A few New Orleans tips...
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- If you want to stay in the French Quarter, get a map of the Quarter as you start planning your trip. A lot of hotels and Bed & Breakfasts claim to be in the French Quarter, but they're far enough off the beaten path to require a lot of taxi transportation. The part of the French Quarter where all the people are is bounded on the north by Bourbon, on the east by Dumaine, on the west by Bienville and on the south by the Mississippi River. If possible, try to stay in or near this area. If not, at least go into your lodging knowing exactly where you'll be. Your innkeeper should be able to provide you with the safest paths out and around the area.
- Everyone talks about safety in the French Quarter, to the point where you can start taking it for granted. It really isn't an issue to be taken lightly, so find out from your innkeeper how safe your area really is. Another thing to use is good judgement; criminals don't like light or crowds. While we were walking around, we always kept an eye open for the nearest restaurant, store or bar that we could dive into if need be. Since we're talking about your safety, always err on the side of caution.
- We highly recommend the New Orleans School of Cooking. One thing that we keep hearing from people is "I'm not really a cook" or "I don't like to cook that much". It really doesn't matter! Look at this as lunch and a show, and you'll have a great time. The chef is hilarious, and the food is out of this world. Trust us, you will love it. Book this in advance, though, or you may not get in.
- Take guided tours! They're informative, entertaining, and it can actually keep you from wasting a lot of time trying to figure unfamiliar places out on your own. Every one seems to have a theme - there are vampire tours, historical tours, ghost tours, swamp tours, cemetery tours and so forth. Just make sure that you know what a particular tour is going to focus on and you probably won't be disappointed. We can't recommend the Millennium Tour highly enough - read about it back on our New Orleans vacation page. Same with the Hauntings Today expedition, which is more about current ongoing paranormal investigations than a classic walking tour.
- The con men are out there ready to prey on the naive tourists, so be leery of anyone approaching you asking you to make a donation or place a seemingly sure-thing bet. The slickest thing that we saw was a clean-cut fellow with clever patter giving out caps and asking for a $10 donation to a very reputable charity... he even had an ID card pinned to his collar. Then I noticed that the ID card was very generic, without the name of the charity (or any other official affiliation for that matter). We gave him back his cap and didn't bother even stopping to let anyone else have a chance with us.
- Many tours feature stops at one or more cemeteries; keep in mind, though, that the cemeteries get locked up after certain hours (on Sunday, it's noon). The tour that you may be looking at may not tell you that you're booking during a time when you won't get to go to the cemetery. There may be many other great things that you'll get to see on the tour, which is fine, but you just won't get to see the famous New Orleans cemeteries. if you're counting on one particular tour just double-check when you book (by the way, EVERYONE admits that you're taking your life into your own hands if you wander into a cemetery alone - they are supposedly very high crime areas).
- This one is for Jimmy Buffett fans only. If you're like us, you will want to make the ceremonial pilgrimage to the Margaritaville Cafe. You'll get there, hear some good music and have a great meal, maybe even buy a tee shirt, and say "Okay. I've been there now." If you *really* want to get that Buffett atmosphere, head down to the Tropical Isle on Bourbon St & Orleans Ave. If it's evening, there'll probably be a guy out front dressed up like a giant hand grenade. Go inside, buy a "hand grenade" drink, then go upstairs for the Buffett experience. The downstairs band (Debi & the Deacons when we were there) is also good, but you have to visit the "Parrot's Perch"; just follow the staircase. The balcony is also a fine venue for tossing beads to the crowd.
- Speaking of bead-tossing, when you're on the street and people are tossing down beads from above, you'll hear the universal chant "SHOW ME SOMETHING!". Before you succumb to the lure of the plastic beads (and general revelry of the moment), be forewarned: anything that you do on a public street is fair game for people to photograph, videotape, etc. and do with as they please. You can purchase videos of Mardi Gras with girls raising their shirts for the guys on the balcony to get a string of beads... unless you want to be on the next edition, think this thing through. You can always find a parade where people are throwing beads into the crowd with no requirements.
- Most people suggest that you always get restaurant recommendations before trying one out, which we did, but we also noticed that most of the French Quarter restaurants have their menus posted out front. This won't guarantee the quality of their food, but it will give you an idea of the selections and price. On the occasions when we had to wing it, we found the menus very helpful.
- The St. Charles streetcar takes *exact* change only - be sure and have a dollar for everyone in your party. You really should ride it to the zoo; especially if you aren't taking any tours of the Garden district.
- As far as the plantations go, we enjoyed visiting the ones that we had time for. The river road is very deceptive in the brochures, though. It looks on paper like you could do the entire drive in a few hours, but the road is mostly a two-lane, 35 mph drive with lots of stop lights in small towns. Plan ahead for the trip and decide the plantations that you want to visit first in case you start running short of time. Finally, get a Louisiana map. The map that's duplicated in all the brochures isn't exactly accurate - there were several turns where we were just outright guessing.