Top New Orleans Attractions – An Adventurous Weekend in The Big Easy

Top New Orleans Attractions – An Adventurous Weekend in The Big Easy

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We had a shit load of expenses last year. It sucked for my wallet, but it did wonders for my credit card point balances. One amazing thing that came from it was the ability to get enough Southwest Rapid Rewards points to qualify for the companion pass. The companion pass allows you to book a flight on Southwest airlines (with cash or Rapid Rewards points) and you get to take a travel companion for free. We’ll be able to take advantage of it until it expires at the end of 2017. So, 2017 has turned in to the year of domestic travel for Kendra and me. While not as exotic as international travel (you just don’t feel as cool saying that you just got home from L.A. as you do saying you just got back from Europe), domestic travel has the benefit of, well, being domestic. In addition to one long two-week vacation, we’ve been able to have a couple really nice weekend getaways.

New Orleans Weekend

Kendra has had an itch to see New Orleans for quite a while, and I’ve always thought it seemed like a cool city. I honestly didn’t know much about the city other than Cajun food, jazz, and hurricane Katrina. So when she suggested we take a trip there for Labor Day weekend, I was all about it. Didn’t stop to think about the fact that it would be smack dab in the middle of hurricane season. And somehow the fact that there weren’t increased fares to travel there over the holiday weekend still didn’t make me consider it. It wasn’t until Hurricane Harvey was bearing down on Houston that I stopped to think, “Hey, isn’t it hurricane season down there?”

Despite the tragic events of Houston, New Orleans has luckily had a mild hurricane season. For the week and a half prior to our trip, I was checking the weather everyday ready to cancel our trip. Though the forecast promised heavy rains the whole time, we decided to be adventurous and head down anyway. I’m so glad we did. Somehow every meteorologist on the planet had it wrong. The weather was beautiful. It was a little overcast for parts of Saturday afternoon. But all that did was provide a bit of respite from the hot dankiness characteristic to the area.

Airfare, Accommodations, & Transportation

We stayed at Holiday Inn New Orleans – Downtown Superdome. We used our two free nights that we get every year for keeping our Chase IHG card active. It’s completely worth the $49 fee. The really cool thing about this benefit is that it can be used at any IHG hotel. So you could even stay at a place as nice as the Intercontinental in Bora Bora. It seems a little silly to use a benefit like that at your run of the mill Holiday Inn. But the nights were about to expire and we’ll have two new free nights loaded to our account soon that we can use somewhere nicer, so we opted to use them here. It was also nice that we used them in a little bit more of a working man’s hotel anyway since we stayed for a third night and could afford to pay the actual nightly dollar rate.

We opted to forego the rental car for this trip. Our hotel was central to everywhere we wanted to go, and we figured if we got tired of walking, there’s always Uber. Uber turned out to be a great resource for the trip. As expected, our feet took quite a beating, so it was nice to hop into a car every now and then. Uber is a fantastic way of doing a quick getaway in a single city. I think we used Uber about a dozen times, and we still spent less that we would have with a rental. Plus, we didn’t have to worry about paying the nightly $30 fee at the Holiday in for parking. It’s slick the way it works too. Just open the app, type in where you want to go, and the driver is usually there within three to five minutes. If you can’t tell, this trip totally sold me on Uber.

So anyway, now that we’ve got all the business out of the way, let’s talk about all the fun shit we did in the Big Easy. I often hear people talk about their favorite city. Both my sister and my boss love San Francisco. I have a friend that loves Boston. As for me, I’ve never really had a favorite city. After visiting New Orleans, I think I might be willing to say it’s my favorite. It’s so different from every other US city. The culture, architecture, art, and food really set it apart, and it doesn’t surprise me that it often tops the list of unique US cities.

French Quarter

We planned to leave most of our first day in New Orleans open to just be able to walk around and check out the city, and be open to doing whatever we wanted to spontaneously. The only appointment we had was a 7:30 voodoo tour of the French Quarter. So after our delicious breakfast at the Ruby Slipper, we decided to take our own stroll down Bourbon Street. Unfortunately at the time of our visit, New Orleans was in the process of replacing its dated sewer system, so the first few blocks of Bourbon Street funneled all the tourists to fenced off sidewalks. Luckily it only lasted for the first four or five blocks and then opened up. The streets seemed to be a little dirty and smelly. I’m not sure if that’s because of the way they had everything torn up, or if that’s normal. From everything I’ve heard about New Orleans, I expect it’s typically that way. Dirty or not, you can’t help but fall in love with the place. The architecture is so different than anywhere else in the US. In fact, as we walked through, it reminded me a lot of downtown Panama City. All the two and three-story buildings, with their tall doors and windows, shutters, and plants hanging from their balconies create a charming atmosphere.

New Orleans Architecture

As we meandered through the streets we started realizing just how entertaining the people watching was going to be. There were a couple things at play that made this truly an interesting weekend to be in New Orleans. First, there was an LSU/BYU football game that was scheduled to be in Houston, but was transferred to the Superdome due to the flooding with Hurricane Harvey. Second, the Decadence Festival. I had never heard of the Decadence Festival, but apparently it occurs every Labor Day weekend in New Orleans. Our Uber driver told us about it the night before, when I asked what it was, the best way he could describe it was “Gay Mardi Gras.” Perfect… Not really my scene, but watching the dynamic play out between LSU scene, the BYU scene and the gay pride provided for some free entertainment all weekend. Blue BYU shirts, the yellow LSU shirts, and what looked like an explosion of pixie dust from the festival provided for some colorful views. It was funny to see quickly the blue shirts began disappearing once the gay festivities were in full swing. I don’t think the BYU fans had too great of a weekend as their team lost 0 – 27 that night.

We meandered our way toward Jackson Square, which is an area about the size of a city block on the outskirts of the French quarter near the Mississippi river. It was here that in 1803 the Louisiana Purchase took place, making Louisiana a US territory.  In the middle of the square sits a statue of Andrew Jackson on a horse, commemorating his significant role defending the city in the war of 1812. St. Louis Cathedral towers over the square to the north, while the streets to the east and west are adorned with typical New Orleans facade buildings. Be sure to stop here for some good pictures as the statue, cathedral, and green space make for some great scenery. All but the street to the south of the square are closed to vehicular traffic. So it has become a pretty hip place to walk around and see street performers as well as a place to purchase paintings and other cool knick-knacks from street vendors.

Jackson Square

With my wife being a fan of the macabre, I thought it would be fun to check out the Museum of Death. It’s located just one block north of Bourbon street. This place was quite a bit more morbid than I expected, guess that’s why it’s called the museum of death. Right where you purchase your tickets, there is a picture on display of a guy who wrecked his motorcycle and his whole body has been dragged on the street and mangled. Apparently it’s the litmus test before you enter; Kendra and I passed.

Museum of Death

Inside they have displays of all sorts of things death. There’s a video on a loop that shows how brains are surgically removed from skulls. There’s a display of most of the notorious serial killers as well as some artifacts and letters that belonged to them or their victims. Pretty much every major and minor conflict in modern history that involved death (9-11, World War II, Oklahoma City Bombings, US shooting rampages) had a display. It was quite disturbing, but still kind of cool because there were artifacts that aren’t available anywhere else to see. It makes me curious how they got a hold of them. As we finished our tour they asked us if we had any questions. I asked if they could tell me where we go when we die. Unfortunately, they were no help there. Also unfortunate that we were not allowed to take pictures… though maybe it’s probably for the best. I don’t want to gross you guys out.

We had a little bit of time to kill, so we took a few more strolls down Bourbon Street to enjoy some people watching. By now it was getting into the late afternoon, and the Decadence Festival was in full swing. Watching dudes that I never would have guessed if I just saw them in a normal setting were frolicking around, hand-in-hand, dressed in nothing more than tight briefs and suspenders. Some even had butt flaps that opened up into their nether regions.  Most of it was just entertaining. The only time I felt really uncomfortable was when I had to push through a crowd of half-naked men standing around making out with each other to cross the street. It was the kind of crowd that you can’t avoid physical contact in, like a night club. Only in a night club, I don’t mind so much if I get bumped into. But my options were limited. I couldn’t go over. I couldn’t go under. The only way was through a solid wall of dong. I made it through okay, but I really prefer to just watch them from the comfort of a balcony while stuffing delicious Cajun food in my face (secretly being jealous of their perfectly sculpted bodies). Now I know how women feel at the beach.

Decadence Festival

Voodoo Tour

7:30 arrived, and we made our way to the meeting point for our voodoo tour. I’ve decided that Voodoo is probably one of the world’s most misunderstood religions. Hollywood has done a decent job of mysticising it. Even still, it’s weird as shit. No disrespect, I think my own religion is weird as shit as well. We walked from one Voodoo shop to another as well as to homes of some of the most famous Voodoo practitioners including Marie Laveau. Apparently she was like the Don Corleone of New Orleans for most of the 1800’s. Not too shabby for a woman of color in the south in the Antebellum era.

Voodoo Shrine
Voodoo Shrine

While learning all about the Voodoo Queen was mildly entertaining, what I enjoyed most about the tour was just walking around the French Quarter at night. I’d been walking around it all day, but it has a different appeal at night. I love the way the homes are lit with flickering lanterns and depending on the street, smooth jazz floats in the air. By the end of the tour, the spectacularly costumed people parading the street waited with their arms stretched toward the balconies for the chance to be adorned with Mardi Gras beads.  Kendra asked our tour guide where the tradition of Mardi Gras beads stemmed from, apparently people used to throw flour and bricks in celebration until that was outlawed. Beads took over as a more practical option.

New Orleans at Night
Photo Credit –

Snug Harbor

As a self-proclaimed metal head, Jazz has never really been my thing, but how could you come to New Orleans without checking out the music scene? One of our Uber drivers recommended a couple different clubs on Frenchman street just a few blocks east of the French Quarter. Apparently, Frenchman street is the less touristy version of Bourbon street. It was nice to arrive there and not be surrounded by half naked men.

Snug Harbor

The club was classy, in fact I was probably a little under-dressed in my flip flops, but they still let me in. While the music was enjoyable, I couldn’t believe how into the music some of the people around me were. I mean they were really getting in to it. I guess my style just isn’t refined enough, I got a little bored after about an hour. But what I did enjoy, were these street performers that we heard outside while were waiting for our Uber to arrive.

Garden District

Somewhere in between all the French Quarter stuff we did on Saturday, we were able to catch an Uber over to the Garden district of New Orleans. This is a neighborhood that was developed throughout the 1800’s and has many large mansions with really cool facades. All we really wanted to do here was walk down the streets and catch a few glimpses of cool houses, and visit Lafayette Cemetery #1, the oldest in the city. After all, what trip to New Orleans would be complete without visiting one of New Orleans’ most iconic features?

New Orleans Weekend

Like the rest of New Orleans, its cemeteries are unique; unique enough to be featured in several films and be an attraction to many tourists. Because New Orleans sits below sea level they hit the water table at about 3 feet, making burial at 6 feet impossible. Their solution? Above ground tombs.  Most of these tombs have two shelves inside, the top shelf is for the recently departed. The body is placed inside and the heat and humidity decomposes the body. Once decomposed (generally after one year) the body is moved below to the second shelf. This method allows for multiple generations of the same family to be buried in the same plot. This peculiar way of burying the dead offers a stunningly eerie view, and it’s easy to see why it has been featured in so many films. Weather you opt to take a guided tour or wander the grounds yourself, it’s worth checking out.

Swamp Tour

If you’ve ever seen a movie filmed in the swamps of southern Louisiana, you can imagine the excitement of booking a swamp tour in this area. There’s always such a sense of eeriness with the unknown of what’s under the water’s surface, the trees adorned with Spanish moss, and all the run-down shacks full of toothless seance practicing creepers.

Well we were there in the middle of the day, so it wasn’t so scary. Also, any mysticism of the area was completely raped and murdered by our tour guide. I felt like the goal of this man was to make us think that there was absolutely nothing interesting about the area. He took us out in what I would best describe as a pontoon boat with an awning. He wasn’t quite this direct, but basically what I heard him say was “Nobody rides the fan boats down here, we make a lot more money down here than the rest of the country thinks, there’s nothing exotic about hunting crocodiles, and none of the cool stuff you see in the movies ever happens here.

New Orleans Swamp Tour

Despite the boring tour guide, the scenery was breathtaking. It’s an environment that is resistant to humans coming in and screwing it up, so all the forestation was beautiful and pristine. We even caught a glimpse of a bald eagle. Unfortunately, the water levels were unseasonably high because of Hurricane Harvey. This covered up all the logs where crocodiles like to hang out. We did see a baby crocodile right at the beginning and there was one spot in the tour where we just saw the tip of one’s head; but other than that, we didn’t have too much luck spotting any.

Plantation Tours

The plantation tours were probably what I was most excited for on this trip. I love seeing and walking through big, old houses; especially those that have humongous grounds with sprawling oak trees. I’m not too much of a historian; but it was my wife’s major and I always appreciate learning about the events that shaped the areas I visit. The area’s rich Civil War and slavery history makes a plantation tour a must do when in the area. We were lucky enough to do two.

Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley Plantation

Oak Alley was the more traditional out of the plantations we toured. If you close your eyes and imagine a pre-Civil War southern plantation, chances are you’ll see many features of Oak Alley. Located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, it’s named for its distinguishing visual feature, two 800-foot rows of oak trees that were planted in the 1700’s before the present house was built. Running rows of oak trees from the front of the property to the house was a customary practice back then as it created a funnel to suck gusts of the cooler air above the river towards the house to cool it off in the hot and humid summer days. The one at Oak Alley stands out because of its sheer size. The trees are quite a site to take in. Many branches are so old and grown that they have almost grown back in to the ground.

Oak Alley

Old Oak Trees

The plantation was built and run by Jacques and Celina Roman. Jacques died of tuberculosis in 1848 leaving his wife and children to run it. Being a big spender, Celina racked up a bunch of debt. Combine that with the abolition of slavery after the Civil War and the plantation was no longer viable. The property passed through the hands of various owners until Andrew and Josephine Stewart acquired it in 1925 to run as a cattle ranch. Josephine was the last person to live in Oak Alley, leaving the grounds to the Oak Alley Foundation when she died in 1972. It was then opened to the public for all to enjoy.

All in all, this was a cool place to see. The tour wasn’t as interesting as the grounds themselves. They also provide a lunch of typical Cajun cuisine. While I wasn’t impressed enough with the meal to add it to my list of food recommendations, it was an enjoyable meal. Though it didn’t make my top-five list, I would still strongly recommend this place for their buttermilk pie, which was rich, decadent, and delicious.

Laura Plantation Tour

With my feet still aching from the previous day of walking all over the French Quarter, and now having a swamp and plantation tour under my belt, I really would have rather headed back to town for dinner and rest, but we wanted to make the most of the time we had. So we were off to another plantation tour; this time, the Laura plantation. If Oak Alley is the epitome of a southern plantation, Laura is anything but. Aside from some the colorful exterior paint, the exterior of the main house made it look like an ordinary home. What the Laura plantation lacked in flare was made up for with a really interesting story, and a much more entertaining tour guide.

Laura Plantation

A Frenchman by the name of Guillaume and Duparc built the house in 1805. He and his wife Nanette acquired several adjacent parcels of land and ended up with a 12,000-acre sugar plantation. The Duparcs owned 186 slaves and housed them in 69 cabins. Each cabin was occupied by two families. The slave cabins were used even until well after the civil war. While the workers were obviously compensated for their work, it wasn’t much. And living and working conditions weren’t great either. It wasn’t until that part of the tour that it impressed upon my mind how open the wounds still are. I couldn’t believe that people in the Unites States would live in such conditions so close to my life time. I now get why race is still an issue.

Duparc Family Tree

While the operations of the plantation passed down to the children upon Guillaume’s death, Nanette kept a tight rein on things, even when it passed down to the next generation. She had a mother-in-law “cabin” built so she could stick around and keep an eye on everyone. She was known to be quite brutal, especially in keeping the slaves in line. Though her personal servants had gained her favor over the years, they were still slaves. What adds to the intrigue is that, due to some indiscretions of her son, she shared grandchildren with her servants. Unfortunately, this did nothing to change the way she treated them.

As you can see, the subject matter of this tour is quite heavy, but it made for a really interesting afternoon, and gave me a lot to think about. My conclusion: slavery is stupid.

Even though my feet were tired, I’m extremely glad we toured the Laura plantation, and if I had to pick a favorite out of the two, this would easily win.

So there you have it; everything we were able to pack in to a quick weekend getaway. We wish we would have had more time. Have you ever been to New Orleans? What would you recommend if we were able to go back for more time? Please feel free to elaborate in the comments.




6 Replies to “Top New Orleans Attractions – An Adventurous Weekend in The Big Easy”

  1. Hello Dustin-
    Just came across your website while I was researching our upcoming trip to New Orleans. I have been very interested in this city for years and have convinced my wife to take a vacation there. I love the history of the place. From the unique architecture and food to the voodoo culture.We would love to spend a few days touring around the french quarter and plantations taking in the history and culture. Is the swamp tours worth the time? We haven’t booked yet but are thinking maybe Mardi Gras so my wife can earn tons of beads-lol Thank you for this very informative article

    1. Haha. Hi Vic. Maybe you should get out there and earn some of those beads yourself. Ha.

      I’m conflicted in answering your question regarding the swamp tour. On one hand, the scenery was beautiful. And I have no clue how you would see it if you weren’t doing a tour. On the other hand, we didn’t see a whole lot of wildlife because of the high waters due to Hurricane Harvey.

      Hats off to you if you go during Mardi gras. I would end up wanting to slit my wrists in that huge of a crowd. When you go down, do me a favor and come back here and tell us how it went.

      Best of luck to you.

  2. Interesting post!

    I’ve never actually been to New Orleans but it’s high on my list of USA places to visit.

    Would you say that this is an expensive destination or can it be done on a shoestring? I found that a lot of the bigger US cities were really quick expensive when I visited.

    1. Hi Stephen,

      It seems like a city that you could probably figure out on any budget. There’s some fine dining restaurants where you have to pay a pretty penny, but most of the food was pretty affordable. As for accommodations, we stayed at the Holiday Inn downtown which is around $130 a night.

      The thing I love about credit card points, though, is that once you have your airfare and accommodations covered by points, it makes you less sensitive to the price of everything else. Not that you start being wasteful with your money, but it makes it so you can spend a little and experience more without feeling guilty. Check out this post to learn more about how to do it.

      Thanks for the comment and take care.

  3. Very informative post! The pictures of the area on your site are really nice, too! I’ve never been to New Orleans before, but after seeing your pictures, I sure learned a lot about the area. The two plantations would be very interesting to me because “history back in time” type of places to visit fascinate me the most.

    1. Thanks for the comment Teresa. If you like history, especially American, you would sure love this area. It was a lot of fun. I hope you can make it there some day.

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