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Trip Report Trip Report New Orleans, Mississippi and Plantations

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My husband and I were invited to visit a high school friend who lives in Jackson, MS so I set up a two-week trip around the reunion. We flew from NY to New Orleans staying at the Omni Royal, a fabulous location in the French Quarter. My husband is a member of the free Omni frequent guest program which gives us various benefits. We had a lovely, very large room with a king bed and sitting area with couch, chair and coffee table. We were on the same floor as the outdoor observation deck and pool. Although the windows in the room were on the small side (dormer windows which made it difficult to look out), the room was very light and comfortable. My only problem (and it has been the same at every Omni hotel we have stayed in) is the bathroom was very small. We walked around the observation deck for an overview of the French Quarter but it really isn't a picturesque place to see from above. We changed into nicer clothes and walked a few blocks to Arnaud's where we had dinner reservations. Although a jacket is not required, most of the men were wearing them. We ordered the prix fixe meal and the food was delicious. We both had shrimp Arnaud for appetizers, I ordered almond crusted fried redfish and my husband ordered the pork tenderloin and we both had the praline crepes for dessert. My only complaint was, even though the restaurant was far from full, we felt as if they were rushing us. The courses came very quickly, one right after the other and they even brought the check while I was still eating my dessert. We went upstairs to visit the small Mardi Gras museum which was very interesting and filled with beautiful dresses and interesting historical photos. We then walked up and down Bourbon Street (listening to a band in the Musical Legends Park), around the Cathedral and down to Decatur and back to our hotel.

Sunday, 5/9: We walked over to Cafe Beignet and had our obligatory order of beignet and coffee (remembering not to wear dark clothing so we wouldn't walk around wearing the sugar all day) which was a fine way to start the morning. I had reserved the French Quarter Walking Tour with Historic New Orleans. We began to get worried as the time went by and the guide didn't show up. A few phone calls later it was determined that the guide had gone to the Garden District instead so the company arranged for another guide to come. I enjoyed the tour but I felt we missed out on about 1/2 hour of tour time and there were areas of the French Quarter we never covered. The tour ended in Jackson Square and then my husband and I headed to Mr. B's Bistro where I had made reservations for brunch. People were dressed in everything from jeans to suits. My husband wore nice shorts and a golf shirt and he felt fine. The restaurant was very busy (it was Mother's Day) and the food was delicious. We ordered fried oysters and gumbo ya-ya for appetizers, and we each had the barbecue shrimp which was very messy but so good. It wasn't until we got home and I checked the recipe on the restaurant's website that I learned they use 3 sticks of butter for every pound of shrimp! It's no wonder my cholesterol went up after this trip! Our desserts were buttered pecan pie and bread pudding. After brunch, we walked along Royal Street enjoying all the street performers and the lovely architecture. We visited the Mardi Gras exhibit at the Presbytere which was very interesting since I really knew nothing about Mardi Gras. We relaxed in Jackson Square sitting on a bench and watching the people go by and then walked along Decatur through the French Market (just a few stalls) and bought some delicious pralines at Southern Candies. We walked back the other direction on the Moonwalk and the Riverwalk to Waldenberg Park. The Holocaust Memorial is well worth a stop. You walk around the art work which consists of panels which changes depending on where you stand. We walked back to where the riverboat was docked and sat on a bench listening to the calliope and watching the river traffic. We picked up very good muffins and ok coffee at Antoine's annex (on Royal St. I think) and headed back to the hotel.

Monday, 5/10: After yesterday's unusually cool and breezy weather, it is definitely warmer and more humid. We walked to Stanley's on Jackson Square for delicious breakfast (bananas foster french toast and Eggs Stanley). We walked back toward the hotel on Royal Street and my husband got coffee at Royal Blend which he said was quite good and was located off the street in a pretty and quiet courtyard. We had to leave when people arrived who were smoking. We went to the Hermann Grima House for the 11am tour which was very interesting. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and she imparted a lot of information. After the tour, we walked down to Decatur to CC's Coffee House where we met the Katrina tour I had reserved with Historic New Orleans. This was a van tour and started at 1:30 and we returned at 5. It was an eye-opening tour taking us all over the New Orleans area and we finished with a much better idea of the scope of the disaster. The still empty areas were so sad but areas such as The Musician's Village and the houses being built by Brad Pitt's group gave hope. I could have done without some of the driver's political rhetoric but I am very glad we did this tour. The van dropped us back at the coffee house where we bought delicious frozen espresso drinks and then walked along Decatur, 2 blocks along Frenchmen St. and then back to our hotel along Royal. We had dinner reservations at Muriels on Jackson Square which has a lovely interior and delicious food (fried alligator covered with pecans and corn and crab soup for appetizers, sauteed crawfish as a side, crawfish etuffe and pecan crusted puppy drum fish for main courses and bread pudding and chocolate brownie to finish). It was a great deal for only $29.95 on their table d'hote menu.

Tuesday, 5/11: We took a taxi to the National WW II Museum where we spent the whole day. My husband is very interested in WW II so I had promised him this day. The Museum is wonderful and I found all the exhibits well done and very interesting. We saw the 4D movie, Beyond All Boundaries, which I highly recommend. Have a tissue ready since it is quite moving. We had a delicious lunch at the American Sector Restaurant run by Chef John Besh. The po'boys were incredible. My husband had signed us up for the Behind the Scenes tour and that took up most of the afternoon. We took at taxi back to the hotel to change for dinner at Commander's Palace with someone my husband knew from business and his wife. The restaurant was very crowded. Not a seat free. They brought delicious garlic bread to the table. I had their famous turtle soup, a soft shell crab and crab salad special which was the largest and most delicious soft shell crab I've ever had and my husband had, what he said, was the best steak he ever ate. I had the wonderful bread pudding souflee and my husband had the pecan pie. The portions are large and delicious.

Wednesday, 5/12: Definitely hotter and more humid. More like the weather we expected in New Orleans. We went back to CC's Coffee House for tasty muffins and coffee to start our day. Then we took a taxi to Blain Kern's Mardi Gras World which has moved to a large space past the Convention Center. We were the only visitors. First they let you try on some big heads and clothes and take photos. They give you coffee, water and a piece of the King Cake and then you see a short film. They take you on a tour of the workshop and we learned a lot about how the floats are made and changed from year to year. Then they leave you to walk all around on your own. My husband couldn't imagine how their insurance could allow this but we enjoyed getting up close and personal with the floats, figures, etc. We then called for a taxi and took it to Magazine Street and walked along looking at the various shops. We stopped at a chocolate place called Sucre which advertised frozen hot chocolate. The frozen idea was very appealing on this hot/humid day but it turned out to be pretty tasteless and very disappointing. However, the gelato was very good and sitting in the a/c was delightful. We continued along Magazine to Washington and turned up walking to The Rink, a small group of shops in a former stable which was turned into a skating rink. There was a very nice gift store and a book store where we met our tour guide from Historic New Orleans for the 2 hour Garden District Tour. I was very glad we took this tour because our guide was very good and had a lot of good stories to tell about the houses and history. After the tour, we took the St. Charles streetcar out to Tulane passing beautiful neighborhoods with gorgeous mansions. We walked around the campus a bit and then took the streetcar back to the end of the route at Canal St. and walked back to our hotel. Dinner tonight was at NOLA, one of Emeril's restaurants. The dining room is incredibly noisy which, although I was prepared for some noise, was unpleasant and made it hard to hear my husband who was just across the table from me. For some reason, the waiter couldn't get us the wine list (it almost sounded as if they only had one wine list because he kept saying that another table was using it) and then he tried to recite the wines they had by the glass. That didn't work out too well and my husband finally started mentioning the type of wine he wanted and they found one for her. The rolls they served with dinner were very good as were the crab cakes and stuffed chicken wings. The fried chicken breast main course was delicious but the drum fish entree had an unpleasant texture. We would have sent it back but, by then, we were pretty full anyway and the noise was getting to us so we just paid and left. We were too full for dessert and, in any event, they didn't have on the menu the special dessert I had read about which I think was something like white chocolate bananas foster bread pudding. We would have found some room to try that.

Thursday, 5/13: After coffee from CC's again, we walked to Historic New Orleans on Royal Street to see the Katrina + 5 exhibit. There were many computer terminals on which you could watch videos of the days after Katrina and listen to first responder reports. They also had blown-up photos of areas in the time right after Katrina and now, 5 years later. Excellent. We walked back to Muriel's to meet a friend for lunch which was delicious. Then we went back to the Omni, checked out, took a taxi to Avis to pick up our rental car and drove to our friends' house near Jackson, MS.

We had a great long weekend and, on Sunday, 5/16, left Jackson and drove to Vicksburg. We asked the woman at the desk inside the visitor's center whether there was any chance of getting a private guide for a tour. I had read about the availability of private guides but, since we didn't know in advance what time we would be leaving our friends' house, I couldn't arrange for a tour in advance. We were lucky and Mike Bryant, a sergeant in the Vicksburg police department, was available and spent 2 1/2 hours sharing his vast knowledge with us as he drove our car around the park. He made our stop in Vicksburg very special. The park is quite beautiful with many monuments, some quite large. The highlight was the USS Cairo, a reconstructed Union gunboat, and the adjacent museum which contains artifacts from the boat. After Vicksburg, we headed down to Natchez, MS where we stayed at Monmouth Plantation. Our antebellum room was on the second floor in the main plantation building. The room was large and furnished with antiques. The bed was very high and we could have used a little step to get into it. A lovely place to stay.

Monday, 5/17: Woke up to sunny weather. Monmouth serves breakfast in a lovely garden building and we walked through the rear gardens (stopping to take photos at all the pretty spots) to join other guests at the large tables. Breakfast is included in the room rate. There was a buffet with wonderful fruit salad, all sorts of juices and yogurts. There was a choice of two entrees this morning. My husband chose the french toast which he said was amazing and he was so disappointed it wasn't offered any of the other mornings we stayed at the hotel. The usual breakfast is scrambled eggs, ham, bacon and biscuits which was also very good. We drove to the Natchez visitor's center which had a lot of interesting exhibits. They charged $2/person for their movie, The Natchez Story, and I never been to a visitor's center which charges for the movie and it really wasn't worth it and the sound was lousy. We walked up Canal and visited the William Johnson House which was run by the National Park Service and is free. The house itself isn't much but the exhibits on the first floor about this freed black man who owned his own slaves were fascinating. We walked back to Canal and took the tour of Rosalie Mansion. It is a gorgeous house filled with original family furniture and items. The tour, led by an excellent guide, lasted about 40 minutes. We then walked down Canal and picked up a carriage ride which, along with 3 mansion tours, was included in our hotel package. This was a very enjoyable way to see the town and to relax a bit in the heat of midday. The ride lasted about one hour. Then we walked back to the visitor's center, picked up our car and drove to the Presbyterian Church (no problem finding parking on the streets) and entered Stanton Chapel for a marvelous exhibit of Historic Natchez in photos. There was room after room of historical photos and we could have spent hours here learning about Natchez history and staring at the wonderful faces in the photos. Don't miss this exhibit. We then drove to Stanton Hall for their tour. The building is lovely outside and pretty inside, but, unlike Rosalie, you get almost no feel for the people who lived in the house and our guide did not impart a lot of information. It was quite disappointing. We drove to the area of the city called Natchez Under the Hill where the gamblers, etc. hung out. There isn't really anything there now except a saloon, a restaurant and a barge made up to look like a riverboat which is a casino. We drove back to Monmouth and had some of the free appetizers served in the afternoons while we looked at the historic artifacts connected with the original owners of the house. We drove to Dunleith Plantation for dinner reservations at their restaurant, The Castle. The portions were large and food was very tasty. We has the special sauteed snapper with crawfish and the pecan-crusted tilapia. We shared a Kaluha chocolate cake.

Tuesday, 5/18. The weather was a bit overcast. After breakfast, we took the tour of Monmouth which was included in the price of our room. You just tour the public rooms on the main floor and the hallway upstairs which has all the original parlor furniture. We drove in to town because my husband needed to stop at a jeweler to get his watch fixed. Everyone was so warm and friendly. When they found out that we were from out of town, they started sharing their restaurant recommendations and suggested places for us to visit. We walked down the street to see the cathedral which was opulent and Gothic inside. We drove to Trinity Episcopal Church to see the two beautiful Tiffany stained-glass windows. Then we drove to Longwood, a must see. It is an amazing octagonal house (the largest such house in the country) and, because of the interruption of the war, only the basement level was ever finished. We were the only visitors and got a personal tour. It is fascinating to see the unfinished part of the house and to look at the plans and try to visualize what it might have been if the war and subsequent economic disruption hadn't occurred. After Longwood, we drove to our final ante-bellum mansion, Melrose, run by the National Park Service. One of the slave cabins had a very interesting exhibit about slave life at Melrose which was very informative. The interior of the house was beautiful and almost everything inside was original to the house. After the tour we walked around the grounds but there was a lot of thunder and then the rain came although it didn't last long. We tasted the free appetizers again which were delicious chicken wings. We had made reservations for Monmouth's Chef's Table dinner which came with our room package. There were 8 of us at the large elaborately set dining table. We had a choice of main courses and the food was delicious and it was a wonderful experience. I highly recommend this. They served crab and corn soup, salad, mango sorbet, our main dishes were redfish and duck, creamy cheesecake for dessert.

Wednesday, 5/19: After breakfast, we checked out and drove towards Louisiana towards Baton Rouge heading to Nottoway Plantation, our first stop. We thought we had just missed the 12 noon tour (it was 12:03) but the women in the office where we paid for our tickets told us to just run up to the house and meet the tour which was being held for us. They hadn't held the tour and, although we hadn't missed very much, the tour guide didn't catch us up on the bit we had missed. She was not a good tour guide. She kept looking at her watch, spoke very quickly as if she was in a rush to finish, and would give her talk long before everyone in the large group had reached the room she was talking about. We felt we had to keep running just to keep up with her. The building looked lovely but we could hardly enjoy the tour. After the tour was over, we went back to the office and complained to the manager. Although we never expected it, they refunded all our money. Nottoway certainly looks like a beautiful and luxurious place to stay. From Nottoway we drove to Houmas House. We were early for our tour so we walked around the extensive grounds with many pools, fountains and plantings. It got dark, the winds blew up and then the skies opened and it poured. Our guide was excellent. She wore an ante-bellum dress and stayed in character for the tour. She was very funny and we learned so much on this tour. The house is amazing and filled with period furniture and furnishings and you get to see the entire 1st and 2nd floors and the tour took 1 1/4 hours. I highly recommend this tour. It was our favorite plantation tour. Then we drove to Madewood Plantation where we were spending the night. This plantation feels like it is in the middle of nowhere. Our hosts were warm and welcoming. We stayed in the Master Bedroom. The room was lovely and very large. My only complaint was that the lighting in the room was very dim. I knew in advance that the bathroom, which had been carved out of a closet, was very tiny and it was. The shower was so small it was hard to wash without banging your arms into the sides. Also, it was hard to get a steady water temperature. We met our fellow guests downstairs for cheese, strawberries, crackers and wine and we had a very warm and friendly group. That is my favorite thing about staying in a B&B-type hotel. You meet such nice and interesting people. Dinner was served in the dining room and it was delicious. We had fresh-out-of-the-oven cornbread, mushroom soup, salad, greenbeans with almonds served with sweet potato/pumpkin puree and crawfish etouffe in puff pastry. Dessert was a very rich chocolate lava cake. Then we all went into another room for coffee and brandy and more socializing.

Thursday, 5/20: During the night you could hear all the traffic going by on the road outside the house. If you are sensitive to noise, this might be a problem. They brought coffee to the room at 8am and then we all convened in the dining room for breakfast. We got ready to be out of our room by 10am when they do a tour of the house. We checked out and drove toward Oak Alley. We decided not to do the tour of this house (so many school buses in the parking lot) and took photos of the house and the alley of oaks from the road. Then we drove to Laura Plantation which was an excellent tour of a Creole plantation. Because it was a Creole family, the plantation is very different from the others we were visiting. You visit the house, the gardens and the dependencies. We had planned on stopping at B&C Seafood, right next to the plantation, for some lunch but we weren't hungry yet so we drove on to our final stop, San Francisco Plantation. This house is surrounded by the Marathon OIl industrial complex so there is very little property. Also, because much of the property in front of the building has been reclaimed by the Mississippi, the front of the house is right on the road and you can't really get a good view, no less a photo, of the front of the house. We were the only visitors so we again got a personal tour. The architecture is very fanciful. The tour was interesting and informative and we had a very nice guide. The building has beautiful painted ceilings.

Our final night we stayed at the Holiday Inn, Metairie which was in a good location, good and friendly service and clean. We drove down the road and had dinner at a branch of Acme Oyster House since we didn't have the opportunity to eat at the French Quarter branch. We had the charbroiled oysters which were fabulous. We shared a po'boy which was ok (not as good as the po'boys we had at the WW II Museum), cup of jumbalaya which was very good and tasty cole slaw.

Friday, 5/21: Returned our rental car and went to the airport. Once we went through security at Delta/Continental/Jet Blue, there was no place to purchase a sandwich to take on the flight. One place sold simple salads and one served hots dogs and sausages.

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