November 30 – December 6, 2018
What a week it was!
We decided we don’t really like cities but we LOVED New Orleans. It has great music, awesome food, lots of history and so many things we wanted to do that we couldn’t fit them into one week. So we’re going back soon. This and the following posts tell of what we managed to cram into our one week in New Orleans.
We stayed at Pontchartrain Landing. It was great! They have full hook up RV and Marina sites, camper cabins, rental condos and over the water houses. There is a restaurant/bar on site with good food and free live music on Friday and Saturday nights. They have a pool, hot tub, clean showers, laundry room, camp store/office/gift shop and really helpful staff. They also have a shuttle that goes into New Orleans daily. You can also get your mail delivered there. Some snowbirds winter there and there seem to be some permanent residents but everything is clean and neat. No ratty rigs that are falling apart and have a million bits of debris scattered around their site. The campground is about 15 minutes away from downtown New Orleans. It is an industrial area but the random noises weren’t overly obtrusive and they close the gates at night so you don’t have to worry about random people wandering in. The campground was clean and extremely well maintained. We plan to go back when we return to New Orleans early 2019.
First, you need a crash course on New Orleans directions. Forget north, south, east and west. When you ask directions, the answers will be upriver, downriver, riverside or lakeside (Lake Pontchartrain). They can be combined. Example, standing in the French Quarter and getting directions to Louis Armstrong Park might be something like “That’s on Basin Street; downriver, lakeside. Y’all want to walk three blocks downriver and four blocks up toward the lake.” My recommendation: Take a map. Our campground, the many visitor centers and tour companies all have them. Ours was sad and tattered by the end of the week from all the times it went into and out of my pocket. Luckily, the not only have street signs on posts, many areas (French Quarter especially) have the street names on tiles in the sidewalk. These helped immensely.
Parking can be crazy. We were told on-street parking was free after 7 pm which didn’t help us early birds. By 7 pm we are thinking about bed – not dinner, drinks and live bands. I think the on-street meters charged $2 or $3 per hour during the day. Parking lots are also weird. You park, enter your info into a machine and then it tells you what it is going to charge you. It depends on the day, the time, special events, and who knows what else. We were told it tends to run $25-50 for all day. One lot said they had lower prices for early in. Most lots charge higher prices during festivals. They have a lot of festivals. We gave up on driving in town. Our campground had a daily shuttle that we took full advantage of. We left the car at camp and paid $6/day per person to shuttle in.
Trolleys and buses – for $3 (exact change) you can buy a Jazzy Pass that lets you ride all you want for 24 hours from first use. Purchase it as you get on the bus or trolley. They also have a free app that will tell you how to get from place to place, shows the bus and trolley lines and lets you pay online if you want to go that route and use your phone as the ticket. Just don’t let the battery die.
Mardi Gras World has a free shuttle that will pick you up from many locations in the French Quarter and Downtown and take you back after your tour. The pamphlet implies you can hop on and off all day but that wasn’t clear and we didn’t ask.
Hop on-Hop off Red Bus – It was $39 for one day or $49 for three days. The three day pass gets you two walking tours: Garden District and French Quarter. They also have a pamphlet on the buses for a self-guided tour of the Lafayette Cemetery #1. They say this comes with the three day tour but it is there for anyone to take. The buses hit each stop every half hour or so. One full loop takes about two hours. The tour is narrated so you can sit and listen and look then decide where you want to hop off and spend time. They tell you to make sure you are on the bus by 3:30 to make sure your bus does the whole loop so you get back to where you need to be before they shut down. You can buy tickets on any bus. Their brochures are everywhere. They also have an office across the street from Jackson Square, under the big cement steps and riverfront plaza.
Walking – We hoofed it a lot. We didn’t need to, we just found it easier than figuring out other options and we need the exercise. Besides, you can’t stumble into an awesome hole in the wall shop if you sail on by in a vehicle. Sidewalks and streets are uneven and city dogs go on the sidewalk. Even if their owners pick up (which most seemed to), there is “residue” to avoid. Oh, if it is late in the day – there be drunks… with to-go cups. We had no problem with them. Most were happily staggering to the next bar or attempting to roll on home.
Other: There are also horse drawn carriages and bicycle taxis as well as rental bike stations, Uber and regular taxi cabs.
New Orleans has TWO National Park Visitor Centers right down in the French Quarter plus a National Battlefield over in the lower 9th Ward/Chalmette. We hit them all.
New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park is a small visitor center tucked behind the French Market. Here you can pick up their brochure, stamp your passport book and enjoy their programs. We did not check their online schedule in advance so we walked in to find a free African Drumming and Dancing lesson well underway (Bummer, I could use additional lessons on the Djembe). They apparently once did free “Jazz” walking tours of the French Quarter but the guide association lobbied to stop them so that is in limbo. Hopefully they’ll figure out there are enough tourists to go around and start that back up.
Jean Lafitte National Park – Here on Decatur Street you’ll find one of the six segments of this park. They have a nice visitor center with public restrooms off their courtyard. If you’ve ever been down in the French Quarter, you KNOW why I mention that. Restrooms where you don’t have to buy something are few and far between. The info in the visitor center covers a wide range of topics from Jean Lafitte (the pirate/privateer) to the Acadians/Cajuns, to New Orleans Creoles to controlling the flow of the mighty Mississippi River. The Rangers were very helpful with the whole mishmash of questions we hit them with.
Chalmette National Battlefield can be reached by car, bus or via the Riverboat Natchez. We drove as it was close to where we camped. It is the only time the car left the campground under its own steam. The Battlefield and National Cemetery are just inside the levee at the Mississippi River. The monument and historic plantation house were closed for renovations/repairs but we went through the visitor center and toured the battlefield. See separate history post from John.