72 Hours in New Orleans
Creoles, Gators, Music & Spice
By Lauri Lyons
La Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans) was founded in the Spring of 1718 by the French Mississippi Company. The French colony was ceded to the Spanish Empire in the Treaty of Paris in 1763 and remained under Spanish control when it reverted briefly to French rule. Napoleon later sold Louisiana to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Thereafter, the city grew rapidly with influxes of Americans, French, Creoles and Africans. Later immigrants were Irish, Germans and Italians. The major cash crops of sugar and cotton were cultivated with slave labor on nearby large plantations. All of these elements created a potent brew of Creoles, gators, history and spice that never seems to die.
Mardi Gras World
New Orleans is world-renowned for its annual Carnival celebration Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday”, the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. In layman’s terms, Mardi Gras is a bedazzled, feathered, wild, drunken, public hedonism festival that ends right before you go to church and pray.
If you want to take a sneak peek behind the glitter and beads, head on over to Mardi Gras World to meet some of the artists and craftsmen who have built some of the oldest and biggest parade floats in the city. Since 1947, Mardi Gras World has built and decorated approximately 500 floats per year. Tours take place 7 days a week and begin every half hour, and last for approximately one and a half hours. Guides take you through the float den, where artists work year-round to build spectacular floats and props. Additional activities include mask making and mini float building. Tours cost $22 for adults and $14 for children. Free shuttle van service is available for pickups.
The Creole Queen Paddlewheeler
The term Creole was originally used by French settlers to distinguish persons “native born” in Louisiana from those born elsewhere. It also came to be applied to people of mixed European, African and Native American descent, who were born in Louisiana. Creoles share many cultural ties including the traditional use of French and Louisiana Creole languages and the predominant practice of Catholicism.
Take a journey back in time on the Creole Queen Paddlewheeler. This riverboat cruise sails down the mighty Mississippi River and 300 years of New Orleans history. The cruise is narrated by a historian that brings the city’s history to life with detailed stories about the origins of New Orleans, the expansion of the French Quarters, Treme, the Louisiana Purchase, the Battle of New Orleans and much more. The cruise includes a 1 hour guided stop at the historic Chalmette Battlefield, bottomless Mimosas, and a Creole lunch buffet. The cruise lasts 3 hours and costs $34 for adults and $14 for children.
Jean Lafitte Swamp & Airboat Tour
If you want to get down and dirty in the old bayou, look no further than Jean Lafitte for inspiration. Jean Lafitte (c. 1780 – c. 1823) was a French pirate in the Gulf of Mexico. By 1805, Jean and his brother Pierre Lafitte were successful smugglers and pirates. Later, in return for a legal pardon for smuggling, Lafitte helped General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British in the final battle of the War of 1812. Many Hollywood films and books have paid tribute to Jean Lafitte, including The Buccaneer, directed by Anthony Quinn and starring Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston.
For a Cajun-style romp through the swamp, you can book an airboat or boat tour through the heart of Southern Louisiana swamplands, in the protected Jean Lafitte National Park. The Jean Lafitte Swamp and Airboat Tour is located 25 minutes outside of New Orleans in Marrero. Upon arrival, a native Cajun guide will share with you the legends and lore of Louisiana’s still untamed wilderness. The murky waters of the “back country” swamp will bring you up close and personal with alligators, snakes, egrets, white-tailed deer, mink, nutria and great cypress trees.
Some areas of the swamp are only accessible by airboat and each vessel uses Chevy horsepower engines. Tours last 1 hour and 45 minutes. Pickup from your hotel to and from Marrero is available. Swamp tours cost $52 with transport / $29 without. Airboat costs $85 with transport / $65 without.
Once back on land, you can visit the Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop located on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, where Jean Lafitte and his brother operated a blacksmith business to disguise their smuggling. Constructed prior to 1732, the structure stands today as possibly the oldest building in the United States housing a bar. It is reported to be one of the most haunted venues in New Orleans.
Strange Tours & Haunted Carriage Rides
A moonlight horse-drawn carriage ride sounds like a very romantic thing to do - except in New Orleans. Touring the Crescent City at night is a f*****g scary thing to do! New Orleans is renowned for its creepy tales from the crypts, voodoo rituals, murders, and mayhem. If any of this sounds enticing to you, feel free to take a ride into the dark side with Royal Carriages History & Haunts Carriage Tour. If you are brave enough to actually walk through the Crescent City’s infamous cemeteries, tombs, and haunted houses, then the Strange True Tours will definitely be right up your nightmare alley.
The nightly haunted carriage tour visits some of the city’s most famous haunted locations, while a local guide joyfully recites historical stories about landmarks, vampires, gruesome murders, suicides, rebellions, and the undead. One of the nefarious subjects is Madame Delphine LaLaurie, a New Orleans Creole socialite infamous for torturing and murdering her household slaves.
Rescuers responded to a fire at her Royal Street mansion and discovered chained, starved, and mutilated slaves in her attic and kitchen, plus dead bodies in the backyard. Lalaurie’s house was subsequently sacked by an outraged mob of New Orleans citizens. The house is a landmark in the French Quarter, in part because of its history and size, but is also well known to be haunted. In April 2007, actor Nicolas Cage bought the house and later sold it. I wonder why?
After this tour and a stiff drink, you will understand why the French Quarter is considered to be one of the most haunted neighborhoods in America. The carriage ride is 1 hour long and costs $40 per person.
Evergreen Plantation Tour
As a black person, I never thought I would ever voluntarily set foot on a plantation, primarily because I am sure in a past life I or my ancestors may have spent plenty of time working on one. With that said, I somehow eerily and voluntarily found myself en route to the Evergreen Plantation.
Evergreen Plantation is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Edgard, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. It is the most intact plantation complex in the South, with 37 original buildings and 22 slave cabins listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the Evergreen Plantation remains a 250-year-old privately owned, working sugar cane plantation. The plantation ‘Big House’ is a significant architectural marvel that was engineered by an African slave. The house and grounds have been prominently featured as a movie and television location for Roots, Django Unchained, and Queen Sugar.
A 4-hour tour with superstar guide and actress Desiree Edwards is an informative and engaging history lesson about Louisiana’s atypical and surprising laws about race, immigration, economics, freedom, slavery, agriculture, and plantation life, before and after Louisiana became a state in the Union. Evergreen Plantation is open 6 days per week and costs $20 per person. Round trip van pickup from your hotel is available for additional costs.
Hop On Hop Off Bus
If after several days of non-stop partying all you want to do is sit down and smile, we have the perfect tour for you. The Hop On Hop Off bus offers daily and 3-day unlimited passes for a double-decker bus ride along New Orleans most celebrated local attractions and neighborhoods.
The bus visits each stop along its route. Every 30 minutes you can get on or off the bus at your leisure. Stops include the French Market and Treme. If you decide to get a little exercise, the bus tour also includes 3 free escorted walking tours of the Garden District, the French Quarter and a cemetery. An adult 3-day pass is $49, an adult 1-day pass is $39.
Free Tours By Foot
If you want to see the city, but beat the afternoon heat and the crowds, I suggest you sign up for a daily walking tour by Free Tours By Foot. I think the name says it all, but just in case you need a little more info this is how it works; local and licensed tour guides walk groups through specific New Orleans neighborhoods and cemeteries, and at the end of the tour guests pay what they like.
Itineraries include a French Quarter Culinary tour for foodies, St. Louis Cemetery #1 aka the City of the Dead, the beautiful mansions of the Garden Districts, an ethereal Voodoo tour, and Treme - an important center of the city’s African-American and Créole culture. Daily and weekly tours take place at 10 am and 2 pm. Reservations are required.
The word Atchafalaya comes from the Choctaw Indians for “long river” and is the namesake of the Atchafalaya River which serves as the cultural heart of Cajun Country in south central Louisiana. Atchafalaya is also the namesake of the only five “A” rated restaurant in New Orleans. It is nestled in a Creole cottage located in the mostly residential Irish Channel neighborhood. The restaurant’s notable decor fuses reclaimed Hurricane Katrina wood, with local folkloric paintings, and high ceilings.
The cuisine showcases local Creole and Cajun specialities with a sophisticated twist that will surprise your taste palette and enlighten your senses. The menu’s all-star items take you back to the future with turtle and alligator sausage gumbo, crab and ravioli, gulf oysters on the half shell, fried green tomatoes with jumbo lump crab meat, black drum jubilee, seared duck breast, blue cheese flan, and the dark & stormy rum cocktail. The food is rich, the decor is Louisiana chic, tables are full, and the wait may be long. Book in advance and get out of the French Quarter to taste what les propos is all about.
Photos © Jeffrey Holmes / Strange True Tours, Atchafalaya, Big Easy.com, Evergreen Plantation, Royal Carriages, Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours, Creole Queen, Mardi Gras World, NPR, New Orleans CVB