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Trip Report New Orleans - Jazz Fest and more

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We're on our way back from New Orleans (thankfully, since our flight from Dallas to San Francisco was cancelled -- we were lucky to get on a flight to San Jose). We arrived on Wednesday afternoon and had 5 nights there.

WHERE WE STAYED: We stayed at the Marriott Renaissance Arts. Great location - walking distance to the French Quarter, but far enough away to be quieter. By the way, thanks to the poster who mentioned that some of the rooms overlook the courtyard instead of outside -- we asked for the former in advance and when we arrived they didn't have a King room with an outside view (the room we were supposed to get needed some kind of repairs that were going to take a couple of days). They ended up putting us in a King room facing the street on the club floor -- nice touch. Ironically, the first night as we were getting ready for bed, we heard (and FELT) jackhammering. It was on the street, where apparently they are putting in curb-cuts (wheelchair access). We asked the workers if they'd be at it all night and they said yes, but in fact, they quit at midnight. Phew!

The hotel was otherwise very nice, pretty comfortable bed and decent shower. Nice size room. The club lounge has free wired internet, but wireless was weird - you have to sign up and then they credit your account at checkout. Soft drinks are always available and there's an honor bar. Breakfast is limited - cereals, fruit, bread, scrambled eggs, french toast. It isn't open all the time, though (closed all day Saturday and only open in the evening on Sunday).

AIRPORT TRANSPORTATION:Cab to and from airport is a fixed $33.00 for two people (cheaper than the $20 per person for a shared shuttle). They do charge extra for more passengers.

WHAT WE DID:Went out for a walk and happened upon Wednesdays on the Square in Lafayette Square. That was unexpected, free and fun. Plenty of food, drink and music. Walked to the French Quarter and back. Dinner at Bayona (see restaurant reviews below). After dinner, we walked down Bourbon Street and back to the hotel (didn't love that walk -- I doubt it was dangerous, but some of the streets we were on were completely empty so it was a little spooky).

Got a good night's sleep and met our friends in the hotel lounge for breakfast. Took an excellent walking tour of the French Quarter through Friends of the Cabildo (office on Jackson Square - $15 per person). Drove out to Tulane to pick up our friends daughter and had lunch at Camellia Grill (good food - breakfast and burgers, great ambiance and friendly customers and wait staff. Counter only). Toured the Garden District and Lower Ninth Ward, Lake Pontchartrain area and City Park by car. Dinner at Commander's Palace (see below). Picked up folding chairs at CVS on Canal -- $9.99 - definitely worth it. We left them in New Orleans when we were done. Same kind of chairs - $50.00 at Jazz Fest)

The Garden District is beautiful - lots of trees (duh!) and great old houses. The Lower Ninth is still devastated from Katrina, but we saw, in addition to a lot of abandoned buildings, a lot of re-building going on (including Brad Pitt's project). The new houses sport very interesting architecture.

Next day, we again had breakfast in the lounge. One of our group had to do a little work, so the others of us walked around the warehouse district art galleries. Actually stopped in at Emeril's and they gave us a little kitchen tour). Then headed out to Jazz Fest (which was the impetus for the trip) - $5.00 per person by taxi regardless of how many in the cab. Had a soft shell crab po boy at the Fest for lunch - very good. Dinner at Mila. Walked Bourbon Street, including Pat O'briens. Had a drink at the Royal Sonesta jazz club to watch Shamarr Allen.

Next up, Saturday. Breakfast at Mother's (overrated), music at the fest. Crazy crowded that day, probably because Pearl Jam was the main act (5:00 on the Acura Stage). Had a fantastic stuffed bread for lunch - one was stuffed with sausage and pepperoni, and the other with a cajun beef). Dinner at Emeril's (see below).

Sunday, rainy and yucky. Not rushing to Jazz Fest (hoping it would clear up). Breakfast at Lucy's near our hotel (see below). Killed time at the World War II Museum - thank you all - three definite thumbs up. Really an excellent experience. $18 per person for the museum, more for the museum/movie combo. We could have spent even more time than we did, and we were there at least a couple of hours. The weather seemed to clear, so we headed out to Jazz Fest. But it poured on and off. We got ponchos (definitely bring them, apparently, it rains every year) and like everybody else, we just listened to music in the rain. Lunch was crawfish etouffe which was outstanding and another round of stuffed bread. Being huge Sharks fans, we decided to find a sports bar for dinner and to watch the game. ended up a Cooter Brown's in Uptown. Great place (even if the satellite dish did have a lot of problems due to the storm). Excellent hoagies, po boys and muffaletta.

Monday - breakfast at Johnny's Po Boy in the FQ. Walked around until it was time to leave. Left New Orleans on time. Unfortunately, flight cancelled from Dallas so had to "make do" - we 're on our way to San Jose right now. Tired but happy.

THE MUSICOh, here's a few of the acts we saw - Pearl Jam, Van Morrison, the Dixie Cups, Richie Havens, the Radiators, Jeff Beck, Trombone Shorty, the Neville Brothers, Big Al Carson, lots of Gospel, lots of groups I can't remember who were just as good, John Boutte (recommended by the maitre d at Emeril's, and fabulous, Charmaine Neville, and more. Not to be overlooked are the street bands that seem to be on every corner. BTW, Jazz Fest tickets are cheaper if you buy them in advance - $53.00 including fees vs. $60 at the door. Each ticket is good for any one day. We had tickets for 3 of the 4 days we were there. Parking near JazzFest is very difficult, and expensive (about $20-25+). But taxis are hard to get at the end of the day.

WHAT WE DIDN'T DO So here's what we DIDN'T do (and have to return for): cemetery tour, swamp tour, plantations, Magazine Street (althought we did drive it's length), Frenchman Street (just too too tired after being out at Jazz Fest all day and eating late and large dinners).

WHERE WE ATE:We had dinners at Bayona, Commander's Palace, Mila and Emeril's. They were all good, but no question we thought Emeril's was the best of the lot -- the food was fabulous and so was the service. Bayona (lamb loin, salmon choucroute) was very good but not extraordinary (we're from San Francisco, so very good food is pretty easy to come by!), Mila's (oysters rockefeller deconstructed, halibut) food was very good, but service was mediocre and it is, after all, a hotel restaurant in terms of ambiance. Commander's Palace (soft shell crab, among other things) was very very good and the service also very good, not at all pretentious or stuffy. But Emeril's just stood above them all -- the banana cream pie is to die for, the pork chop could feed 12 and was tender and delicious, barbecue shrimp, and the mussels were probably the best I've ever had. But be warned, it is very noisy.

For breakfasts, we ate at Mother's (an institution, but disppointing food) and Johnny's Po Boy (also an institution, but cheap and really good food -- great biscuits among other things). We also had breakfast in the warehouse district (where we were staying) at Lucy's -- nothing to write home about food-wise, but fun. It's a San Diego surf bar atmostphere - looks like a big happy-hour kind of place with outdoor tables, huge crawfish platters, etc.

Oh, as for Commander's Palace' dress code, ha -- it doesn't really exist anymore. My DH wore a jacket but there were other men in the room without jackets, so we asked. They said they've relaxed the dress code since Katrina, and now it's "jackets preferred" rather than "jackets required". Definitely business casual.

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