Let the good times roll
From swamps to the arts: a tour of New Orleans
By Jodi E. Knapp
Well-known as a city for adults, N'Awlins (as pronounced by native New Orleanians) is more than just an open-all-night entertainment mecca. The "Birthplace of Jazz" is one of the most culturally rich cities in the world and offers a cornucopia of museums, shopping venues and educational events. Since relaxing in "The Big Easy" is a given, "laissez les bon temps rouler," or let the good times roll, as the natives say. All telephone numbers are in the 504 area code.
The city boasts numerous activities ranging from visiting underwater friends at the Aquarium of the Americas, open Sunday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m., (1 Canal St., 565-3006), to checking out the wildlife at the Audubon Park and Zoological Gardens, open daily from 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. (6500 Magazine St., 861-2537).
If water activities are more your style, frolic with the alligators on a bayou swamp tour or take a paddlewheeler down the Mississippi. Plenty of companies offer tours: Gator Swamp Tours (484-6100) has daily tours at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. of the Honey Island Swamp using open flat-bottomed boats; cost is $20 per adult, $10 per child. Louisiana Swamp Tours (Highway 301, Crown Point, 689-3599) cruises into the Barataria swamps and wetlands at 9:30 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily past a 2,000-year-old Indian burial mound, a Cajun cemetery and a fishing village. Cost is $20.50 per adult, $16.50 per child.
Or climb aboard the Cajun Queen Riverboat(610 S. Peters St., 529-4567), an authentic replica of the 19th-century passenger steamboats. The boat departs from the Aquarium of the Americas three times daily—11 a.m., 1:15 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.—for a 90-minute ride past the Quarter, plantations and the site of the Battle of New Orleans. Cost is $10 per adult, $5 per child. New Orleans' only authentic sternwheel steamboat, the Natchez Steamboat (2 Canal St., 586-8777), departs from the JAX Brewery at 11:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. for a two-hour cruise of the harbor. It features live jazz and Creole/Cajun buffets.
Uniquely New Orleans
Because New Orleans is the only major American City below sea level, early residents of the city found it necessary to bury their dead above ground—or risk seeing them float back up to the surface. The brave at heart can tour the oldest "City of the Dead," St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
And don't miss visiting the tomb of Voodoo queen Marie Laveau and learn some of the ancient secrets of voodoo through tours that depart from Zombie's Voodoo Shop (723 St. Peter St., 861-2727). Tours run Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. and 1:15 p.m., and Sunday at 10 a.m. Cost is $15 for adults, $7 for children.
The city also offers tours of several plantations, including Destrehan Plantation (13034 River Road, 764-9315). Built in 1787, Destrehan is the oldest plantation house in the area; tours are offered daily 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Cost is $7 per adult, $2 for children ages 6-12. Houmas House Plantation and Gardens (40136 Highway 942, 888-323-8314) represents one of the South's most authentically restored homes and takes it name from the Houma Indians who originally lived in the area. Tours run from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Cost is $8 per adult, $6 per child ages 13-17 and $3 per child ages 6-12. Newly reopened, Evergreen Plantation (River Road in St. John the Baptist Parish) can be seen through New Orleans Tours Inc. (592-0560). Situated on 2,268 acres, the 1790 Greek Revival plantation is the largest intact antebellum plantation in the South. Tours are at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday. Cost is $48 per adult, $24 per child ages 3-12.
Jackson Square, in the heart of the French Quarter, is home to sidewalk artists, musicians, jugglers, mimes and other theatrical entertainers. St. Louis Cathedral (615 Pere Antoine Alley, 525-9585), considered the jewel in the crown of Jackson Square, is open for free guided tours daily. Designated by Pope Paul IV as a minor basilica, the cathedral houses a collection of ecclesiastical art, including a gigantic statue of Joan of Arc. Tours are available Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 1:30 p.m.-5 p.m.
Famous for its French Quarter and Garden districts, New Orleans also has neighborhoods seeped in French roots that are a must for visiting. The thriving community of Algiers Point, located directly across the river from the French Quarter, offers sightseers an architecturally rich neighborhood that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Greek Revival and Victorian homes line its streets, and a thriving artists' colony has developed. Catch the free ferry at Canal Street, which runs every half hour.
Take time to tour the Garden District, perhaps the grandest of New Orleans' neighborhoods. Defined by Italian villas, Queen Anne-style mansions and West Indies-inspired raised cottages, the Garden District also boasts Lafayette (Washington Avenue and Prytania Street), another aboveground cemetery.
The Warehouse Arts District, often referred to as the "Southern SoHo," has put New Orleans on the map as a center for emerging artists. Fashionable art galleries and condos carved out of old warehouses dot the area. The heart of the district is Julia Street, home to many leading galleries. In addition, the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp St., 528-3805) is an important part of the district. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Cost is $3 per adult, $2 per child or senior citizen.
Take a New Orleans streetcar, one of the oldest forms of transportation, up and down St. Charles Avenue to see some of the most historic and beautiful thoroughfares in the country. The street is lined with elegant homes, 100-year-old oak trees and a variety of shops and restaurants. Or hop on the Riverfront Streetcar and Vieux Carré; trolley bus to visit arts and entertainment centers, shopping areas and historic sites. Passes are available at many hotels and retail outlets (248-3900). Group rates apply.
If the center of commerce is more your cup of tea, visit the Central Business District, where business meets leisure. Stroll down the district's main artery, Poydras Street, home to the Superdome, the largest indoor stadium in the world, and the World Trade Center.
Jodi E. Knapp is a freelance writer and editor in Exton, Pa.
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