Tuesday, January 10, 2012


New Orleans has jazz, culture, history, culinary delights and so much more....

Cruise lines also have great sailings departing from this active city so add a pre or post visit to New Orleans on to your cruise getaway!

Following disastrous Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in August 2005, and the Gulf oil spill of 2010, New Orleans has, each time, reemerged with a bang. Indeed, on a recent visit to the city's downtown district, it was almost hard to tell that any tragedy had ever struck at all. The French Quarter teemed with shoppers, Bourbon Street revelries were at full blast, and the Friday lunchers packed in at Galatoire's.

While certain parts of the city are looking better than ever, there are still wide swaths of New Orleans that haven't yet recovered from Katrina's wrath. Gray Line, the tour company that's better known for its nostalgic looks at New Orleans (from "Oak Alley Plantations" to "Ghosts and Spirits"), has created a tour that's a must-do for every visitor to the city who really wants to see, first-hand, the effects of Hurricane Katrina -- and a host of other local tour companies have followed suit. Tours focus on the areas outside of downtown, driving through the worst-hit neighborhoods such as Lakeview, St. Bernard's Parish, the lower Ninth Ward, Gentilly and others. The tours are a sobering and illuminating experience that can be summed up in this comment we overheard about the still-obvious damage: "It's like a whale. You've never understood how big it is until you see it."

Despite changes good and bad, New Orleans retains the savory character that makes it one of America's most intriguing cities. The mystique surrounding this Mississippi River city goes way beyond music and revelry and can be credited to its early mix of settlers -- Creole and Cajun (along with a bit of influence from the Caribbean) -- that even today infect the city's urban scene, from art to culture to cuisine, with an irrepressible joie d'vivre.


new orleans cemetery The French Quarter, New Orleans' oldest neighborhood, feels like an old movie. This 7-by-15-block area has loads of character with narrow streets, and two- and three-story French- and Spanish-inspired architecture. It's known for its plethora of bars and jazz clubs, which come to life at night, but the neighborhood is equally fascinating by day.

Highlights include shopping along Royal Street, visiting the historic St. Louis Cathedral, and people-watching on Jackson Square, a hangout for artists displaying their work on the sidewalk. There's also a lovely riverfront park with a walking path.

Jazz lovers will feel right at home in New Orleans. The city boasts a musical legacy that includes pioneers like Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong, Buddy Bolden, King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton -- but you can opt for traditional venues or more contemporary ones. The city's best jazz spots are located in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood (at the west end of the French Quarter). Don't miss Snug Harbor and Spotted Cat. In the French Quarter, Preservation Hall, though not a bar, is a premier venue. Another fascinating stop is the Louisiana Music Factory for its huge collection of jazz recordings.

Organized tours are the best way to gain an insider's view of local history and lore, and to visit the city's unique cemeteries, with their rows of elaborate above-ground tombs (many local cemeteries are unsafe for independent visitors, so always go with a group). Among the best walking tours are the French Quarter, Garden District, Cemetery/Voodoo Tour and other tours offered by the well-qualified guides of Historic New Orleans Tours, Inc. Gray Line offers a variety of motor-related excursions, including the aforementioned Hurricane Katrina tour.

The growing museum district around Lee Circle will interest art lovers. The handsome new Ogden Museum of Southern Art features artists from throughout the region. The Contemporary Arts Center across the road, a combination theater and gallery, is as interesting for its architecture as for its offerings. Or check out the National World War II Museum, where the highlight is an elaborate reconstruction of the Allied Forces' landing on Normandy in June 1944. Art lovers may also want to head over to Julia Street, in the city's up-and-coming Warehouse District, where there are numerous edgy and avant garde galleries.

New Orleans has a serious tradition of voodoo -- and you can sample it. Check out the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum, where blue candles burn continually in honor of Marie Laveau, who was the Queen of Voodoo in the 1830's. Her grave in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is cluttered with mementos left by her legion of latter-day followers. You can still visit a voodoo temple, and you'll see voodoo dolls for sale all over town. You can learn all about the practices of voodoo on a Cemetery/Voodoo walking tour with Historic New Orleans Tours, Inc. The tour takes visitors to see the fabled cemeteries of New Orleans -- virtual cities with avenues of stately tombs built above ground because the water table is too high for underground burial.

Take a canoe ride down the bayou via Bayou Barn. The company is based at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve -- 20 minutes from downtown -- where you can sail your own canoe down Bayou des Families and spot alligators, egrets, turtles, blue herons, bald eagles and more. Guides are available with advance reservations and an additional fee. The park also has walking trails.

--written by Eleanor Berman and Carolyn Spencer Brown; updated by Sarah Schlichter and Caroline Costello

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