New Orleans was near the top of my must-see list for years. My husband and I finally took our first trip there for our fifth wedding anniversary, and we had a marvelous time. I have a ton of reviews to do about all the places mentioned in this TR, so check them out if you want more info about what we liked and disliked about the places we visited. FYI, he is mid-30s, I am late 20s, we both have very different interests and travel "styles," but thanks to recommendations from family, friends, and TA, we were able to create the perfect trip for us. We (wisely) chose not to rent a car and instead relied on taxis, shuttles, or walking to get us everywhere. We never tried the streetcars or buses. Also, anyone else who was in the city at the same time can agree that the weather was beyond gorgeous: warm and sunny but not oppressively hot. Including the day we got married, it has rained every year on our anniversary no matter where we vacation. NOLA broke the streak!
Wednesday May 21
Our direct flight was delayed due to weather so we arrived even later than we'd anticipated. Fortunately, it was smooth sailing once we got on the ground at MSY. Picked up our bags and had no wait for a taxi (one of the perks of getting in at night!), so we were quickly on our way to the Hilton Garden Inn on Gravier Street, just a few blocks from the French Quarter. We picked HGI because we've had good luck with this chain in the past (LOVE having a fridge and microwave in the room), we got a decent rate, they had a pool, and the location was perfect for us. We wanted to be close to the FQ but most definitely did NOT want to be in it.
Check-in was also quick and painless. We were thrilled to get a room with a beautiful skyline view, including the Superdome. By the time we got up to our room, it was ten at night so the lobby bar was just closing and room service just ended. We were tired but hungry, so I flipped through the hotel guide and decided to hit up the Daisy Duke's Express around the corner. It was there that I was introduced to two beautiful NOLA concepts: bottomless hurricanes and to-go cups. I definitely got my money's worth on the drinks that night! We are from Pennsylvania, the state with the second most restrictive liquor laws in the country (behind only Mormon Utah), so we were happy campers. The food wasn't anything special but fit the bill for two hungry travelers, and our waitress was great. It was a nice way to start the trip.
Thursday May 22
This was the one and only day I managed to get my butt to the hotel gym. It was the best workout I'd had in a long time. After a fantastic run, I took my to-go hurricane up to the rooftop pool and enjoyed some sunshine. The views at the HGI are spectacular.
I could have lazed at the pool all day, but we had booked a swamp tour with Airboat Adventures. Big Joe (shoutout to a fellow TAer!) picked us up at our hotel and took us to Lafitte for our 4:00 tour. We were on one of the small boats with a family of four and our guide Rich, and it was a great time. I've always wanted to ride an airboat through the bayou, so I can cross that one off my list. Hubby enjoyed every minute of it.
Some kind of impromptu parade had the route to our hotel closed when we returned, so we were dropped off on Canal Street and stopped to watch the bands and random performers on stilts go by. We made it back to our room eventually and got ready to head out for dinner. I collect Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts, so we decided to have dinner there. It was a typical HRC, but we were happy with our meals and cocktails.
Friday May 23
This was the actual day of our anniversary. My original plan was to get up "early" and go to the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, but we got off to a lazy start and by the time we wandered over there, it was mid-afternoon and the place was packed. Instead, we headed over to the Wine Institute of New Orleans, or W.I.N.O. I've visited similar places in North Carolina: it's a wine bar with machines that let you serve yourself with a small pour, a half glass, or a full glass of wine. It's fun to wander through and try a bunch of different things. We had a good time sampling some new wines and ordered a cheese plate, as well as a bottle of wine to go.
I booked us for a 7:00 pm gondola ride in City Park. We had hoped to go to Italy for our anniversary this year but couldn't due to time constraints. Since I couldn't sail the canals of Venice, I thought this would be the next best thing. We brought our bottle of moscato from W.I.N.O. and after a frustrating taxi trip (driver wasn't listening/couldn't understand me and we ended up in Metairie instead), we made it to the dock. It was the perfect time of day to paddle through the lagoons in the park. Our gondolier was a perfect guide and helped make it a great anniversary. We strolled through the park after the sun went down and on his recommendation, we stopped at the Morning Call Cafe for beignets. This was the only place we had them on the trip so I can't compare. Our guide claimed they were the best, and I thought they were good. But honestly, they weren't what I pictured. They taste exactly like the funnel cake I've grown up eating at local fairs every summer, so I can't say I was totally impressed. But it was a quick and delicious snack. We also stumbled upon a wedding at the Botanical Gardens, so we got to see a couple who will now share our wedding anniversary date.
We caught another cab back to our hotel and decided it was time to brave Bourbon Street. This was also something I had pictured in my head and was nothing like I imagined it. I always thought it was this big, wide street (similar to Canal but not quite as broad), rather than the narrow street it actually is. Hubby and I aren't partiers. He doesn't like crowds and I am severely vomit-phobic, so I was worried that a Bourbon Street stroll on a Friday night wasn't a bright move. But we had fun taking in the sights and sounds, and I only encountered one pile of barf so I consider that a victory! We stopped back at the Hard Rock for take-out drinks before venturing back to the hotel. Since we didn't feel like going out for food, we ordered in from Reginelli's. They brought us our food quickly, it was piping hot, and we liked it.
Saturday May 24
We spent most of the afternoon at the aquarium. It was nice but crowded and not that big. I've been to better, but they had some cool exhibits. They're working on a new program that will allow visitors to snorkel or scuba dive in their big tank, so that's something that I'm already planning to do on our next NOLA trip!
I'm Catholic, so I went to Mass at Immaculate Conception church. When I researched churches, I only looked at Mass schedules and locations. This was right around the corner from our hotel and had a convenient time. I wasn't expecting to walk into such a beautiful church. It was absolutely gorgeous. I'm so glad I stumbled upon it.
Speaking of stumbling upon things, when I walked out of church I walked right into a marriage proposal! There was a girl on the sidewalk holding up an iPad camera, and four girls across the street holding WILL-YOU-MARRY-ME? signs. I had to stop and watch as the unsuspecting girl and her boyfriend stopped in front of the church, he dropped down on one knee, and she squealed out a "YES!" It was a really cute moment.
After church, I stopped back at the hotel to pick up my husband and we headed off to our big anniversary dinner reservation at GW Fins. WOW. I'm so glad I picked that restaurant. I cannot say enough good things about it. I had a hard time deciding on a restaurant for our "special occasion" dinner...hubby is fussy about food, and we wanted a place with good ambiance without lots of noise and chaos. We had a great booth at the back. They really went the extra mile to make our anniversary dinner special. If you want more details, I will be writing a glowing review shortly!
Our reservation was early so we decided to stroll down Royal Street after dinner. It was much more "us," calmer and less insane than Bourbon Street but still a lot of activity. We enjoyed peering through the windows of the galleries and shops. There were lots of neat things to see, and we picked up a few souvenirs while we were at it. We also got to see a Second Line wedding parade go by. My husband joked that the groom looked like he did NOT want to be there, but the bride and flower girls were having a great time with their parasols! It was cool to see and my local friend later explained to me the whole Second Line tradition...makes me wish I got married down there!
Sunday May 25
We started the day with our second failed attempt at getting a seat at the Carousel Bar. We showed up about five minutes after they opened and it was full. That was disappointing. I turned a negative into a positive by going back to the hotel and soaking up some sunshine at the pool before our brunch reservation.
We had a 1:00 table for two at the Court of Two Sisters for the jazz brunch. I did a lot of research before I picked this place and I have to say it was a bit of a disappointment. We arrived on time but had to wait over 15 minutes for a table. The bar was full so we just twiddled our thumbs as they called four or five different parties that were all no-shows. Finally they called our name and we were thrilled to get a table right next to their beautiful fountain. It was also close to the food, so it was worth the wait. But the biggest disappointment was the lack of jazz. I was expecting music to go with my meal. The only time we heard anything was when two or three musicians came from some far corner of the courtyard to play "Happy Birthday" for a table near ours. After that, they disappeared again. I would have never picked this restaurant if I'd known there would barely be any music. I made sure to note this when our waitress asked us to fill out a comment card, and I saw her reading it as we left.
Aside from the wait and not actually hearing any jazz, we had a nice time. The food selection was good and it allowed me to try new things that I never would have ordered on their own in a restaurant (loved the turtle soup, not a fan of the shrimp etouffe). Also, our waitress was great. She took good care of us even though the place was busy and she had a lot of tables. My peach bellinis were delicious!
Hubby and I have a dog and every time we go away, we like to bring back a little something for him. We've found some cute local pet shops throughout our travels and were glad to get a recommendation from a Royal Street shopkeeper about a pet store on Magazine Street in the Garden District. It's called Petcetera. We took a cab there and spent a little time browsing for our pup. It's a cute little store that also does dog grooming, complete with a self-service dog bath. While we were there, a neighborhood boxer stopped in with his owner for a quick scrub. We picked out a toy and a cute crawfish cookie to take back for our little guy (he loved them both), so be sure to stop in if you're looking for a souvenir for your pet!
Instead of calling for another taxi, we decided to walk back from there. It was our first time in the Garden District and we enjoyed admiring the beautiful homes and shady streets. We stopped in for a glass of wine at the Tasting Room on Magazine Street. It's a nice, laid-back wine bar that also serves small plates. We had a good chat with the owner, who has some ties in Pennsylvania so we lamented their frustrating liquor laws that make it tough to open a business as cool as his. We sat inside, but they also have a few tables on the street and a peaceful courtyard in the back. It's a perfect place to relax and unwind with a glass...or a bottle!
Eventually we made it back to Canal Street and decided to check out Harrah's. We love gambling and go to Atlantic City several times a year, so we had fun wandering around a new-to-us casino. We're craps players, but the tables were all full and $15 minimums are higher than we like to play. We were intrigued by the one $10 table they had, which was totally different from the traditional game. Harrah's calls it "Craps No More," but a quick Google search shows that others call it "Crapless Craps." We watched for a minute but didn't play. I did jump on an electronic craps game where you bet on a screen in front of you and "roll" a pair of big foam dice that sit in a tube amid all the betting terminals. It wasn't as fun as the real deal, but the minimum was only $3 and I walked away $70 richer. We passed up on Pinkberry for a self-serve frozen yogurt place on Canal Street before heading back to our hotel for the night.
Monday May 26
This was my absolute last chance to hit up Carousel Bar since we were leaving the following day and I refused to miss out this time. One of my friends from graduate school is a NOLA native who moved back after we graduated. I made plans to meet her for drinks at the Monteleone before meeting up with my husband at the World War II Museum. I arrived at the hotel at 10:45 am and was first in line to wait for the bar to open at 11:00. Two minutes after I arrived, a group of people got in line behind me and we joked about how they were glad I was the crazier one to get there first. Third time's a charm, I suppose!
I practically jumped into my seat when the doors opened. As customer number one, I asked to see the bar menu...and then the bar tender didn't come back until he'd made it all the way around the circle! I was annoyed and made sure to comment that I'd only needed one minute to pick a cocktail, not 20. Why not have a menu or two out and ready to go, especially when you first open? My friend was VERY late to meet me, but the group who'd been in line behind me were kind enough to chat with me so I didn't feel so awkward being there alone. And I did eventually get a delicious drink (the French 007), so all's well that ends well.
My friend finally showed up and we had a great time catching up. She was lucky to get a seat beside, because I wasn't about to jump off! We noshed on an appetizer, had a few more rounds, and then I had to hurry to meet my husband at the museum. It was Memorial Day so there were a lot of visitors. Because my friend was late and we had to leave at a certain time, I didn't get to spend much time there. I will definitely go back on a future trip. Hubby saw more of the museum than I did and he enjoyed it.
After rushing through the gift shop for some Father's Day presents, we had to run back to the hotel because we booked a City and Cemeteries bus tour with Cajun Encounters. This was a last-minute decision. When I planned the trip, I kept half of Sunday and all of Monday completely opened so we could play it by ear. We talked about it on Sunday afternoon and decided we wanted to do some kind of tour before we left because we really hadn't learned much about the city. We looked through leaflets and websites before booking with Cajun Encounters, based entirely on the fact that they were one of the few companies that seemed to offer tours later in the day. Also, we'd seen walking tours in the French Quarter and didn't want to have to strain to hear a guide or stay with the group amid the nuttiness of Bourbon Street, so we decided a bus tour would be more informative for us.
Our guide was Robert and he did a great job. The tour started at Lafayette Square. We drove through the French Quarter along the river, a part of the city we hadn't seen yet. We went through some of the neighborhoods that were hit hardest by Katrina, one of the city's above-ground cemeteries (though the gates were locked), back into City Park (where we stopped for more beignets at Morning Call Cafe!), and through the Garden District. It was nice to get a better sense of the city and its history. We learned a lot of really interesting facts and were glad we penciled this in at the last minute.
Since it was our last night in town, we decided to wander through the FQ areas we'd driven past on our tour. But first, we stopped outside the aquarium because there was a fireworks show for Memorial Day. They were set off from a boat in the river, and it was a lovely surprise. After the show, we wandered up Decatur Street. I got some beautiful pictures of Jackson Square at night. We did some more shopping and just enjoyed a leisurely stroll all the way up to Esplanade Avenue and back down Royal Street. We stopped back at the Hard Rock for more delicious to-go cocktails. By then it was getting late and we still had some packing to do, so we popped into Daisy Duke's Express, where we started our vacation, and ordered take-out food (and hurricanes!) to take back to our room.
Tuesday May 27
Nothing too exciting happened this day because we had to get up early and head to the airport for our flight home. When we got back to the hotel the night before, I asked the front desk clerk about the easiest way to get a cab in the morning. We were beyond happy with HGI for making an easy experience. I just had to call guest services, was transferred immediately to the bell hop, and he told me he'd have a cab for me out front in five minutes...he even called back to the room when it was ready so we didn't have to wait around downstairs. I always hate going home, but every step of the way (minus another weather-related airline delay) was a snap.
Kudos if you made it through my whole report! We had a really incredible time and obviously tried to make the most of our five full days in NOLA. For us, it was a good blend of sightseeing, going out, and relaxing. I hope we can get back down there soon.