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Sometimes you just need to get away. In January, Lynn emailed me and asked, “Do you want to go to New Orleans?” I replied, “Yes, anything to get us out of this hell-hole.” To be fair, it had very little to do with the actual city of Chicago, and everything to do with the weather in Chicago. I’m pretty sure we had just gone through an entire week and a half with temperatures never getting over 20°F. So, when Lynn asked, I was in.
I’m not always so willing to fork out money for a weekend trip like this though, and I had other reasons for saying yes.
- Cheap flights – Lynn found some very cheap flights on United during one of her daily searches, so she was able to get us round-trip tickets for $95 each… That’s about $200 cheaper than flights we usually see to New Orleans.
- Lynn had never been to New Orleans – A trip to New Orleans is something that Lynn had been wanting to do for the last three years. I had only been there once, by myself, during a long road trip, so I knew that being able to experience New Orleans with Lynn would be a lot more fun.
Before we left on our trip to New Orleans, Lynn did some research on things to see and do, but she also had some help from a couple of her friends that had lived in the area at one point. I was glad she had those connections, because we were able to get some great recommendations on bars and restaurants.
Getting to New Orleans
In order to save as much vacation time as possible we decided to take a Friday evening flight, which allowed us to work a full day and head to the airport after work. Because we were getting in late at night, we also decided to save some money by getting a hotel near the airport. We booked a room at the Extended Stay America through Priceline, which was a lot cheaper than getting a room in the French Quarter for that one night.
This is actually something that Lynn and I do a lot when we travel. Instead of spending a night in a nicer more expensive hotel we get a cheaper hotel for that first night. Since we’re usually only at the hotel to sleep and literally there for about 8 hours, it makes sense to get a clean less expensive hotel.
If you do end up doing getting a hotel like this in New Orleans, make sure the hotel you’re staying at has a free shuttle from the airport. Lynn and I learned our lesson after taking a taxi from the airport to our hotel, which was extremely overpriced. There is a flat fee of $33 to take a taxi from the airport to downtown New Orleans, which is what we did the next morning.
Hotel in the French Quarter
Sticking with our current trend of trying to find less expensive hotels, Lynn booked our hotel in the French Quarter through Hotwire. This time it worked out pretty well and our blind bid got us a room at the Astor Crowne Plaza New Orleans hotel.
There were a lot of positive reviews, and some negative, but what we’ve learned is that there are a lot of people out there that will complain about anything. The hotel sits right on the corner of Bourbon and Canal Street, which is a great location for a couple reasons:
- It’s in the center of everything. Any direction you go, there are shops, restaurants, and bars within walking distance.
- Public transportation is right outside. If you need to take a streetcar some place outside of the French Quarter, the St. Charles line and the Canal Street lines have stops right across the street from the Crowne Plaza hotel.
I was pretty excited to find out that there were streetcars in New Orleans. It probably seems like a weird thing to get excited about, but I sometimes have odd reasons for getting excited about things.
- Taxi cabs can get expensive, so having an alternate form of public transportation that is a lot cheaper makes me happy. You can get an unlimited pass for just $3 a day!
- We were able to ride on a piece of New Orleans history. The St. Charles streetcar is the oldest and longest running streetcar in New Orleans.
We rode streetcars quite a bit when we were in New Orleans, and were able to jump on and off whenever we wanted with our 1 day Jazzy pass. Not only did we get cheap transportation, but we were able to ride around and see some of the beautiful historic areas of New Orleans.
Things to Do
Lynn and I are both not big music people, so we planned our trip looking for other things to do besides go to bars and restaurants to listen to music. Plus, we felt like we got to experience some great music just walking around the streets in the French Quarter. Every few blocks you walk there is usually a band or and individual playing in the middle of the street.
On our first day we checked our bags with the bellhop at the Crowne Plaza and walked around the French Quarter while we were waiting for our room to be ready. We both thought it was great to just walk around and look at the architecture, but one of the places we ended up was Jackson Square.
Jackson Square is a nice little park and great for taking some pictures or just relaxing on a bench and reading a book, but the area around the square is probably the main reason tourists spend time there. The square is surrounded by shops and local artists looking to sell their artwork. Some of the artwork was pretty interesting and very well done, but we’re both not big on buying stuff while traveling… especially not something like artwork which would need to be shipped home or carried on the plane with us. Our usual take-home purchases while traveling include Christmas ornaments that we can easily pack in our luggage.
We didn’t spend much time by the river, but we did sit down on a bench for a little while and wait for the Steamboat Natchez River Cruise to leave the dock. We decided not to take one of the cruises because it was more than we would typically spend on something like that, plus it wasn’t one of our “must see” things for our trip.
If you walk further south along the river walk there are some restaurants along the river as well as the Riverwalk Marketplace (Outlets) and the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. As I mentioned before, we don’t really shop on vacation (or really ever) and even though we like animals, we didn’t go to New Orleans to visit an aquarium.
I would definitely recommend checking out Bourbon Street during the day, when nothing is going on, and at night, when the street is crowded with people. I just think it’s interesting to see the before and after. Since we were staying right no the corner of Bourbon and Canal, we got to see both “sides” of the famous Bourbon Street.
We went out on Bourbon Street both nights we were staying in the French Quarter. The second night we actually went over to Frenchmen Street because we were told that the atmosphere is a little more laid back and it’s not quite the “scene” that Bourbon Street is. We walked over there on Sunday night, but even though it was a little more quiet and laid back, it wasn’t quite what we were looking for. There are a lot of bars on Frenchmen Street with live bands playing, so if you’re into the music scene it may be a good place to check out.
There are a few different old cemeteries in downtown New Orleans, which are pretty interesting to check out. There are many organized tour options, but Lynn and I decided to create our own tour and try to explore them ourselves. We made it to three different cemeteries, but because of timing (they have specific hours they are open) we were only able to walk around and explore one of them. If you would like to visit some of the cemeteries, definitely plan ahead and make sure that you’re going to see them when the gates are open.
The National WWII Museum
The National WWII Museum was on our list of things to see in New Orleans, but because we had such great weather we had a hard time with the idea of spending 2-3 hours walking around inside a museum. The museum gets nothing but rave reviews and it was named the #4 museum in the United States and #11 worldwide. If you’re a big museum person, it’s probably already on your list if you plan to visit New Orleans. Even if it’s not on your list, it may be a good option in case it’s cold or raining during your visit.
Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour
On Sunday afternoon we realized that we had done everything that we had wanted to do in the downtown area, so we looked into swamp tours. We ended up finding a decent price and an online discount for a swamp tour with Cajun Encounters. The price included transportation to and from our hotel in the French Quarter. We had a great time on the swamp tour even though it was a little colder than we thought it was going to be and we didn’t get to see as many alligators as we had hoped. We were informed that summer is the best time to see alligators though, because they like to come out when it’s warmer and the sun is shining.
As I mentioned previously, we had quite a few recommendations for places to eat that Lynn’s friends had given us. We tried to hit as many of them as we could, but there are only so many meals in a day…
- Samuel’s Blind Pelican – Home of the 25 cent oysters. We went to Blind Pelican for the crawfish boil, and upon arriving received a quick lesson from a very nice employee on how to eat crawfish properly. Even though it took them a long time to take our order, we were happy with food and the service after that.
- Coop’s Place – Probably the best southern food we had in New Orleans… and the longest amount of time we waited for a table. We stood in line for over an hour. We both ordered the Coop’s Taste Plate, which gave us samples of seafood gumbo, shrimp creole, cajun fried chicken, and jambalaya. Everything was delicious.
- Cafe Du Monde – This is known as THE place to get beignets in New Orleans. It’s actually right across the street from Jackson Square. It seems like no matter what time of day it is, there is always a line… two lines that is. One line for take-out and another for table service. We decided to wait until Monday morning to go and luckily the line was a lot shorter than on the weekend.
- Gumbo Shop – We ended up stopping in here for lunch before our swamp tour and each had a bowl of gumbo for lunch. The bread that we ate was definitely good, but it was hard to compare the gumbo to the amazing gumbo we had at Coop’s Place the night before.
- The Camellia Grill – We took the St. Charles streetcar almost all the way to the end of the line to get to this little old-time diner. The food did and atmosphere did not disappoint though, and we left feeling full. We both ordered different omelettes, watched them make them on a flattop right behind the counter, and then shared.
- Johnny’s Po-Boys – I sort of wish someone would have told us what the perfect po-boy is to order. We ordered a pretty basic po-boy for lunch the one day and felt slightly disappointed. The place was packed though, and maybe if we had ordered something different we would have been more satisfied?
Random Fun in New Orleans
Lynn and I like to have fun on our trips and our idea of fun probably isn’t the same as everyone else’s idea of fun… but it’s still fun. Sometimes we just need to take pictures of us doing dumb stuff. Enough said.
We had a great time visiting New Orleans and got to see and do everything that we had planned to… and even added in a couple extra things as well. You can definitely do a lot and see a lot in New Orleans without having to spend a lot, which is always important to us!
Hotels can be expensive in the French Quarter, so if you can find a deal though a site like Hotwire or Priceline it may be worth it. Also consider staying out by the airport if you have a late flight coming in or an early flight leaving. I didn’t mention it earlier, but we also stayed out by the airport the night before we left, at the Comfort Inn, since we had an early morning flight back to Chicago. It saved us a nice chunk of money!
For us, our trip to New Orleans was a nice getaway from the cold weather in Chicago. It’s possible we may want to visit New Orleans again, but we also have a pretty long list of places that we would like to see. On our trip home we were already thinking about our next weekend trip!
For more information on things to do in New Orleans, hop on over to CanadianTraveller.com for their article, 50 Things to do in New Orleans.