New Orleans: It’s Not ‘All About The Jazz’ Destination Wedding Guest Discovers

One of the most festive traditions of a New Orleans destination wedding is the Second Line parade. Here the newly married couple leads the line through the Bywater district ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com

By Laurie Millman and Martin Rubin
Photos by Laurie Millman and Karen Rubin
Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com

Laurie spent years staying away from New Orleans, Louisiana, with the excuse that she didn’t enjoy jazz enough to go there. Recently, though, we found ourselves in the Mississippi River delta city to attend a family destination wedding. After five days in New Orleans (affectionately known by its acronym – NOLA), we can now say that this is one of the most exciting and interesting cities we’ve visited. It is certainly a destination to return to, perhaps at Mardi Gras time!

We stayed in the old, quaint French Quarter at The W New Orleans (316 Chartres St., (504) 581-1200, https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/msywh-w-new-orleans-french-quarter/) — a Marriott property with rooms that surround a serene, outdoor garden, fountain, and pool. The modern style of our hotel room contrasted with our balcony view of the colorful, historic buildings built during the city’s French and Spanish periods, with distinctive French Quarter pastel colors and balconies decorated with rod-iron scrollwork.

Prior to travelling to New Orleans, it was recommended to us to forego a rental car as long as we planned to stay primarily in or around the French Quarter and the other New Orleans neighborhoods. We found that Ubers, Lyfts, and taxis were never more than 5 minutes away, and usually inexpensive – and then we didn’t have to deal with the nightmare of parking.

For sightseeing around the city, we recommend using the red, double-decker bus marked, “24-hour Hop-on Hop-off City Bus Tour.” This bus follows a loop around New Orleans, going through the colorful neighborhoods. With a day pass, passengers may stay on the bus the entire time and learn about the NOLA neighborhoods from the bus guides, and get off and back on at various stops along the route to spend more time exploring. (https://www.hop-on-hop-off-bus.com/new-orleans-bus-tours)

Walking tours abound in the French Quarter with guides retelling stories about events, pirates, voodoo queens, and hauntings. Our private walk around the historic Quarter was fun and interesting: we stopped to read the plaques describing the French and Spanish history, visited little boutiques and galleries, checked out themed bars and restaurants, checked out a few unique museums, and strolled through the beautifully groomed parks.

NOLA Electric Streetcar Trolley Stop © Laurie Millman/ goingplacesfarandnear.com


For an historic mode of transportation, NOLA offers an electric streetcar trolley system. The St. Charles line is the oldest continuously operating streetcar line in the world. All four of the NOLA lines either run along or intersect with Canal Street in the area between the French Quarter and the Central Business District. A standard, one-way fare on a streetcar is very reasonable at only $1.25 per person. However, a word of warning: the trolley system was not the quickest form of travel, and we had to wait at least 15 minutes before a trolley arrived to pick us up.

Night on Frenchman Street, New Orleans © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com


NOLA knows how to party — 24×7 — both inside and outside the many bars and restaurants. We saw visitors out and about at all hours carrying alcohol between bars and restaurants in the French Quarter. Live music abounds in venues, on street corners, and in the parks, throughout the day and night. We noticed colorful beads from past Mardi Gras celebrations layered like tinsel on the trees lining the city streets. We listened to the sounds of the city as we enjoyed breakfast and afternoon snack on the balcony of our French Quarter room.

Second Line brass bands marched down our street and through the French Quarter throughout the day and evening – one of the most popular traditions during a New Orleans wedding (we experienced this first hand for our own for our wedding party!) – a common occurrence and one of the many reasons New Orleans is one of the most popular venues for destination weddings.

A NOLA tradition, the Second Line parade consists of the “first line” with the brass band, their colorful, dancing drum major, and the casket of a passed loved one, or, in this case honored living people, like a bride and groom.

For a wedding, the Second Line signifies the start of a new beginning of life for the bride and groom. A Brass band leads the bridal party and the guests from the ceremony to the reception venue or it may take place at the reception itself. The first line is usually a brass band and the ones being honored, the newlyweds. The newly married couple leads the second line holding decorated umbrellas or parasols. The guests who join in the celebration make up the second line, forming a line behind the band and the newly married couple, as they all dance and stroll through the streets to lively music waving handkerchiefs.

One of the most festive traditions of a New Orleans destination wedding is the Second Line parade. Here the newly married couple leads the line through the Bywater district ©Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com


Soon enough, instead of watching a Second Line brass band from our balcony, we were parading in ourselves, as the newly married couple we came to New Orleans to celebrate and wedding guests were led on a New Orleans musical journey around the artsy Bywater neighborhood near the French Quarter.

Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is legendary for its barhopping and music. Only about a mile from Bourbon Street and our hotel, we also found a real gem of bars, restaurants, and local artists selling their art late at night on Frenchman Street. We came back to this street often for the diverse live music and food, as well as to purchase gifts for the family from the artists. We enjoyed sharing small plates and meaty gumbo at the Three Muses Restaurant (517 Frenchmen St., (504) 252-4801), while listening to a jazz pianist playing some of our favorite Scott Joplin Ragtime jazz songs.

The scene at Café Negril © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com


We dropped in to the Spotted Cat, a small bar with a live band playing traditional Dixie jazz, then went across the street to Cafe Negril (606 Frenchmen St, (504) 229-4236), for drinks and to listen to our favorite Caribbean sounds being expertly played and sung by a large reggae and funk band. We came back another night for Cajun and American food at The Maison (508 Frenchman), where we listened to two different local jazz bands — the stage in the back of the restaurant had a band playing and people dancing when we first walked in but by the time we were into our dinner; a second band had set up and played from the small stage at the front of the restaurant.

Cafe Du Monde server line with trays of beignets and drinks © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com


Besides the music for which NOLA is known, the major attraction is its food – NOLA has some of the most unique local foods in the US, from traditional Louisiana Po-Boy sandwiches (usually roast beef or fried seafood, often shrimp, crawfish, fish, oysters or crab), meat or shrimp gumbo (like a thick soup), and beignets (donut pastry with powdered sugar). Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter is a popular open-air coffee shop that serves only beignets along with non-alcoholic drinks (800 Decatur St, in front of Jackson Square, 504-581-2914). Harbor Seafood & Oyster Bar offers traditional seafood po-boy sandwiches, fried and boiled seafood, gumbo, raw oysters, char-grilled oysters, blackened seafood (3203 Williams Boulevard, (504) 443-6454). Cafe Degas is located a few blocks from the house where Edgar Degas lived while in NOLA. The restaurant offers French bistro food (mussels, in-season soft shell crab,frites, escargot, French onion soup) in a setting where a large pecan tree grows through the dining room, giving the feeling of an open-air patio (3127 Esplanade Ave., (504) 945-5635).

NOLA is more than alcohol and music and food – it is a city with plenty of attractions for visitors of all ages. Go online or speak with your hotel’s concierge for suggestions, and to make reservations on tours and at restaurants. Also check with visitor centers around town for discounts through “Day Passes.”

Our attraction recommendations are:

Take a walking or bus tour to the historic and purportedly haunted locations in the French Quarter and local cemeteries. We joined an evening bus tour to four city cemeteries to look for evidence of hauntings, while learning about NOLA history from our resident guide. Although we did not experience a “haunting,” we viewed a Christian cemetery from the gates to look at the iconic NOLA “houses” for the dead, and walked around a Jewish cemetery to see if we “felt” anything, while our guide explained how this lower-than sea level town interns their dead when they can’t be buried six feet down. We also walked around the Hurricane Katrina Memorial Park (5056 Canal St.): six blank, black mausoleums were designed for the unnamed and unclaimed victims. They border the paths representing a hurricane’s spiral path, and lead to a central, vertical rock which depicts the eye of the storm.

Voodoo shop in the French Quarter © Karen Rubin/ goingplacesfarandnear.com


In the center of the French Quarter is a little museum which preserves New Orleans’ unique history and culture of the practice of Voodoo. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is open seven days a week and most holidays, from 10AM to 6PM. General Admission is $7.00/person; $5.50/Seniors, Military, College Students with ID; $4.50/High School Student; $3.50 Kids under 12. (724 Dumaine St., www.voodoomuseum.com, (504) 680-0128).

The National WWII Museum is a complex of buildings with immersive, interactive, multimedia displays to help you learn about the WWII campaigns. Visitors first start out by obtaining a “dog tag” (think “card key”) and you “board” a simile of a train to be assigned a digital WWII service person. You can then learn about the individual’s experiences, and collect digital WWII artifacts at stations posted throughout the museum campus. The Museum is open daily, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (closed Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.) General admission is $28/adult, $24/Seniors (65+); $18/Military (w/ID), college student with ID), child (K-12). (945 Magazine St,, https://www.nationalww2museum.org/ )

At the Aquarium, see Greta the Great White Shark sculpture from plastics reclaimed from oceans
© Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com


The Audubon Nature Institute has three facilities which offer visitors special NOLA experiences:

The Aquarium of the Americas (https://audubonnatureinstitute.org/aquarium; open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am-5pm) is a two-story building located along the waterfront, and accessible by public transportation, including the trolley car lines. We love visiting aquariums across the country, as each one showcases local fish, mammals, and birds. This is true for the NOLA aquarium, where the main floor leads you through indigenous marine creatures from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as jellyfish and the Mayan reef. On the second floor, you can visit the Mississippi River Gallery and an albino alligator. Also check out the penguins, sea otters, sharks, and marine animals from the Amazon rainforest.

While walking around upstairs, take a break for some pizza at Papa John’s or a bowl of Haagen Dazs ice cream. Don’t forget to walk around the ice cream bar to check out the large collection of colorful parakeets. Look for the large, fanciful sculptures which are scattered around the Aquarium and are made from reclaimed plastics from the oceans and seas. Without having to fly to the Maya Riviera in Mexico, you can treat yourself and others to a snorkeling experience in the Maya Reef exhibit, as well as schedule an up-close visit with the penguins and the sweet sea otters

To save $3 per Aquarium admission, go to the Audobon web site: $25.95/Adult; $17.95/Child (2-12); $20.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax and $1 transaction fee per ticket). You need to book the marine encounters in advance of your visit, either online or contact the Aquarium directly.

We walked into the Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (open Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 4:30pm), expecting to be in and out in an hour — three hours later, we walked out with amazing new experiences. This facility is a living museum, with many examples of live insects and a wonderful butterfly room with a koi pond. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by one of the facility’s entomologists, who walked with us and described each live insect in the long hallway cases and rooms. The entomologists rotate throughout the facility, always ready with a smile and a story to help you learn about the bugs.

A giant mealworm becomes food at Audubon Nature Institute’s Insectarium © Laurie Millman/goingplacesfarandnear.com


The same entomologists take turns in the ‘Bug Appétit’ Kitchen, six days a week. They prepare many of their own recipes to allow visitors to sample food made with edible insect ingredients. On the day we visited, we sampled roasted whole crickets with barbeque and other flavorings, chocolate “chirp” cookies with organic cricket flour, and crackers coated with garlic spread, humus, and cheese spread — all contained ground, roasted crickets or mealworms. Surprisingly, these delicacies all tasted quite good and turned out to be the highlight of our visit. As Mack, the head of Bug Appétit noted, “This is the wave of the future.” In fact, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has been promoting the increased consumption of insect protein around the world since 2003 — farming of edible insects produce low greenhouse emissions, and offer a sustainable and inexpensive source of protein, vitamins, and amino acids essential for humans.

The Insectarium price includes an animated, 4-D movie about superstar bugs and their outstanding achievements. “Awards Night,” is fun for all ages, with celebrity voices by Jay Leno, Joan Rivers, and Brad Garrett. The “Flea Market” gift shop has unique items to take home: Laurie purchased amber earrings and keychains with baby scorpions and other bugs as gifts for herself and the family!

To save $3 per Insectarium admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site: $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee per ticket).

The Audubon Zoo offers an animal-themed water splash park for all ages with three different splash zones and one area specifically for toddlers and younger kids. Grab an inner tube for a lazy ride along Gator Run, slide down a huge alligator water slide, run through spider monkey soakers and water-spitting snakes. Check the web site to confirm when the water park is open.

To save $3 per Zoo admission, purchase online at the Audubon web site: $18.95/Adult; $13.95/Child (2-12); $15.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax, $1 transaction fee).

If you plan to visit all three Audubon centers, the best value is to purchase the “Audubon Experience” ticket, which offers a savings of up to $30.90 per person: $44.95/Adult (plus sales tax); $34.95/Child (2-12) (plus sales tax); $37.95/Senior (65+) (plus sales tax).

The Music Box Village is an enchanted secret garden of art and music which brings out the kid in anyone © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com


The Music Box Village in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans was the location for the wedding which brought us to this part of the country (the bride, an artist who had done a couple of residencies in New Orleans, had a personal connection to the Music Box, and the groom had an American Roots band). The “Village” is a unique, outdoor, artist-created sculpture garden of life-sized, interactive musical houses. Each “house” is whimsically designed with different types of materials and equipment. The overarching purpose is to allow visitors of all ages to explore many different ways to make sounds and music. It is a magical, enchanted garden that turns anyone into a kid absolutely enthralled with making music. Check the Village’s web site for events while you are in town, so you, too, can experience this magical outdoor venue. (4557 N Rampart St., https://musicboxvillage.com)

Horsedrawn carriage passes by the Oldest Tavern in US, reputed to have been built between 1722 and 1732, in the French Quarter of New Orleans © Karen Rubin/goingplacesfarandnear.com


New Orleans turned 300 during 2019. “There is no city in the world like New Orleans. Influences from Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and indigenous peoples have made it the ultimate melting pot. And that diversity expresses itself in a multitude of ways that define New Orleans in the American imagination: music, food, language, and on and on. Though it’s been a long recovery from Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans isn’t just back on its feet, it is as vibrant as ever — particularly impressive for a 300-year old.

New Orleans & Company, the visitor bureau, has an excellent website to help plan your visit, including sample itineraries: 2020 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, 70130, 800-672-6124, www.neworleans.com.

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Historic Hotels of America™ Launches Romance Super Site, Guide to Getaways, Weddings, Celebrations

Jekyll Island Club, Georgia, a member of Historic Hotels of America which has just launched a super site dedicated to romance © 2015 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com

WASHINGTON, DC- Looking for a weekend getaway or a romantic vacation or a destination wedding? HistoricHotels.org/Romance is your source for romance inspired travel and heartfelt ideas. Use Historic Hotels of America as your guide to plan a luxury retreat, a garden wedding, or a romantic night out on the town. From romantic escapes to reunions, weddings to honeymoons and of course, anniversaries, Historic Hotels of America turns romantic celebrations into life’s most cherished moments. With over 260 historic hotels, inns, and resorts, Historic Hotels of America is home to the largest collection of romantic hotels. When history meets romance, nothing can be sweeter.

Historic Hotels of America has launched its all new romantic escapes e-guide, featuring more than 150 pages of new and expanded content highlighting its most romantic historic hotels, more content and destinations continue to be added. From romantic getaways to reunions, weddings to honeymoons and anniversaries, the new HistoricHotels.org/Romance puts romantic historic hotels and destinations in the spotlight, turning romantic celebrations into life’s most cherished moments. HistoricHotels.org/Romance has a number of inspirational sections for travelers to peruse the site’s many romantic escapes, including:

Romantic getaways. Historic Hotels of America has romantic inns, hotels, and resorts that blend history, luxury, and location into the ultimate destination, perfect for weekend getaways or vacation stays. Home to one of the world’s largest free-span dome, the West Baden Springs Hotel (1902) in French Lick, Indiana is an architectural wonder and just one of many marvels that will take your beloved’s breath away during your stay. This hotel has been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark French Lick Springs Hotel (1845), also located within French Lick Resort boasts a spa that offers the best in tranquility, the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing treatment with your loved one. Travelers can select from more than 30 romantic hotels in the upper Midwest.

Grand Hotel (1887) on Mackinac Island, Michigan is the ideal location for a couple to steal away for a romantic getaway. In addition to the hotel’s five-course dinner served in the Main Dining Room, the Woods Restaurant, an opulent Tudor mansion accessible only by horse-drawn carriage, nestled in the wooded interior of Mackinac Island.

Weddings. Ambiance, architecture and history blend to create a storybook wedding. In Paso Robles, California where orange rays streak through lush gardens, your wedding photos will be works of art thanks to the Paso Robles Inn’s (1891) breathtaking gardens. With a number of outdoor wedding venues to choose from, couples can exchange their vows next to a babbling brook, then dance the night away at a fireside patio reception. Select from more than 19 romantic hotels in California.

Eureka Spring, Arkansas is often known as “The Wedding Capital of The South.” The 1886 Crescent Hotel’s (1886) picturesque location atop West Mountain and its proximity to Thorncrown Chapel make the hotel one of the most photographed wedding ceremony and reception sites in the contiguous six-state region.

Honeymoons. Create the honeymoon experience of your dreams and sweep your new bride or groom off their feet. Historic hotels are the perfect backdrop to set off on your newlywed celebration. The Caribe Hilton San Juan (1949) is the perfect locale for your romantic honeymoon with tranquil waves lapping at the shore of the secluded beach and seductive trade winds swaying into exotic gardens. Guests will come to understand why this AAA Four Diamond award-winning San Juan beach resort is the perfect backdrop for a honeymoon, or select from four romantic hotels in Puerto Rico.

As Waikiki’s only true destination resort, Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort Honolulu (1955) has everything newlyweds will need for the most romantic honeymoon including breathtaking beaches, luxurious accommodations, fine dining, scenic views, and fun activities. Or select from the Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa (1901), the first lady of Waikiki, or The Royal Hawaiian, A Luxury Collection Resort (1927) the pink palace of the Pacific.

Celebrations. Take time to celebrate life’s special moments. From engagement parties, anniversary getaways and life’s other important celebrations, Historic Hotels of America has just the right setting to commemorate your important milestone. The Lord Baltimore Hotel (1928) in Baltimore, Maryland is the ideal setting for an engagement party, bridal shower, or anniversary party. With a great city-center setting, The Lord Baltimore is the perfect location for all of your out-of-town guests with attractions and shops mere steps away. The French Kitchen sits at the top of the lobby’s grand staircase in the historic mirrored Versailles Room, and focuses on market-driven interpretations of classic French bistro fare, perfect for your special party or event. Travelers can also select from over 28 romantic hotels in the Maryland, DC, and Virginia region.

Reunions. Family history is born out of love and strengthened when those roots are cherished. For this reason, historical, romantic settings lend way for great family reunion inspiration. One of America’s most scenic routes, the Blue Ridge Parkway is the perfect setting for romantic drives and family adventure. Winding through North Carolina, this scenic highway boasts hazy mountains and colorful woodlands, idyllic for a family reunion getaway. The Green Park Inn (1891) in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, is a reunion favorite with generations of history peaking in the High Country mountains. Choose from over 12 hotels in the Carolinas.

“This is a year-round campaign launching in time for Valentine’s Day. Romance is not just one day a year, it is year-round at our historic hotels,” said Lawrence Horwitz, Executive Director, Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide. “Love stories are breathless moments that stand the test of time. Write your next chapter at one of the many Historic Hotels of America, where ambiance, architecture, and history blend to create timeless romance. Historic Hotels of America is the largest collection of the most romantic hotels anywhere. Whether you’re courting, celebrating, rekindling, or reminiscing, we have the romantic escape for you.”

From booking a romantic getaway with your stunning sweetheart or planning the next family reunion, take a look on HistoricHotels.org/Romance where Every Day is Valentine’s Day at Historic Hotels of America.

Historic Hotels of America® is the official program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation® for recognizing and celebrating the finest Historic Hotels. Founded in 1989 with 32 charter members, today, Historic Hotels of America has more than 260 historic hotels. These historic hotels have all faithfully maintained their authenticity, sense of place, and architectural integrity in the United States of America, including 44 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. Historic Hotels of America is comprised of mostly independently owned and operated properties.  More than 30 of the world’s finest hospitality brands, chains, and collections are represented in Historic Hotels of America. To be nominated and selected for membership into this prestigious program, a hotel must be at least 50 years old; has been designated by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior as a National Historic Landmark or listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places; and recognized as having historic significance. For more information, visit HistoricHotels.org.

To receive the free Discover & Explore e-newsletter each month with advance notice about Insiders Savings, special discounts, epic package, and up and coming events in historic hotels in 30 countries, plus free or reduced rate admission to historic and cultural sites, click here.

To view the Historic Hotels of America 2015 Annual Directory eBook, click here.

 

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