The only concern you should have when you visit New Orleans is that it might rain on your parade. And, we mean your parade.
According to Lauren Cason, director of marketing, communications and governmental affairs for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, why walk around the city famous for its Mardi Gras when you can dance?
“Destination management groups can create a one-of-a-kind experience,” Cason said. “Your parade can include your own float, a marching band and other local performers — any day of the year.”
Cason said music is a major component of the soul of New Orleans.
“Every night of the week, even on street corners, locals and visitors come together to enjoy some of the best music in the world,” she said.
And while you can dance to that brass band in your parade or even have one greet you at the airport, you will want to visit local establishments where the atmosphere nearly demands audience participation.
“Frenchmen Street, just outside of the French Quarter in the Marigny district, has one of the city’s premier collections of places to enjoy live music,” she said. “You can sit in one club all night, or bounce around and listen to a variety of bands that just might be playing the best reggae or jazz you’ve ever heard.”
This bohemian, off-the-charts-cool part of the city also includes Restaurant Row, where diners indulge in dishes from Southern soul food to beef burritos to shrimp po’boys.
“Frenchmen Street also has an art market every week,” said Cason. “Artists offer their jewelry and more — just a great place to hang out and soak up the local culture.”
New Orleans native and trumpet legend Louis Armstrong put jazz on the map and left his mark on the city and around the world, according to Cason.
“There are large venues, like Preservation Jazz Hall and the Civic Theatre, to hear his kind of music and more,” she said. “On perhaps a more intimate level, Saenger Theatre and the Joy Theater have recently opened on Canal Street.”
Cason believes that the other component of the soul of New Orleans, and a growing reason people are flocking to the Big Easy, is the food.
“The number of restaurants in New Orleans has doubled since even before Hurricane Katrina,” she said. “With 1,400 restaurants, the eating scene is on fire, and famed chefs like John Besh, who currently owns eight of those restaurants, have helped put New Orleans on the culinary map.
“From grabbing a sandwich at Johnny’s Po-Boy to a muffaletta at Central Grocery to a 10-course meal at Restaurant August, eating is a major part of any visitor’s itinerary.”
Travelers enjoy an authentic Carnival experience at Mardi Gras World, where a tour offers not only the history of that famed celebration but also a view of the costumes, masks and tricks of the float-building trade.
“Creating Mardi Gras takes all year long, so they are working on those parade components nearly all year, especially the floats,” said Cason. “You can also have an event here. Located on the Mississippi River and surrounded by these incredible floats — well, what an unforgettable evening it makes.”
Cason hopes groups can visit during one of the city’s other festivals, besides the famed Mardi Gras; they celebrate themes such as jazz, oysters, Creole food and even Louis Armstrong.
“Nearly every weekend in the spring and fall, there are smaller and very approachable festivities that our locals and visitors enjoy,” she said. “Tents are set up, and folks have a full day of music and great food.”
And Super Sunday, typically in March, is a day when the renowned Mardi Gras Indian tribes parade. Tracing their roots back to a time when American Indians helped shield runaway slaves, those groups showcase spectacular handmade costumes in the Super Sunday parade and several other times throughout the year.
“The Mardi Gras Indians have great traditions and a deep-rooted history here,” said Cason. “The Golden Feather Mardi Gras Indian Restaurant Gallery and the Ashe Cultural Arts Center are also terrific venues to learn more about this fascinating culture.”