I traveled to New Orleans recently to present a poster on sexual harassment at the national ACFAS podiatry conference. My wife also came along for the ride, and we both enjoyed the glorious 70 degree weather down there! I have not returned to the city for a number of years, and it was my wife’s first visit.
Here are five thoughts from our trip.
1. The Eliza Jane is an Amazing Hotel
Whenever I travel, I try to use points for hotel stays as much as possible. For this trip, I was especially happy with my points redemption since hotel rates were incredibly high for the conference. While I usually value my Hyatt points at 1.7 cents each, I was able to get a 4.5 cent value this time!
When we arrived, I was even happier because the hotel’s was incredible. I have stayed at a lot of Hyatt properties over the years, but design wise The Eliza Jane is easily in my top five Hyatts. My wife really enjoyed the design too because it felt very Anthropologie-like, only with more bold colors. Additionally, every staff member we interacted with was pleasant. The breakfast offerings at the hotel’s restaurant, Couvant, were solid. There was a decent gym with updated equipment. The location of the hotel is also perfect - walking distance from the French Quarter, but far away enough away to not hear the parties at night.
What I loved most about the hotel, however, was the sense of calm I felt when inside the hotel. I know that this is somewhat personality dependent, but I like having some tranquility when I am away from home. I especially enjoy tranquility in the hotel where I am staying. The Eliza Jane’s scents, dim lights, background jazz music, and cozy seating areas all contributed to a very peaceful vibe. I was sad to leave the property at the end of our trip, which I think is a testament in itself.
2. Good Food, Better Drinks
Almost everyone who goes down to New Orleans talks about the food. Jambalaya, red beans and rice, beignets, crawfish, gumbo, alligator sausage, muffaletta sandwiches - I happily tried them all. Everything was good, but there were two standout spots. Turkey and the Wolf, Bon Appetit Magazine’s Best New Restaurant of 2017, had an outstanding collard green sandwich, while Clesi’s Catering served up some amazing crawfish.
Comparatively speaking though, I have to say that I was more impressed by the great drinks at the bars we went to. Arnaud’s French 75 bar was so good we went back twice. The Sazerac Bar had an unbelievable gin fizz that my wife is still raving about today. Even Pat O’Brien’s, despite being a tourist magnet, had high quality cocktails.
My favorite place of all, however, was Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits. Located in the Bywater District, Bacchanal is primarily a wine shop, but it also has a backyard restaurant with live jazz music. My wife and I bought an excellent (affordable) bottle of wine, and every food item we ordered was on point. Then we listened to a jazz trio on a 60 degree evening under the New Orleans stars.
I could go back there every weekend. Seriously, if you visit the Big Easy, do yourself a favor and head over to this fine establishment.
3. Party City, For Real
Who knew that Mardi Gras was a month long celebtration? The weekend of the ACFAS conference coincided with the first weekend of Mardi Gras, so needless to say there was a lot of partying happening in the French Quarter. And when I say partying I do not mean the usual club or bar scene. I mean the hard to walk in the streets, people sleeping drunk on the sidewalks kind of partying. It was nuts. And yes, in case you were wondering, the bead-earning thing is alive and well in New Orleans. Plan your family outings accordingly.
Also, was anyone else aware that you can legally drink alcohol anywhere in the city? Not just in the French Quarter, as many people think, but anywhere. In the park? Sure. In the streets? Sure. Open container in a cab? Sure. How crazy is that?
4. Bicycling is a Great Way to See the City
While my wife and I spent to majority of our time around the French Quarter, we did wonder over to the Garden District twice. The first time, we took the tram. It was an interesting historical, but incredibly inefficient, way to travel. The second time, we biked over with some rental bikes. In retrospect, I think biking is the best way to take in the whole city, and particularly the Garden District. There are a fair number of things to see In New Orleans, and especially along St. Charles Ave and Magazine Street. The thing is everything is rather spread out, so biking was a lot more time efficient compared to walking.
In case you are wondering, the roads did feel very safe to bike on. We biked through primarily residential neighborhoods, and as a result all the cars were driving relatively slowly.
5. Hurricane Katrina is Not Real for Tourists
Amidst the eating, drinking, and partying, it is easy to forget that in 2005 Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans and many of its surrounding cities. 80% of the Big Easy was under water at the time. A lot of people were dislodged from the hurricane, with good proportion never returning home. The mental health toll is hard to quantify. The city continues to struggle with a high percentage of poverty - in 2018, 27% of its population was classified under the poverty line in comparison to the national average of 15%.
One of the complaints I had about my all-inclusive stay in Jamaica was that I never felt connected with the local culture. While at the Hyatt resort, I could easily ignore the reality of life for a lot of people in Jamaica.
In New Orleans, I felt the same disconnect. It is clear that the French Quarter is a true representation of the city as a whole. In fact, every Uber and Lyft driver I spoke to said they never spend any time in the Quarter. In contrast, I spent a lot of my time there. I imagine other tourists do to.
So did I enjoy my trip to the city? Certainly. But I also felt some serious internal conflict every time I passed by the Superdome. I definitely hate to end this post with a sobering thought, but I think we all should strive to become more ethically and socially aware as we travel. Hurricane Katrina was a devastating reality to many locals, and I think visitors should respect that in some way.
What about you? Have you ever been to New Orleans? What are your favorite spots?