Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ride a Paddleboat down the Mighty Mississippi (And Other Things in New Orleans that Might be Overrated)


I love trip planning. Researching the highlights of a destination, contacting tour offices for tips and tricks, and discovering hidden jewels gives me a thrill. By the time I head out for my journey, I have a list of "things-to-see-and-do" about a mile long. And, usually to the dismay of my husband, I try to hit everything on my list (because I'm so darned excited about each and every item).

things to do in New Orleans, New Orleans Louisiana, NOLA
Visiting Jackson Square in New Orleans.

That being said, it is realistic to assume that not every 'highlight' or 'hidden jewel' will live up to its hype. I still value the experience of seeing or participating in every adventure, but really, some are better than others. During my recent trip to New Orleans, I had a few items on the list leave me with a deflated feeling, rather than an elated one. I want to share these stories with you now, and please, if you've visited one of these places and have a completely different memory, please compare yours with mine in the comments section!

1. Ride a Paddleboat down the Mighty Mississippi

When I visited New Orleans in 2008, one of the things that I didn't get to do was ride one of those cool riverboats down the Mississippi River. Parked at the dock beside the Riverwalk Mall and Convention Center was a giant paddleboat named the Creole Queen. My friends and I were dying to explore it and hopefully get to cruise down the muddy Mississippi for an afternoon, but it was not to be so.

things to do in New Orleans, New Orleans Louisiana, Mississippi riverboat
New Orleans' Riverboat "The Creole Queen"

So when I visited New Orleans last month for a technology convention, and found out that our main social was to be held on that same boat for a dinner cruise, I felt like fate was smiling down upon me! It was exactly what I had been dreaming of doing, and I was being given a wide-open door to walk right in! To make matters even more exciting, our dinner theme was a masquerade theme. My travel companions and I spent days searching high and low for perfect masks (and found them in the French Market on Decateur Street).

things to do in New Orleans, New Orleans Louisiana, NOLA
My masquerade mask - it was a sweaty little thing!

On the night of the social, we lined up outside the Creole Queen, snapping photos of each other standing in front of our future mode of transportation. When we boarded, we were seated at tables and waited anxiously for the boat to take off down the river. Night fell while we dined on some delicious traditional Creole food. (Although, my one travel companion is glucose intolerant, and had specified that when we RSVP'd for the meal. Yet nothing on the menu was glucose-free, and so she basically ate a little plate of salad. Side rant: as a catering company, if you ask your clients to specify food allergies, you need to honor that when you make your menu.)

things to do in New Orleans, New Orleans Louisiana, NOLA
The view from the upper deck, but it was too cold to linger.

Finally, the boat began to move! We rushed to the windows - and could see nothing. The dark harbors gave away little for pleasant views, although the city lights twinkled nicely. We went outside onto the cold, windy deck, which featured a nicer vista, but was so freezing you couldn't stay for long. Then we searched for a spot to watch the giant paddles revolving, but the room which had a clear view of the paddles was a private room (they let me in for about three minutes so I could glimpse the paddles turning and foaming up the river waters). Once we had explored these areas, there wasn't much else to do on the boat. It was still a neat experience, but overall, I had a "Meh" feeling about the night.


2. Hike around Audubon Park

Audubon Park was on my list for a "peaceful and pleasant" experience in New Orleans. No one else wanted to visit it with me, so I decided to go for a couple of hours the afternoon before our riverboat cruise, right after our last session was over at the convention. I knew I was cutting it tight time-wise, but Audubon Park was highly rated on all of the "Tour New Orleans" websites and I felt I had to check it out. I jumped on the St. Charles Trolley and began to chug along towards Audubon Park.

Now perhaps I shouldn't blame the park itself for my harrowing experience (it wasn't really harrowing - I'm just being dramatic now for the post's benefit!) The biggest issue was, at the time of my visit, the St. Charles Trolley line was being updated / renovated / restored, and a large section of it was torn up. To get around the construction, the lovely city of New Orleans had some extra buses scheduled to take riders from point A to point B via bus. You'd disembark the trolley, hop on the bus, ride down St. Charles to your destination, and at the canal had the option to get back on the trolley and continue on your merry little way. Audubon Park was somewhere in the middle of all this.

things to do in New Orleans, New Orleans Louisiana, NOLA
A panoramic shot of Audubon Park.

I got to the park just fine. It took much longer than expected because we had to wait for the bus to arrive, but I got to the park with about half an hour to explore. Audubon Park was pretty, full of squirrels and birds, and about half the city seemed to be out running, walking their dogs, or doing photo-shoots (yes, there were lots and lots of photo-shoots for some reason). I enjoyed my momentary peace, but without a picnic or a companion to just sit and relax with, half an hour was more than enough time to wander about in a park. I headed back to the bus stop.

things to do in New Orleans, New Orleans Louisiana, NOLA
Vibrant colors make Audubon Park a pretty place to picnic.

And waited. And waited. No bus stopped. Worried about the time, I decided to walk down the street, back in the direction of Canal Street, until I found others waiting for the bus. I walked, and walked. Other groups of tourists, looking slightly discombobulated, also shared in my concern - how the heck do we get back to the Quarter? I was a bit grumpy now, and was in that stubborn mind-set of, "Fine, I'll just walk ALL THE WAY back to Canal." However, I tried to stay positive as I walked, and mentally pep-rallied myself with lines such as, "See, now you get to walk around the Garden District and check out all the nice mansions!" It helped a little.

things to do in New Orleans, New Orleans Louisiana, NOLA
Magical trees add to the beauty of Audubon Park.

Eventually, I had to walk all the way back to the point in the trolley line where the street car dropped off its passengers to catch the bus. Winded but grateful, I boarded the trolley, begged the driver to step on it as much as possible, and pulled out my iPod. I allowed myself some time to catch my breath, look out the window, listen to some tunes, and just enjoy the fact that I was no longer stranded and I'd only be a *little* late for the riverboat. It helped that an adorable child who thought he was a dog tried to stick his head out the window the entire ride back, much to his mother's frustration and my amusement. It's the small things that count!

So, I guess, all-in-all, I'd recommend Audubon Park for a picnic with a friend or loved one. It was really pretty. Just make sure you have all the time in the world, and a solid way of getting home!

3. Cafe du Monde

If you want to eat a famous New Orleans breakfast doughnut, or 'beignet', all the sites, books, and locals recommend Cafe du Monde on Decateur Street. I'm not sure why it has the 'best' beignets, but that's what people say.

things to do in New Orleans, New Orleans Louisiana, NOLA
Cafe du Monde is okay if you like line-ups... Photo via www.nola.com

Getting one, on the other hand, is a pain.

The line-up each day was out the restaurant and down the street. We tried to stand in line one day, but it just wasn't moving. Seeing that we just wanted to try a beignet, we didn't think standing in line for three hours, only to discover we maybe didn't like it, was worth it. I'm not sure if Cafe du Monde is the best for those tasty pastries, but the line-up sure dissuaded us from trying.

Instead, we went four blocks over to Cafe Beignet, stood in line for much less time, and got our breakfast beignets to go. They were good, but after eating one, I know I wouldn't stand in line for three hours for one. The pastry was delicious, but I couldn't handle the mountains of powdered sugar.  Much too much!

things to do in New Orleans, New Orleans Louisiana, NOLA
Beignets are tasty treats, but very sugary! Photo via myshipleydonuts.com

So those were my 'low-lights' of New Orleans. In the grand scheme of things, none of them were bad experiences or things I'd tell people to never try. The riverboat cruise was unique, the park quite pretty, and the beignets tasty as promised. For me, they were just experiences that were over-hyped, and perhaps I had been expecting too much. Has anyone else out there had a supposed 'highlight' let you down?

things to do in New Orleans, New Orleans Louisiana, NOLA
Skip Cafe du Monde if its busy and hit up the Saint Louis cathedral instead!

2 comments:

  1. I heard so many things about New Orleans plus your post now makes me want to come and see the place myself as well. Sounds like you really had a great time. Nice share!

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    Replies
    1. I vote you go visit! It is a beautiful, fun, vibrant city with a great surrounding countryside as well!

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