Monday, August 30, 2010

The Big Easy

Five years after Hurricane Katrina, and with the BP oil spill catastrophe still playing out, New Orleans may not be at the top of your list of vacation spots. But I've decided to make my small contribution to restoring the vibrancy of this special place by participating in the tourism trade that has long been its life blood. And despite what you may have heard to the contrary, tourism is booming in NOLA. It is estimated that there are hundreds more restaurants than there were before the storm, and that more than three quarters of the tourism jobs that existed prior to Katrina have been restored, even in the midst of a horrible recession. In short, billions of dollars have been spent to repair this city and billions more are being spent by travelers enjoying this one-of-a-kind American city.

Now you may think of N'awlins as being an adult-only experience, and its nightlife reputation is not overstated. But there are plenty of things for families to do as well. For example, the Audobon Institute Park and Zoo is an oasis just beyond the urban center of Uptown New Orleans. You can take a lovely streetcar ride to the park and spend a whole day there. Audobon also operates the Insectarium on Canal Street, and the Aquarium of the Americas right on the Mississippi River. Is there anything kids love more than bugs and sharks? And be sure to hit City Park as well, right in the heart of town. There's an antique carousel (you know how I feel about carousels), a miniature train, and a bayou running right through it. And for Mom and Dad, the park also houses the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Bestoff Sculpture Garden, and the Botanical Gardens. The latter has the largest stand of live oak trees in the world. A live oak is one that does not shed its leaves in the fall and winter, providing much needed, year-round shade to this beautiful park.

But of course, I am not traveling with children and will be staying up very late at least a few nights. You'd need about a hundred years to eat at all of the great restaurants and take in all of the live music here. My plan is to spend some time at the more famous places like Commander's Palace, The French Market, and Brennan's (best breakfast ever), and then branch out into the neighborhood joints. This is where much of the post-Katrina restaurant action has been focused. You can find everything from po' boys to panninis, gumbo to vichyssoise, and everything in between. And if live music is not provided onsite, you don't have to walk far to find some. It seems to come up out of the cracks in the sidewalk in this town.

While in New Orleans, I am renting a timeshare at Avenue Plaza. It's located in the heart of the Garden District (a must see) and directly on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line. So you can forget about your car for a while and really take in the town. On site, the spa offers herbal wraps and therapeutic massages, exercise equipment and whirlpools, a courtyard with a pool, a rooftop sundeck and hot tub, and a restaurant. You can find a studio rental here for as low as $83/night, and own for as little as $399.

Well I need to go rest up for my Moonlight Graveyard Tour with the Crescent City's own Bloody Mary. New Orleans is loaded with above ground cemeteries (known as cities of the dead) and lots of voodoo and black arts practitioners. I don't know about you, but I love to get the bejeezus scared out of me, and an above ground cemetery at night led by a real voodoo priestess is just what the doctor ordered!

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