Published Jan/Feb 2006

Right: Bourbon House Seafood and Oyster Bar in the French Quarter was one of the first to reopen after the hurricane. New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau photo

Below: A shop in the French Quarter getting spruced up for returning tourists and shoppers. Jane Tyska photo

Above: Many shops and restaurants in the French Market section of the French Quarter have opened. Jane Tyska photo

Before You Go

For more information on recovery efforts in south Louisiana and other areas of the Gulf Coast region, visit online at www.aaatravelermags.com.

Before your visit to New Orleans, contact the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-672-6124, or visit www.neworleanscvb.com.

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With sweat and Spirit, New Orleans is pouring itself into recovery as museums, restaurants and attractions are reopening following Hurricane Katrina.
By Charlotte N. Laihonen

AAA editors are checking out all the New Orleans and Gulf Coast attractions and maintaining a list of what’s open. Simply visit www.aaa.com/AutoTravel often for updates on hurricane recovery efforts.

trolling along the flagstones that pave Jackson Square, the past seems not so distant. Yet the New Year is a time of renewal, a time to look to the future, and nowhere is that sentiment more palpable than New Orleans in the dawn of 2006. Throughout the French Quarter, welcome mats beckon and signs once again proudly declare “open for business.”

When Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast with sustained winds reaching 145 mph last August, the nation anxiously watched as one of its historic gems struggled against nature’s wrath. Yet the nearly 300-year-old French Quarter miraculously emerged relatively unscathed. The city’s major tourist centers–including the museum-filled Warehouse District, the Central Business District, and the beautiful Uptown Garden District–all survived. Across New Orleans, the resolution rang out, “We will rebuild.”

As of Jan. 1 of this year, the City of New Orleans is officially open for leisure travelers. Even over the past few months, tour groups and vacationers have been returning. Not all attractions have been restored, and more are reopening every day, but there is so much to see and do that there is still something for everyone.

From its food and festivals to its remarkable museums, the city’s charms are being polished and put back out for all to enjoy.

Museums and attractions

An abundance of museums illustrate the rich layers of history, art, music, culture and commerce that made New Orleans famous. On Jackson Square alone there are three state museums, the Cabildo and Presbytere flanking St. Louis Cathedral, and the 1850 House, which demonstrates what life was like in New Orleans in the mid-19th century.

The Louisiana State Museum’s flagship property, the Cabildo, was the first to reopen in the fall. Constructed in the late 1700s, the stately building was the site of the Louisiana Purchase Transfer and today features a comprehensive exhibit on Louisiana’s early history. The other eight state museum properties in the French Quarter are reopening on a staged basis as repairs are made.

Another museum to reopen last fall was the Historic New Orleans Collection (533 Royal St.), which is presenting a special exhibition called “The Terrible and The Brave: The Battles for New Orleans, 1814-1815.” On display through Feb. 11, this collection of artworks, original documents, vintage weapons, military equipment and uniforms highlights Andrew Jackson’s victory over the invading British in the final days of the War of 1812. The museum, which offers discounts to AAA members, is open from 9:30 am–3 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

A short ferry ride across the Mississippi River from the base of Canal Street in the French Quarter transports visitors to Old Algiers and Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World (233 Newton St.). Here, Mardi Gras is celebrated all year round, giving out-of-season guests a chance to see the parade floats that roll during carnival.

In the Warehouse Arts District, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art is open, giving visitors a look at the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of Southern art. And the nearby National D-Day Museum, which salutes the great American heroes who fought in World War II, was scheduled to reopen in December (after the press deadline for this issue).

New Orleans also continues to offer visitors numerous activities. According to Kim Priez, vice president of tourism for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, all the local tour companies are open, as are most of the romantic plantation homes and world-class golf courses.

At press time, the St. Charles streetcar line was not yet operational due to damaged power lines along the route, but the historic green cars continue to roll on the French Quarter’s riverfront tracks, replacing the newer “Red Ladies” that were flood damaged. Near Jackson Square, horse-drawn carriage tours ($50 per half hour for four people) and scenic riverboat cruises (for lunch and dinner) also provide an excellent way to experience New Orleans.

Departing from Woldenberg Park, the riverboat John James Audubon ferries visitors seven miles upstream to Audubon Zoo, which reopened in late November and is open on weekends only from 10 a.m.–4 p.m., until March 2006, when hours will be extended.

Also along the riverfront, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas survived relatively unscathed, but many of the animals in its aquatic exhibits were lost. However, some sea otters, penguins, fish and Midas, a 250-pound green sea turtle, all survived, and the facility hopes to open this summer.

To see what museums are open in New Orleans, visit the Louisiana Office of Culture, Recreation and Tourism’s Web site at www.crt.state.la.us and click on “Status Reports.”

Shopping and sweet sounds

Following weeks of few residents and visitors in town, merchants are ready for business. French Market booths sell Katrina T-shirts alongside the more typical tourist-oriented trinkets. The Riverwalk Mall offers contemporary items, while antiques can be purchased in the French Quarter and uptown on Magazine Street.

Local arts and crafts are also popular items. Local craftsman, Jim Lewis, displays his exquisite hand-made masks at Artist’s Market (85 French Market Place). Like most businesses in town, the gallery was closed for about a month after the storm while the electricity was out. But Lewis maintains, “Sundays and Mondays have been real good for the Market. Relief workers have been doing souvenir shopping and that boosts the economy.”

Another local artist, Barry Maturana, sells his artwork directly from his sidewalk location in back of St. Louis Cathedral. Open-air artists have long been a part of the city’s cultural landscape, and they are determined to continue contributing their talents to the city that inspires them.

Also reopening are the late night hot spots, music clubs and the piano bars of Bourbon Street–the very places that gave New Orleans its party reputation. For visitors looking to cut loose, New Orleans is still the place to be. At press time, the 2 a.m. curfew was still in effect.

Sweet sounds flow from favorite venues such as Pat O’Brien’s, Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville, The House of Blues, Preservation Hall and Tipitina’s. Jazz, rock, funk, rhythm and blues fill the air. New Orleans is open and it’s time to celebrate.

Savoring the city

Food culture is extremely important to New Orleans, and many restaurants have returned to create art in their steamy kitchens. From working class po-boys and single pot meals like gumbo and jambalaya to multi-course gourmet extravaganzas, restaurants in the Big Easy offer tourists a taste of Louisiana’s culinary history.

After Hurricane Katrina, all restaurants in New Orleans required special certification by the Department of Health before reopening. Although the reinspection process takes time, more restaurants are opening every day, proudly displaying the hot pink placards that declare them ready for business.

Waiting to serve you are such notable eateries as Chef Paul Prudhomme’s K-Paul’s Kitchen, Alex Patout’s Louisiana Restaurant, The Court of Two Sisters, Palace Café and Bourbon House Seafood and Oyster Bar. In addition to these fine dining establishments, many sandwich shops, specialty food purveyors and coffee houses, such as Jackson Square landmark Café Du Monde, are also open.

While four major hotels were not yet ready to open at press time, others had opened their doors. Of the 38,000 rooms in the city prior to Katrina, the city expects about 25,000 to be available by Mardi Gras. In making repairs, many have upgraded their facilities.

Fairs and festivals

The hurricane couldn’t dampen the city’s raucous Mardi Gras celebration, which will be held as always this year. Indeed, this year marks the 150th anniversary of krewes parading down New Orleans’ streets. Instead of going on for several weeks, the pre-Lenten celebration has been shortened to six days this year starting on Feb. 23. Parades will be held throughout the city through Fat Tuesday on Feb. 28.

Although the French Quarter Festival may be smaller than in year’s past, it will still be held this year as a celebration of survival. Held April 21–23, the festival will feature 15 stages around the French Quarter showcasing 150 musical performances. There are also free tours of secluded French Quarter gardens and patios, an art show, the world’s largest jazz brunch and a fireworks show on the Mississippi River.

Another favorite is the annual New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival. Now in its 37th year, the celebration will be held April 28–May 7 featuring 10 days of live music, special nighttime concerts, international dance troupes, food and art at the Fair Grounds Race Course. Tickets run $25–$35, with additional fees for nighttime concerts held at offsite venues.

Other events later in the summer include the month-long Parade of Cuisine in August and the Satchmo Summerfest from Aug. 3–6, a musical tribute to jazz great Louis Armstrong.

After months of clearing debris and rebuilding structures, New Orleans is putting out the welcome mat. Work is far from over, but the rebirth has begun.

Charlotte N. Laihonen is a new contributor from New Orleans, La.

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