Prior to this year, there was one place where I had not been in the United States that I desperately wanted to go – New Orleans. So, of course, I had to make sure I finally went there this time! Did it live up to my expectations? Yes and no. It was a bit dirtier and sleazy than I imagined, but was still such a vibrant and truly unique city. The weather during our stay was very hot and humid, which may have made the city feel a lot dirtier than it actually is. Overall, I loved it. I only spent three nights there, so here is a quick (well, “quickish”) review covering accommodation, activities and safety.
We booked this trip at the last minute, so most accommodation options were pretty expensive. However, I managed to get the Royal St. Charles hotel on sale. It turned out to be absolutely perfect. Located a block from Canal Street and just two blocks from Bourbon Street, it was extremely convenient. The hotel itself is beautiful. The lobby always smelt amazing. Our room was spacious and modern. I honestly could not fault this hotel.
We arrived into New Orleans in the early evening, so the first thing we did was check out Bourbon Street, of course! I instantly fell in love. It is equal parts fun, festivities and sleaziness. I probably would not recommend as a place to visit for children at night, but it has such a cool vibe. The street is essentially made up of bars, strip clubs and souvenir shops. It feels a bit like a basic Las Vegas, except everything is housed in the gorgeous historic buildings for which the French Quarter is famous, so it is slightly more cultured than Vegas (emphasis on “slightly”). It is fun to be able to drink alcohol out in the open as you walk along the street.
During the day, we explored other parts of the French Quarter. One big expectation I had for New Orleans was to be able to hear live music everywhere and that expectation was definitely fulfilled in the French Quarter. Firstly, we made our way down Canal Street and then walked along the Mississippi River, taking photos with Steamboat Natchez along the way. We ate beignets at the renowned Café du Monde, which were delicious and cheap. We just had to be prepared to be crammed in with countless other tourists wanting a taste of this famous NOLA attraction. The St. Louis cathedral is right across the road. It is very impressive inside, so I would definitely recommend taking a look. We wandered along the streets in the French Quarter until we made it to Frenchmen Street. It was dead during the day and we unfortunately did not get a chance to go back there at night – but I will make sure I do next time I am in New Orleans, as I have heard amazing things. The French Quarter is a beautiful and charming area that, in my opinion, is best appreciated during the day.
New Orleans is famous for its local cuisine, so once we had tried the beignets, I was excited to taste some more. We decided to have lunch at Royal House in the French Quarter. I am including this in this post as I had the best oysters of my life there. It was not so much the oysters themselves, but the delicious stuffing they had on them. I had the “Oyster Duo”, comprising of the Oysters Royale and Rockefeller. I also ordered the “Taste of New Orleans”, which was good as it allowed me to sample a few local dishes, but I did not like them too much. They were Chicken & Andouille Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffée and Seafood Gumbo. I would have been happy just eating more oysters!
After checking out the French Quarter, we also explored the Warehouse District and general CBD area. These were definitely not as vibrant as the French Quarter, but still has some interesting parks and buildings. Being there on a week day, it just felt like a typical CBD. We were only on foot, so we did not make it to the Garden District. At night, we walked along Canal Street and I briefly had a look inside Harrah’s Casino. I made it rich by winning a couple of dollars on a pokie machine. I have to say that the casino floor did not look too impressive to me.
The highlight of my time in New Orleans was undoubtedly going on a Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour. We were picked up by a shuttle in front of our hotel and driven to Honey Island Swamp. From there, we hopped on a small boat and went for our tour of the swamp. The boat was set out in a manner that allowed everyone to easily see out. Our guide was very informative and entertaining. We saw many alligators, turtles, birds and boars. The alligators jumped out of the water near the sides of the boat to grab food. The boars were particularly entertaining, as they actually jumped up on the side of the boat and splashed us with mud. So, my advice for anyone going on this tour is to not wear white clothes, like I stupidly did. One thing that particularly surprised me about the tour was how beautiful the actual swamp was. The trees are gorgeous. We also saw homes along the swamp that belong to fishermen and are only accessible by boat. It was interesting. At around $50 USD per person with hotel pick-up, the tour was fantastic value for money.
Before going to New Orleans, I had been warned by many people to be very cautious as it is an unsafe city. And to be honest, I felt that vibe as soon as we arrived and got off our bus. I felt uncomfortable standing on the street with two suitcases waiting for a taxi. However, I think that this may just be reflective of the neighbourhood we were in and not the whole city. There is a high police presence along Bourbon Street at night, so I was never concerned there. We just made sure not to venture too far off that street at night. The CBD felt reasonably safe during both day and night. Visitors just need to keep in mind that New Orleans is a tourist party city, so there is a high level of public intoxication. It also needs to be remembered that this city was absolutely devastated by Hurricane Katrina and a lot of economic hardship remains, which naturally affects its crime rate. On that note, I was disheartened that so many tour bus companies have monetised this disaster by providing tours of the worst affected areas, making a sideshow out of victims who have lost everything and are struggling to rebuild.
All in all, New Orleans is a distinctive city with a very eclectic culture. It is well worth paying a visit.