobby, but typically whilst standing on the cobblestone directly in front of the property or venue which still houses the spirits directly connected to such tragedies that they are not able to rest. Instead, they often choose to appear in photographs, or as a quick tug on the sleeve... or cold chills on a humid New Orleans night.
Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop
The starting point of this tour is even unique, with all tour goers assembled not outside, but actually within the walls of the revered Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, once belonging to notorious pirates, and birthing hundreds of reported paranormal experiences.
But don't stop there. The Moonlight Graveyard Tour offers an exciting take on the unique places and methods with which New Orleans chooses to bury her dead. We were lucky enough to actually have Bloody Mary herself as our guide for this experience, which took us into two cemeteries and outside of several others. The most interesting, by far, was Holt Cemetery... where mourners have created home-made tombstones and other sentimental effigies to their loved ones.
It was absolutely surreal to wander about these cemeteries as the day gave way to complete darkness, often with only the moonlight to guide our way. This experience is a MUST. It takes you away from the French Quarter and out into a completely different area, while still remaining easily and quickly accessible via streetcar.
While the sites visited on this tour were fantastic, to say the least, the highlight was Mary herself. Mary has been featured on the Travel Channel's Ghost Adventures, A&E, and the History Channel... just to name a few. However, while possessing such extensive knowledge, she never once fills a story with too many mediocre facts. She skillfully mixes information with the macabre as if it is her second nature.
Whatever you wish to experience in New Orleans, chances are that Bloody Mary's Tours has something right up your alley. There is the Haunted Pub Crawl, that visits bars, restaurants, and even a former brothel. The Back 'O Town Tour is a van tour that visits several cemeteries and other exciting locales, and culminates in the creation of actual Voodoo dolls. They don't call Bloody Mary the New Orleans Voodoo Queen for just anything! The New Orleans After Dark Tour is a complete paranormal outing, that visits, cemeteries, haunted houses, and sacred sites spanned across four neighborhoods, with psychic exercises to top off the experience. Also if you crave a bit more time in the graveyard, do not leave out the Cities of the Dead Tour, where three rarely explored cemeteries await exploration with a truly gifted, knowledgeable guide! And of course, an array of private tours are just waiting for your reservation!
To make scheduling your favorite Bloody Mary tour even easier, print the Pocket Tour Schedule to make the most of your time in one of the most haunted cities in the world!
When in New Orleans, do not consider leaving without taking part in one of Bloody Mary's signature adventures. These tours represent the scale upon which all things paranormal should be measured.
Bloody Mary's Tours
While touching on cemeteries, there is one that you will not want to miss while in New Orleans. Some might question walking about in a cemetery, but this is no ordinary cemetery. First and foremost, take a few minute’s ride on a streetcar over to the Garden District to see the beautiful Victorian homes… and why not stargaze for a minute or two? The well known author Anne Rice once lived in the Garden District, as did Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Don’t worry… the Garden District is still home to a few people you might know. Do the names John Goodman or Nicolas Cage ring a bell? And as I promised, this visit should culminate with a good, long visit to Lafayatte Cemetery Number 1, where “Interview with a Vampire” was filmed. Sound like a nice afternoon?
Oh… and what to do next?
If you are interested in doing something that is completely unique to New Orleans, then Mardi Gras World is at the top of the list!
Do you ever wonder where the articulate floats from the parades come from, or how they are created? You will find the answer to those musings and more... where they are actually made, housed, and restored each year.
This is fun for the entire family! Visitors will receive a plethora of information through both video and tour guides, may try on costumes and pose for photographs, eat King Cake, and tour the enormous warehouse, where artists may actually be viewed at work.
And there is even free transportation from various locations! This is a must-do!
Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World
1380 Port Of New Orleans Place
Do not miss the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. This is rated one of the top five aquariums in the country, and has the largest collection of sharks and jellyfish. Doesn’t that make you shudder already?
On the cute and cuddly side, you can see penguins and sea otters, so let go of the rail!
From visiting an amazing rainforest to feeding birds at parakeet pointe, you could spend all day here! And don't forget about the state-of-the-art Imax Theatre!
Audubon Aquarium of the Americas
1 Canal Street
Now, I am about to tell you about one of the most interesting museums I have ever visited. Like creepy crawlies? Awww… come on. You know you do!
The Insectarium is so amazing! Imagine what it would be like to instantly shrink to “bug size”. Whoah… pretty cool, huh? Wander through 13 gallery rooms, containing over 70 live animal enclosures, 30 specimen cases, and a multisensory theater. Walk through a Louisiana swamp, or visit a beautiful Japanese butterfly garden. Wonders await you!
423 Canal Street
If history is your thing, the Beauregard-Keyes House will definitely deserve a visit! Built in 1826, this is one of the best known historic homes in all of New Orleans... and it is easy to see why.
Located in the lovely French Quarter, tours are conducted on the hour, and a wonderful peek into the 19th century will await. The house is recognized for many things, but the most acknowledged is that it was once the residence of the famous chess player, Paul Morphy.
1113 Chartres Street
Just across the street awaits another gem of Chartres Street. The Old Ursuline Convent is a fantastic place to spend an afternoon. Built around 1753, it is the oldest building in the Mississippi Valley... but remains full of fresh ideas, wonderful presentations, and a beautiful, peaceful chapel and lovely gardens.
The museum housed within is extraordinary. Tastefully displayed pieces of the church's past provide a vast array of knowledge to both the religiously and historically inclined.
This is a piece of New Orleans that truly deserves to be visited over and over again.
The Old Ursuline Convent
1100 Chartres Street
Now, head to Jackson Square, the heart of the French Quarter. Jackson Square is to New Orleans what Trafalgar Square is to London. It is perfectly situated between the Mississippi River and the St. Louis Cathedral. This is the perfect place to people watch, buy a piece from a local artist, or have your fortune told at twilight. The artists, restaurants, museums, merchants, and the square itself make Jackson Square one of the Quarter's most popular destinations.
It has become very popular for most museums to offer a "late night"... a chance to wander around the exhibits when the sun has gone down and the world has become quiet outside of the museum walls.
Cajun Encounters Tours offers something quite similar. They also offer a chance to wander around after dark, except that the exhibits are curious alligators, snakes, spiders, and every other creature that inhabits the swamp. And the world is anything but quiet here.
The tour is of the fascinating Honey Island Swamp, just outside of New Orleans in Slidell, Louisiana. Never fear if you are without transportation, or would rather just relax and have someone do the driving for you, because a pick-up service is offered, and will arrive right outside of your hotel door to whisk you away on the most fascinating adventure to be had outside of Bourbon Street.
Our tour guide for this expedition was Captain Bishop. I must say that he is probably one of the best guides I have ever had on any type of tour... period. Full of an immense amount of knowledge on the swamp and its inhabitants, he mixed this information with folk tales and outrageous humor. The tour guests were laughing one minute, screaming the next, and then dead silent as we crept through the Spanish moss in a tight waterway.
Now, I pretty much expected to see alligators. I was not disappointed. I actually lost count of how many we encountered. They were everywhere. There was one point when they completely encircled the boat... at least four or five of them. However, I did not expect to see wild boar, literally swimming out to the boat for marshmallows and hot dogs. THAT was amazing, and definitely a highlight of the tour.
While the night swamp tour was an absolute MUST, keep in mind that Cajun Encounters offers all types of additional touring options. They offer a day time swamp tour, New Orleans city tours, plantation tours, and money-saving combination tours.
If you are going to be anywhere near the vicinity, visit Cajun Encounters online, and book a tour today! You never know what may be waiting for you.
New Orleans is by far one of the most beautiful and unusual cities in the world. It is nearly impossible to bid farewell to, without brushing away a tear or two. A weekend is not enough time to experience New Orleans. A week is not enough. A month is even pushing things. However, remember that while New Orleans is a nearly mythical destination, it is just the open door to all that Louisiana has to offer.
Just minutes from the crescent city, parallel to the mighty Mississippi River, is another world... a place of history and knowledge, mighty plantations, mansions, and heartbreaking slave cabins. Tear yourself away from New Orleans for a day or two. Don't worry... you won't be far away.
Traveling on down the Great River Road, it seems like you can “feel” Oak Alley Plantation before you even see it. It is just one of those places that, despite any information or other facts to invoke such a reaction, you “know” will be fantastic.
And Oak Alley does not disappoint. The first thing you will lay eyes on are the magnificent oak trees that line the path up to the front porch of the plantation. They literally take your breath away.
If you think the grounds and gardens are amazing, wait until your tour guide, dressed completely in period costume, shows you the inside of the plantation, a beautiful 1800’s mansion.
Make sure you set aside plenty of time to visit Oak Alley Plantation, as that this is not a visit you will want to rush. The Oak Alley Restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch, and once you dine here, you will not be able to get near Oak Alley without stopping in for a bite!
The daily specials are tantalizing, as well as creatively inspired. It definitely calls for a repeat visit, just to see what new items will tempt even the most discernible diner.
The red beans and rice with smoked sausage is absolutely delicious, but has stiff competition from the po boys. As I eyed the dishes delivered to other tables, and smelled the delicious aromas from the kitchen, I began to wonder if I could possibly fit in dessert.
I somehow found the strength.
I am still having dreams about the chocolate pecan pie. However, the praline cheesecake also deserves an honorable mention. I swear, I would hop in my car and drive 500 miles just to eat dessert.
But that would be a shame, right? I dare not go so far and not have a steaming bowl of gumbo! And yum... what about the catfish? I can see this may turn into an obsession.
You may view the breakfast menu and the lunch menu, and visit online for more information.
Oak Alley Plantation is such a magical place! Many movies and television series were even filmed here. For you Days Of Our Lives fans, this is the location where Bo and Hope were married in 1984. And for the Bette Davis followers, this is the film site for “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte”. And yes, you are right. This is the home of the melancholy vampire, Louis, in “Interview With A Vampire”. Even Ghost Hunters filmed a segment here, sending in their paranormal investigators to see if the place really is haunted! But come see for yourself!
Oak Alley Plantation
3645 Highway 18
Just a few more minutes away is lovely Laura Plantation. This place is a wonderful history lesson in Creole life. Surrounded by fields of sugar cane, you will experience a guided tour into the 200 year old sugar plantation homestead. Through live accounts and props, you will experience what it would have been like to actually live and work at the Laura Plantation.
However, I believe that the crown jewel is a guided tour inside one of the slave cabins, built in 1840, where the ancient tales of Compair Lapin, better known in English and through Disney’s “Song of the South”, as "Br'er Rabbit” (think Splash Mountain), were invented. On the grounds are 12 buildings on the National Register, including animal barns, the overseers' cottages, and other buildings of significant historical interest.
With a wonderful gift shop to explore, do not leave without your copy of Memories Of The Old Plantation Home. Written by the plantation's namesake, Laura Locoul Gore, this adds so much insight! I literally could not put it down!
2247 Highway 18