We just got back yesterday from 3 days in New Orleans where we celebrated the first weekend of Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras (aka, Fat Tuesday) this year falls on February 13, but they have parades and festivities for the two weekends before Mardi Gras. It’s basically the same as Carnivale – everyone parties hard leading up to Ash Wednesday and Lent, when you are then expected to deprive yourself until Easter. Steve and I have been to both weekends of Mardi Gras in New Orleans and while they are both fun, we prefer the earlier weekend, which has plenty of parades on Friday, Saturday and Sunday but is also less crowded and a little more low-key.
We took an early flight on Friday and checked into our club level room at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, which is located right in the heart of New Orleans on Canal Street. I highly recommend this hotel for its location, service and amenities, including a very nice spa. Most of the parades come down to Canal Street so it’s the perfect location to watch parades and then walk into the French Quarter where you will find Bourbon Street, Jackson Square and most of the bars and restaurants. You’re also a short 5 minute walk to the Mississippi River and the St. Charles Streetcar. After unpacking, we stopped into the club level for some coffee before going for a walk around the French Quarter.
We had a long leisurely lunch at Nola, an Emeril Lagasse restaurant, before meeting up with our friends who flew in to spend the weekend in the city as well. I’ll post about where we ate in my next post as a visit to New Orleans is all about the food. So, what is there to do in New Orleans other than eat?
Well, if you are there during Mardi Gras, be sure to hang out at some of the parades, which are super fun! No, you do NOT have to flash your private parts to get beads nor should you. In fact, that is illegal and you will likely get arrested for doing that and the parades are very family friendly. The parades always have a mix of local school bands, dancers, music and floats and the goal is to get as many beads and trinkets as possible. Just throw your hand up in the air and you are bound to catch something. I usually end up with so many beads that I leave most of them in the hotel room and only take a few of the better/larger ones as keepsakes.
You should also spend time just wandering the French Quarter to look at the architecture, pop into some of the many shops and art galleries and enjoy the street music from the buskers which are everywhere. Jackson Square is a must-see with the famous St. Louis cathedral and the various tarot card readers and artists hanging in front of the church and around the square. Cafe du Monde is also located here if you need some coffee and beignets.
A little further down from Jackson Square is the French Market, which has tons of vendors selling everything from souvenir t-shirts to sunglasses, local food items, alligator themed stuff and touristy trinkets. There is a lot of junk there but it’s worth a look-around. From Jackson Square, you can also cross the street and walk along the path by the Mississippi River and watch the barges and huge container ships (and now cruise ships) making their way up and down the river and around the sharp turn in the river that gave the city the nickname, The Crescent City. If the weather is nice, you can take a 2 hour ride up the river on a traditional paddle wheel boat, the Natchez.
There are plenty more things to do in the city, including taking a ride on the St. Charles Streetcar to The Garden District to look at the huge antebellum mansions in that area, or a guided tour of the famous St. Louis cemetery (do not go on your own – go with a guided group for safety reasons), or head over to Frenchmen Street on the other side of the Quarter to listen to some jazz or zydeco music at a club like Snug Harbor or the Blue Nile. If you are sticking to Bourbon Street, Fritzl’s Jazz Club has some great scratch jazz in the evenings. Of course, there are bars for everyone’s taste – upscale wine bars to sleazy dive bars. And yes, there are still plenty of “skin” clubs on Bourbon with naked ladies dancing in the windows if that’s your thing.
We ate at some great restaurants during our stay, so I’ll post about those later this week but here is a picture of one sweet ending we had at lunch. Stay tuned for lots of food porn pictures in the next post!