Adding another night to our original 3-night stay in this city was the first hit to the budget.
Then, we picked a RV campground within walking distance of the French Quarter. With only 3 days to spend sightseeing, we wanted to maximize our stay.
Finally, despite our resolution to eat meals at home, we were seduced into eating dinners out with friends Tim met through an online RV forum. But I don't begrudge that money. That expense was more than compensated by the new friends we made, the delicious food we consumed and the lively music we enjoyed.
So, how did we tour the Big Easy without completely blowing our budget? We found these inexpensive attractions.
Park Rangers! Before this visit, I'd never linked New Orleans with the National Park Service. Yet, NPS has two parks, Jean Lafitte Visitor Center and the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, both in the French Quarter. Rangers at either location give excellent walking tours and, best of all, these tours are free.
The park ranger at the Jean Lafitte National Park & Preserve center on the Decatur Street gave us a 9:30 a.m. walking tour that highlighted the different immigrants and Indians who have called New Orleans home. Then at 11:00 a.m. we hustled over to the French Market just a half-mile away for a walking tour to places of significance in the history of jazz.
I also used a walking tour listed on the Frommers web site to comb through the streets of the French Quarter for the quintessential French Quarter balcony to photograph. The filigree wrought-iron balconies that give New Orleans its distinctive appearance are almost everywhere one looks. Ultimately, I realized it's personal preference that defines what is the perfect balustrade. But with Frommer's help, I learned about the architecture and history of the French Quarter along the way.
Jazz musicians, card sharps and magicians can be found on almost any street corner. Free entertainment, but tips are appreciated.
A walk along the riverfront through Woldenberg Park gave an up-close look at the mighty Mississippi with all its bustling activity, natural splendor and historical significance.
Although New Orleans is a long way from Mark Twain's Hannibal, Missouri, it's easy to see why this river has such a place in American literature.
For a round-trip fare of $2.50, we caught the St. Charles streetcar at the corner of Canal and St. Charles for a trip through the Garden District. This neighborhood has wonderfully well-preserved Victorian and Greek Renaissance mansions built between 1832 and 1900. As additional bonuses, our trip took us past Audubon Park and the campuses of Loyola and Tulane universities.
Mardi Gras isn't just a Tuesday! It's a season! Carnival begins on January 6th, the Twelfth Night or Feast of Epiphany. There are a number of parades hosted by krewes throughout the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, which occurs on February 9th this year. Carnival krewes are fraternal organizations whose members are assessed any amount from nominal to outrageous in order to fund their parades or balls.
On Saturday, Jan. 23rd, we found a spot at the corner of Frenchmen and Esplanade to watch the Krewe du Vieux's parade. The Krewe du Vieux is known for its raucous, art-inspired spirit. Ha! I certainly found it raunchy! But it was inspired with a merry spirit (or should I say "spirits" as most of the parade's participants and spectators were imbibing one kind of spirit or another). The parade snaked through the streets of the French Quarter until, with the press of the crowd, it was practically single file. How the mules pulling the floats were able to continue on the route is a mystery to me. It must have also been challenging for the parade's jazz musicians to keep the swing of the music going in such close quarters, too. Since we couldn't be here on Mardi Gras, this was the next best thing.
One more attraction we enjoyed for the price of two Hurricanes (a tropical drink made with rum) was the Carousel Piano Bar in the Monteleone Hotel. The 25-seat circular bar turns on 2,000 large steel rollers, powered by a 1/4 horsepower motor. The bar rotates at a rate of one revolution every 15 minutes. It was pretty amazing! We enjoyed the pianist's music, too!
So, it is possible to have a good time in the Big Easy without breaking the bank! And the memories made during it all? Well, those are priceless!