This is for all of you who are going on the Sensation net buddies cruise.
The Mrs. and I visited New Orleans this April. The weather was lovely, in the 70's mostly; we were told the weather would be similar there in October and November.
We stayed at the Hilton on the Riverside, right next to the Riverwalk Marketplace. There were two cruise ships docked at the Riverwalk port, one was a Carnival and one was HAL, but I don't remember which ships.
Inside the Riverwalk was a food court with lots of interesting food, but unless you are really hungry I would skip the food court. New Orleans has some of the best restaurants in the world, and if you are on a cruise visiting New Orleans, you should use your time wisely. There were a number of nice neat little shops in the Riverwalk though, and I admit we left a fair amount of money there (I even bought a pair of shoes and my sandals there at the Clark's store). Still even with the jazz bands and the festive atmosphere, this is really just a mall, and if we had only a few hours to explore new Orleans we would not have gone here at all, except maybe to go to the CDM (more on that in the section entitled "breakfast").
Right outside of the Riverwalk is a stop for the Riverwalk trolley. This little train is a great way to get back and forth to the French Quarter, although at times you may find yourself waiting for up to 15 minutes. Cabs to the French Quarter were also not that expensive, I think we paid maybe 4 bucks or so from the Hilton to go to the heart of the Quarter.
We took a tour on one of the Donkey Carts that you can pick up right outside of Jackson Square. It was very informative, with many highlights, including the oldest bar in America, where we did go back to have a drink (actually we took our drink with us, in a plastic cup, since whenever you leave a bar in New Orleans they ask if you would like that "to go".. a rather novel concept for me!). The donkey cart is not a real means of getting around though. I forget the name of our driver, but remember the name of his mule was "Two Step."
We also took the St. Charles streetcar, but didn't have the good sense to get off soon enough, instead we stayed on the entire way. this was a mistake, as the time to run the circuit is over 2 hours, or at least it was when we did it. it is a working public transportation route, and very crowded. We did see a lot of nice houses, though.
We took most of our breakfasts at the Cafe Du Monde, where they serve really only 2 things: Coffee (strong and with chicory) and Beignet (sold by the order, an order is 3 beignets, locals just ask for "an order" rather than "an order of beignets"). The beignets come covered with powdered sugar, piles of it, there is literally no way to not get some of it on you and the table. they are delicious, so definitely try them. The original location is located near Jackson Square, right next to the trolley line, but it is usually VERY crowded. Don't wait to be seated if you want to eat here, just grab a table as soon as one opens. You might consider going to their new location in the Riverwalk marketplace, though it is in the opposite end of the marketplace from the food court. not quite the same experience but the beignets are just as good.
On Sunday we went for a Jazz Brunch, which is a tradition in New Orleans. It was simply wonderful, there are many many choices, we went to a wonderful bistro called Mr. B's Bistro. It is owned by one of the Brennan family, and I had one of the best meals of my life there, I can't wait to go back there for dinner some day. I had a crawfish puff pastry appetizer that was absolute heaven, and my fritatta was perfect, filled with big shrimp, sausage, bacon, cheese, and fresh sweet onions.. I bought a side dish of sausage (not on the menu), it was one huge link, and it was scrumptious. At this point I don't recall what the Mrs. had, but it was wonderful. The service was wonderful as well, because we made a reservation and arrived early, we were given a prime seat right "in" the window. A jazz trio played, they moved a few times so that no one had to be right next to them the whole time.
One thing I can say for New Orleans is that the service there is just the absolute best.
We didn't have lunch every day in New Orleans, and when we did I think we made some bad choices.
First was Mother's, known for their Po' Boy sandwich, especially the "Famous Ferdie". It is not open on the weekends so we went there basically right from the plane to try this place. I had looked forward to going here for months. I was SOOOOO disappointed.
The line was nearly intolerable, the service non-existent and incomprehensible, and the food tasted rancid. It was elbow to elbow in the entire place, and there was no where to stand while you waited for your order, which they expected you would know when it was ready. The help was rude. They didn't have the first 2 things off the menu we ordered. The tables were covered with filth and bugs, and the place smelled like a combination of vinegar and sweat socks. We ran from there never to return, 30 dollars poorer and having had not really eaten more than a few bites. At least the sweet potato pie was o.k.
From there we went to Hannah's casino, 2 blocks towards the river. We went to the all you can eat lunch buffet, which was tasty but unremarkable except for the huge bowl of crawfish. I played a little video blackjack and poker after I got to be about 20 bucks ahead, we left. At least it paid for the lunch buffet.
Another time we went to the House of Blues for lunch. The food was hot and tasty, and the decor was interesting, but it wasn't especially remarkable or authentic. The catfish nuggets we had as an appetizer were tasty enough, though.
We had some pretty good luck with dinner. The first night in town, we went to Dominique's, a little restaurant located in the Maison DuPuy hotel. It was dark, elegant, and intimate evening, and the service was very good. We had a team of waiters, our head waiter was obviously training the other two. They had a bit to learn before they would ever be a lead waiter, but they served with enthusiasm.
We started off with a shrimp bisque that was simply out of this world. They brought out the shrimp first, put it in the bowl, and ladled over the bisque. This was so that the shrimp would not get rubbery or tough from sitting in the heat for too long. The bisque at first seemed a bit thin, but it was actually VERY rich and filling. I had to compliment the chef on this bit of culinary chicanery.
Rachel's filet was wonderful, and my wild boar chops were excellent as well, though a bit gamy for Rachel.
For desert we had chocolate soufflé. We had to order it before we ordered the dinner as it takes time to All I can say was "wow".
The next night we went to Arnauds, which is the oldest restaurant in town. it is very elegant, and bustles with activity throughout. the Rex room is spectacular, and shimmers with gold, it apparently is reserved for special parties and groups. Our table was located on a busy aisle through the restaurant, which somewhat detracted from the ambiance for us. The lace was very noisy, not intimate like Dominique's. Not the best choice for a romantic dinner.
The food was good though. We had oyster's Rockefeller, since they were first created at Arnauds. They were good, but we had better oysters elsewhere in town. I had a good steak but it was not cooked at a high enough temperature, but Rachel had some fish called Pompano. It was really very tasty,and I wished I had gotten that instead. It was covered with sauce that was reminiscent of a light hollandaise sauce, but we forget what kind it was (I know, not too helpful!)
After dinner we walked through this grand old restaurant.
Dinner on the 3rd night was really a treat. We went to the, Commander's Palace, which is also owned by one of the Brennan clan. A friend recommended it and we were not disappointed! It bills itself as the best restaurant in America, and they well may be right.
Commander's Palace is not located in the French Quarter, but rather in the Garden district, about a 12 buck cab ride as I recall from the Hilton.
They really went all out to please us. Our servers worked in a perfect team, with 2 waiters and 2 busboys assigned to our area. The waiter was knowledgeable and very open with suggestions. We tried two oyster appetizers, and both were excellent. My steak was excellent one of the best I have ever had, Rachel's was wonderful as well. We were too full for desert, but took a chocolate torte back to the hotel. We felt so well taken care of upon leaving, this must be what taking a cruise feels like
I could go on even more about New Orleans but my main point is this: explore, and eat local. And go to the Commander's Palace if you can!
Al's assessment of some of the New Orleans restaurants is accurate. I lived in the area for several years and there's no better food anywhere. Commander's Palace is indeed special. By the way, Arnaud's food is actually better than Antoine's, but Antoine's is a New Orleans institution and many tour companies will steer you here instead.
All of these places are fairly pricey, but the great thing about New Orleans is you don't have to spend a lot of money to eat well there. Acme Oyster House for seafood, Central Grocery for muffaletta sandwiches and a Dixie beer, Cafe du Monde for breakfast or late night snack, and just about anywhere where you can pull up a chair to a newspaper-covered table and pick at some boiled crawfish will provide a great meal for few $$$.
Laissez le bon temp roulez! Let the good times roll!
Thanks very much, Al.(And to you as well, Dawn)
This information about eating in New Orleans was very interesting!
I will be on the November Sensation CruiseMates cruise, and so will have a (all too) brief visit then, but I'm also going to be on the Inspiration out of NO in April. I'll have one evening to sample the delights of the city, and so your information is very welcome.
Thanks for sharing it with us!
Emeril LeGasse's restaurant called NOLA also has some great food. Imagine, we are spending two days in NO before getting on Inspiration in 05/01. Will probably gain the famous "7" lbs before even setting foot on the ship.