I recently had the opportunity to visit New Orleans on businessmy second trip there overall and the first since Katrina. The conference I was attending listed the J.W. Marriott New Orleans as a preferred hotel, so thats where I ended up for a quite pleasant four-day stay in the Crescent City.
The J.W. Marriott New Orleans is located adjacent to the citys French Quarter, along Canal Street a few blocks away from one end of the (in)famous Bourbon Street. This part of town was not as severely impacted by Katrina, so you wont see many differences from the past if youve been to New Orleans before.
From the airport, the cab ride ($35 with the tip) took about 30 minutes, which I dont consider too bad (admittedly, I was traveling at off hours; rush hour may vary).
My conference was held at the Morial convention center along the riverfront. The convention center (scene of some of the tragic images of evacuated residents suffering without food or water after the storm) is about .75 miles away from the hotel (hint: the J.W. Marriotts second entrance is along Common Street, which parallels Canal Street but (a) is quieter and (b) shaves a minute or two from a walk to the convention center). I made the walk back and forth from the hotel to the convention center in an average of 15-20 minutesyour time may vary if youre easily distracted by the big ol Harrahs casino along the way and want to go home with emptier pockets than you came with. Be warned though, even in mid-May, the hot temperatures and building humidity made it a l-o-n-g walk in the afternoon (nights werent so bad). A cab ride should take about 5-10 minutes depending on traffic, if you prefer that option.
For more touristy time killers, adjacent to the convention center is the Riverwalk mall, a fairly standard collection of chain stores and more local souvenir outlets. Along the back side of the Riverwalk is, surprise, the mighty Mississippi River, and there is a deck where you can sit outside and enjoy the view. Unfortunately, the mall looks to still be suffering the economic impact of Katrina, with a number of vacant storefronts, restaurants in the food court that look like someone closed up shop one night and never came back, and reduced hours as compared to my last visit. On the plus side, if you cant make it to the original Café Du Monde to get their famous beignets (French donuts) theres an outpost in Riverwalk where you can sample them.
Another shopping destination is a higher-end center along Canal Street near Convention Center Boulevard (high-end=not a place I bother with), and plenty of smaller stores along Canal Street itself, from national chains to the very convenient places where you can get your souvenirs and booze all in one stop, or so say the signs.
And as for Bourbon Street
.well, its not my style, thats for sure. I walked a loop on the street on an early Saturday evening just to say I did it, but really, I dont get the whole get-so-loaded-you-make-an-idiot-of-yourself thing. It also happened to be college graduation weekend when I was there, adding fuel to the booze-fueled frenzy.
Since I was in town on business and keeping busy, I didnt have time to explore other attractions. However, I will recommend the Palace Café, across Canal street from the J.W. Marriott New Orleans. I had a business lunch there and thoroughly enjoyed the old-style charm, not to mention delicious food. If you like shrimp, try the shrimp tchefunctesimply delicious, even if I couldnt pronounce it to save my life.
In two words: very nice. My room boasted a king-sized bed, a good sized desk that had room for my laptop and files (and a nice touch: a powerstrip easily accessible able and attached to the desk leg, so I could keep my computer plugged in to the outlet on the desk lamp and plug in chargers for my phone, Bluetooth, Blackberry and iPod simultaneously).
The closet was spaciousmore than enough for a four day business trips worth of outfitsand the view looking down Common Street towards the river (with a bit of a view of the outdoor pool, more on that later) was decent enough.
I do have one complaint about the furnishings: the iron provided in the closet. Yes, Im nitpicking about an iron. It was a bargain-basement Black & Decker model with no steam-burst option. Sounds like a minor thing to be sure, but when traveling on business, steam burst functions help get the wrinkles out of sport coats, pants, etc, without the pain-in-the
.of ironing them. My lovely wife made the point that I could turn on the shower full-blast on hot to steam my clothes, and that worked just fine. It doesnt happen to be the most eco-friendly way to do things, though.
The bed was very relaxingnot quite Four Seasons hotel level, but pretty darned good, especially after hours of walking, standing, etc.
The bathroom was a good size, with room for the inevitable toiletry needs someone has when traveling. Im just one guy, though; Im not sure the counter space would be quite enough for a couple or family.
The guest rooms also have high-speed Internet available for your laptop for $14.95 per day (noon to noon pricing), and it worked flawlessly for me, something that doesnt always happen.
The TV looked to be a 25 or 27 inch model, and not a flat-screen/HD model.
The J.W. Marriott New Orleans boasts a Shulas Steakhouse, a bit pricey for my expense reports. It serves all three meals a day, and looks like a meat-lovers dream. A wealthy meat-lovers dream, perhaps.
Instead, for breakfasts and a couple of other meals alone when there wasnt a business event, I opted for room service. The menu is a fairly typical, mildly overpriced (but arent all hotels?) selection of sandwiches and entrees that naturally skews heavily to the seafood side, with gumbo, crab cakes and the like well represented. Breakfasts will set you back about $12-15, sandwiches about the same, and dinner entrees about $20-30. Plus tip and drinks and
.you get the idea.
That said, I will praise one sandwich that was so nice I ordered it twice: their shrimp poboy. Poboys are a famous New Orleans submarine sandwich with meat or seafood (fried, usually) on a flaky Louisiana French bread roll. I have no doubt a hotel version isnt as authentic as they come (any more than a Philadelphia hotel can make a REAL Philly cheesesteak), but it tasted darned good to me.
Beyond the poboys, I also had the Good Start breakfast (pretty basic: a choice of boxed cereal, a decent fruit cup, and hot coffee or tea) and the continental breakfast (decent enough small pastries, nothing special either way).
Fitness Center and Pool
The J.W. Marriott New Orleans offers 24-hour access to its fitness center, a nice space that boasts several teadmills, ecercycles and other fitness machines with individual video screens, as well as an area for weight work and to do mat exercises. Bottled water is provided, as are headphones for the video screens.
The hotels outdoor pool is open seasonally from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., outside the fitness center on the eighth floor. The outdoor deck isnt exactly a panoramic view of the citymore like looking at a parking garage and the Sheraton hotel across the street (hi, Sheraton guests!), but its still elevated and a quite nice area with plenty of chairs. Its not a lap pool, so dont expect it to be your fitness source if youre a serious swimmer, but for a nice dip to cool off after a long day, or to just lounge away a few hours in the midday sun, it gives the hotel a nice touch.
Speaking of nice touch, the fitness center and pool are on the same floor as the hotels large meeting rooms. Those meeting rooms offer wireless Internet access
so, whether by design or accident, working by the pool on my first and last nights in town, I was able to pick up the wireless signal and connect to my office network to send e-mail.
Our conference rate was $257 per night, though that looks to be about on par with typical room rates (though when theres a major conference in town, one might expect those prices to climb).
The J.W. Marriott New Orleans is certainly a more-than-adequate hotel in the heart of one of New Orleans most vibrant areas. While not for the budget traveler by any means, its not at the top end of the price scale either. Whether you want to kick back and enjoy the immediate surroundings or do some exploring, you can find options to suit your needs. And if, like me, youre a business traveler with a very fixed schedule, youll enjoy a comfortable home-away-from-home during your stay with the amenities you need and a price that hopefully wont give your accounting department heartburn.
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