Pros: lots to do, safe even with the homeless population
Cons: risque for kids
On Saturday, March 11, 2012 we arrived in New Orleans for the week.
We stayed at the Sheraton located at 500 Canal Street, which was a terrific location if you want to be near the French Quarter, for three nights. The Sheraton is not in the French Quarter; however. Check-in was easy in the beautiful lobby complete with a fountain, sitting areas, bar, music, and a beautiful décor.
We were on the 30thfloor with amazing views that could be seen by opening slatted shutters. The room was nice but not ornate. In retrospect it actually was very nice. I commented to my husband on the comfortable bed and pillows.
We had a flat screen television, a large chair, a non-smoking room (The hotel is not smoke- free.) night tables, plenty of lighting, and a desk and chair. The room was a nice size and very clean as was the hotel. The elevator was the most unusual I have seen. I pressed the number 30 on a number pad and was told what letter elevator would be for me. So if someone got into our elevator who had not pressed their number, the elevator wouldn’t stop on their floor. Inside the elevator were no numbers to press. At first glance it seemed like a safety measure but in fact anyone can press any number and just get on an elevator! The hotel has a small fitness room. The pool was under construction.
The following three nights we stayed at the Iberville Suites, located at 910 Iberville Street. We were able to check in early- at 9:30a.m. This is an older, genteel hotel with little glitz but a look of being antique. This is a good place because of the suites and the location is literally in the French Quarter. In addition you have the amenities of the Ritz Hotel, which has a large fitness room and spa. The two are actually physically connected. We had two rooms, two old-fashioned televisions, and a separate sink above the small refrigerator, a large bath, with a nicely appointed décor. The negative is that truly this hotel needs to be updated. The carpeting is dirty or at least dirty looking. The common rooms look much nicer than our suite. The noise of the toilet and shower would wake up anyone! There is a small market in the hotel, which is open 24-hours a day but unlike the Sheraton, there are vending machines so you will pay a premium ($2.75) for a Coke rather than the $2.00 in the machine.
The best part of the Iberville other than the location is the continental breakfast, where you can get cereal, bagels, toast, orange juice, yogurt, fruit and coffee.
We opted to use a lot of Groupons and deals at restaurant.com for this trip. Our first meal that night was at the American Grill in the Hilton Garden Inn, located at 821 Gravier Street. The food was good and the service was superb. There were only six other people there and given that the restaurant mentioned below was full, we were leery. I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to eat here but if you have a coupon of some sort and love a deal then go for it.
One dinner was at Star Steak and Lobster House, located at 237 Decatur Street, which we later learned was affiliated with another restaurant we were going to so two of our meals were similar. The glass-topped tables were very close together. The restaurant was so noisy, my husband and I had to yell to be heard but the food and the jazz musician were very good. In spite of the “reservations necessary” on the coupon, the restaurant does not take reservations for fewer than four people. On Saturday we could not get in and on Sunday at 7:30 there was a 35-minute wait. We were asked to sit at the smoky bar next door, which was part of the restaurant. When the host saw that we might be going to eat elsewhere since I am allergic to smoke, he told us to sit at the restaurant’s small bar and he sat us shortly after that. The service and food were both excellent. I had two large crab cakes with Alfredo noodles in oil with bread and my husband had the redfish and spinach on the side.
One breakfast was at Daisy Dukes, which is located at 121 Charles Street. It is good to note that this restaurant is open 24-hours a day and offers breakfast all day. Many of the restaurants we encountered closed at around 10:00p.m. The food here was plentiful and very good. We got the last small table by the window at around 9:30a.m. and soon after there was a short wait. The restaurant was crowded and the tables are in close quarters. The service was good but we waited way too long for a new pot of coffee to be made. If you want a really great deal there is an early bird special but the prices are right at any time of day.
Another dinner was at Sammy’s Seafood Restaurant located at 627 Bourbon Street. This is the sister or brother of Star Steak House. I was a bit taken aback because I had looked at the menu online and when we got there we found a different menu. It was then we learned that it had recently been bought so the menu looked very similar!
The corn and clam bisque was very good as were the two giant mushrooms stuffed with crabmeat. I would highlight recommend that. My husband’s fried seafood platter with, shrimp, crab cake, catfish, oysters, and fries was nothing to write home about. Everything was a bit soggy but the service was good. It was noisy but the tables weren’t crowded together.
Another night we had dinner at Sekisui Samurai, 239 Decatur Street. In spite of no one being there we went in and within 20 minutes it was packed. The food was excellent and the service even better. We don’t eat Sushi but the tempura, skewers, and appetizers were really very good.
We had another meal at Oceana Grill located at 739 Conti Street, which had a 15 minute wait. The restaurant is very large with several rooms and a bar. We sat in a back area, which turned out to be outside. I hadn’t realized it until I looked up because the sides of the area were 2 floors with outside balconies. These floors may be filled with bars or rooms for private functions. The service was good except our main entrees came before my husband finished his delicious crawfish and shrimp gumbo. I had Mardi Gras Alfredo Pasta. There were plenty of shrimp and crawfish tails. My husband got a dish with a variety of items on the plate such as etouffe and jambalaya. We sat on not particularly comfortable wrought iron tables and chairs but all in all a nice meal.
We had a late-night meat at Crescent City Brewery, which was excellent. It is located at 527 Decatur Street. This was what I call fine dining i.e. small portions of five shrimp stuffed with crab meat, 3 asparagus and a few slices of potato. The service was excellent.
Another lunch was at Harbor Bar and Grill, which was mostly a bar but and just fair. It is located at 219 N Peters. The PoBoys had lettuce and a few pickles and my shrimp were soggy (maybe that’s how fried food is here?). It came with soggy fries. The waitress was ditzy.
Our last meal in New Orleans was at a place for which we had no coupon. The name is Deanie's Seafood located at 841 Iberville Street. We waited in line for 20 minutes to give the host our names and another 45-minutes to be seated. It was worth the wait if you are hungry. Rarely does my husband not finish his meal but the 1/2 plate of fried seafood with coleslaw and fries was so large he only ate half of it. The full portion is for two people but actually this 1/2 portion would feed two. The shrimp were somewhat crispy. I had crawfish tails made four different ways. It was delicious but also too large a portion for one person especially if you do not have a microwave and refrigerator for a doggie bag.
What to do:
Start your visit to New Orleans with a tour company called Southern Style Tours. The tour sites were excellent and there were only 25 people on the van. The tour guide was very accommodating saying that he would stop if anyone had to use the rest room but that he would make two stops during our two-hour tour. The van was very comfortable. We saw the entire city and got off two times. Once was at one of the above-ground cemeteries, and the other time was at City Park, where we chose to walk around the sculpture garden. The kids on the tour headed to the playground.
Our guide took us into Ward 9, which was hard hit by Katrina. We saw the devastation even six years later. We saw the houses that are called “Pitt” houses (Brad Pitt is funding them as a loan). We heard how FEMA wants the money back from the Katrina victims and about the homeless problem in New Orleans.
The afternoon is a good time to tour the French Market, get a t-shirt and have a bite to eat. Take advantage of the praline bakery because most of the pralines around the city are packaged.
From there you might want to go over to the Riverwalk and head into the Shops at Canal Place if you have the money for upscale clothing.
Just for your information, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is not opened on Monday so the National World War II Museum located at 945 Magazine Street may be crowded, which it was but there was no wait. There is an award winning 4D movie, “Beyond all Boundaries,” hosted by Tom Hanks. This movie can be bought separately or as a combination with the World War II Museum
The movie was well worth going to and although there were children and lots of them, I would make sure your child is prepared for what they will see. You will be warned of loud noises, bright lights, and the chairs shake at times to simulate what being in a tank might feel like.
Go to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas/Audubon Nature Institute located at 6500 Magazine Street. We weren’t surprised to see a long line. Go around the building to the right. You will find a ticket booth for the IMAX Theater and 3D movie. You can get a combined ticket there and it will be quicker. We chose to see “Hurricane on the Bayou,” which was very enlightening.
The aquarium was fun. It isn’t the largest aquarium to which I have been but they have a parakeet room and for $1.00 you really have to buy a stick of food. The birds will come right over to you. It was fun feeding them even for the adults there. Buy a combination ticket. You will save a lot of money when you go to the Insectarium and the Zoo.
The cost for the Aquarium, Insectarium, IMAX Theater and the Zoo was $37.00. At the Insectarium My husband ate some, what we would think of as “gross,” insects and we learned a lot.
The Zoo is very well done. The animals are in huge habitats rather than cages and there are quite a few endangered species. All over the Zoo are play areas for your children.
Make sure you get on the trolley (They take dollar bills but can’t give you change of say a $5.00 bill so have ones with you.) either for the fun of it or to go somewhere.
Go to The New Orleans Holocaust Memorial, located in Woldenberg Park on the bank of the Mississippi River. Make sure you read what each panel represents. It is quite impressive. It is now an easy walk to the famous Café du Monde located at 800 Decatur Street. Skip your diet for the beignets covered in powdered sugar. You can find these elsewhere but the Café du Monde is a happening.
On Wednesdays the Museum of Art is free. It is located at One Collins Doboll Circle in City Park, which is where the sculpture garden was that we saw during our first-day tour.
Go to Harrah's and then take a free ride on the ferry. You can get off at Algiers Point, which is on the other side of the Mississippi River if you want to walk around the neighborhood.
Get tickets to a Phantom Tour. We were very happy with the French Quarter Phantom Tour. We chose this company because we read that there would be no drama and there was none. The tour was "just" a great presentation with facts without the drama of Dracula. Luke told us when he had witnessed things and when he hadn’t. We saw the most notable haunted places such as Nicholas’ Cage’s former house, LaFitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar and the Convent. Luke was excellent. There were 26 of us but he only talked when we stopped so we all heard everything he said.
This was our second trip to New Orleans, the first being about six months before Hurricane Katrina. It is a city you should not miss. I am not a prude but be prepared if you are with your children to see some very risqué stuff on Bourbon Street.