New Orleans is mostly associated with Mardi Gras, women flashing their breasts for beads and drunken debauchery. However, New Orleans has much more to offer such as museums, river cruises, nearby plantations, and distilleries. A few years ago we stopped here as part of an extended road trip. Join us as we recap our 4 days in the wondrous city of New Orleans.
Day 1 Arrival in New Orleans
New Orleans Museum of Art
Initially, we arrived in New Orleans too early to check into our hotel. Instead, we found the New Orleans Museum of Art through Trip Advisor and had a picnic lunch on the lawn. Afterwards we perused several floors of art work. Then we headed out back to admire the sculpture garden.
After all that culture we drove to our hotel for a little r&r. We checked into the Royal St. Charles Hotel at 135 St. Charles Avenue. Then we left our car with the valet. With the exception of a day trip to local plantations, we wouldn’t be needing it. Subsequently, we booked a comfortable queen size room for a reasonable price through Groupon. We chose this hotel due to the location since we didn’t want to drive everywhere.
New Orleans Steamboat Company
Consequently, we checked our phones for navigation and walked to Jackson Square. We reserved spots on a 7pm cruise aboard the Steamboat Nachez. To begin, we ordered some drinks from the bar and proceeded to find seats on deck. As we watched the sun set over the Mississippi River we listened to the energetic music of a jazz band. Then we took a tour of the engine room to learn the workings of the ship. Now it was time to eat. We found our assigned table for two in the dining room. Then we enjoyed a buffet dinner with all the fixings along with a Sazerac, a traditional drink in New Orleans. In addition, the crew sang to us for our anniversary and dessert, which made a grand finale to the evening.
Day 2 Plantations
Destrehan Manor House
We woke up early and walked to Central Grocery to order a famous muffaletta. In case you haven’t heard of this, its a large round sandwich layered with olive salad, salami, ham, Swiss cheese, provolone, and mortadella. Then we ordered our car from the valet and embarked on our journey to River Road.
Along River Road you can find numerous plantations. You will have to choose carefully as you can’t see them all. Our first stop was the Destrehan Manor House. Here we toured the Blacksmith Shop, smokehouse, and the kitchen house. If you would like to get a feeling for what life was like during this time, I recommend reading The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. It is historical fiction, but tells a story of what went on behind the scenes often at these plantations.
Oak Alley Plantation
Our next stop was the more famous Oak Alley Plantation. Our guide shared his knowledge of the the plantation life of the slaves and really honored the men and women who did the majority of the work to built up this country. We toured slave quarters as well as the inside of the plantation. Outside again, we bought some refreshing mint juleps and found a picnic spot. Then we unpacked our muffaletta and enjoyed our lunch.
San Francisco Plantation
After lunch, we drove to our final destination, the San Francisco Plantation. I chose this plantation because I heard that it was decorated with a lot of hand painted art work. It did not disappoint. Numerous cypress fireplaces were painted to look like marble. Also, the ceilings and door panels were all hand painted with cherubs and items from nature. In addition, a clothing chest on display had the ability to fold up into a trunk for traveling. This plantation even housed a state of the art flushing chamber pot!
We returned to New Orleans and handed our car back to the valet. After a shower and a short nap, we struck out to Bourbon Street for the night. There are many popular bars and clubs here along with trendy frozen concoctions. However, we chose some more classic venues. A must see is the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone. There are many seating options in this bar, but we opted to wait for a seat at the carousel. The bar is made to mimic a carnival carousel and makes a complete rotation every 15 minutes. I highly recommend the wait for a seat. Next we found a dive bar called Sing Sing where we were able to sip our drinks up close to the live bands.
Day 3 French Market, Rum, and Ghosts of New Orleans
This morning we walked over to the French Market. We skipped the famous beignets in favor of indulging in shrimp po boys later. While we waited for our ride to the rum distillery we browsed the market. This proved to be a great place to buy souvenirs. The market houses everything from clothing to homemade food products. To sum up, I bought a strappy dress, some coasters, and a few other kitschy souvenirs.
The Old New Orleans Rum Distillery
Next our tour guide arrived in a van to drive us to the distillery. After arriving, we sipped rum cocktails while waiting for the other tour participants. Once the tour began, our guide taught us the history of the distillery and how rum is made. The tour ended with us sampling some different types of rum. Of course we bought some to take home with us.
The French Quarter and Ghosts
Once back in the French Quarter, we walked to the Royal Sonesta Hotel where we entered the Desire Oyster Bar. We had purchased a Groupon for a dozen oysters and drinks for two. After indulging on grilled oysters and drinks we went to explore the French Quarter. In short, we found the Museum of Death. This museum houses a collection of serial killer artwork, crime scene photos, mortician and coroner instruments, and Manson family memorabilia. This is a self-guided tour which takes approximately 45 minutes.
After eating some po boys, we located the real estate office that doubled as the office for French Quarter History and Ghost Busters. We then embarked with a group of others on a walking tour of New Orleans. During the tour we learned the creepy history of New Orleans and the infamous Jean Lafitte. The tour ended at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, the oldest bar in New Orleans built between 1722 and 1732. As a result we tried the famous Voodoo drink, a frozen purple concoction. I was not impressed. I am not one for these pre-made drinks from a mix. Give me some good old Bourbon any time.
Day 4 The Garden District
Mardi Gras World
Today we spent the morning at Mardi Gras World. Finally we had mastered the Streetcar system here, because this was too far to walk. Here is where they make all of the displays for parade floats around the country. The artists fuse layers of Styrofoam together for the base of these sculptures. Sometimes they add layers of plywood to give the forms strength. Then they paint the sculptures to make them 3 dimensional. The parade floats themselves are several stories high and contain bathrooms because the parade participants are often on the floats for many hours.
Prior to our tour of the facility we watched a quick film telling the history of the floats and the hierarchy involved in being granted the privilege of entering a float in a parade. We even got to try on some of the costumes. Parades are a New Orleans tradition. Mardi Gras is the most widely known celebration, but smaller parades are found in New Orleans daily.
Another tradition is that of the King Cake. King cakes are used during celebrations in New Orleans. The baker hides a plastic baby in the cake. If you get the piece with the baby, then you are responsible for buying the cake for the next celebration.
Next we hopped the street car again and traveled to the Garden District. Famous for its beautiful 19th century homes, the Garden District was originally part of the Livaudais Plantation. New Orleans incorporated the plantation in 1852 and is now considered a historic landmark. Stroll down the well known Magazine Street and stop in the shops. Some of the more popular restaurants fill quickly and waits can be long. I challenge you to walk a little further and find a less popular alternative. We like to sit at the bar and chat with the bartender. Usually, you get insider information about the area which consequently leads to a much better experience.
Of course, a visit to the Garden District isn’t complete without a trip to Lafayette Cemetery. Don’t forget to book a tour ahead of time. Here many of the tombs date back to the 1800s. Due to New Orleans actually being below sea level, these tombs are all built above the ground. Because of the heat in New Orleans, the tombs act as kilns, therefore cremating the bodies. This allows families to use the same tombs over and over again.
After we took the street car back to the French Quarter, we walked to Jackson Square for the evening. We started by shopping for souvenirs in the many shops lining the streets. Then we found Voodoo Authentica, a traditional voodoo shop. Here we browsed collections of voodoo dolls, potion oils, and gris gris bags. Eventually we chose to buy some candles. The shop also offers readings.
We ended the evening with dinner at Jax Brewery. We sat at the bar which had an open area facing the street. While we were eating a random parade went by. I don’t mean some rinky dink parade either. Included were floats from Busch Gardens, Disney, Sea World, and the Smurfs, to name a few. All of them threw beads and candy to observers. I ran out to grab some beads. Typically, this is an every day occurrence here.
Sadly it was time to say good bye to this magical city. Time to finish our road trip and head home.
Any links to tours or bookings in New Orleans through Get Your Guide are sponsored links. However, we chose these links based on activities we recommend from our trip.