in the september/october 2002 issue of prow's edge – jackie bernard, prow's edge contributor, explored the wonders of new orleans...

taking it easy in the "big easy"

“The Big Easy” – New Orleans, Louisiana. What a perfect moniker for one of the most unique cities in America. Whether you’re on a limited schedule or prepared for a lengthy stay, New Orleans has something to offer everyone.

For those busy travelers on a tight schedule, the legendary French Quarter, home of the infamous Bourbon Street, provides a party atmosphere like no other place in the world. Any evening, one can stroll down this famous landmark and observe people from every walk of life, usually doing things they would never contemplate at home.

The overwhelmingly free and easy atmosphere of “The Big Easy” (is that where it got its name?) makes leaving all those inhibitions behind and joining the crowd seem like the thing to do.

Mardi Gras and other major events in New Orleans have given Bourbon Street a world famous reputation for excess. Not only does the French Quarter provide ample opportunities to indulge, it is also a thriving historic neighborhood lending access to lessons in music, history and architecture…free for the taking.

While the Vieux Carre and Bourbon Street are New Orleans’ most famous attractions, this city of rich cultural heritage has much more to offer. If time permits, extend your exploration to the Warehouse District, once home to factories and warehouses which have since been renovated and transformed into upscale art galleries, shops, restaurants and condos.

One of the highlights of this area is the new National D-Day Museum at 945 Magazine Street, which commemorates the events and people of World War II. This unique museum has become enormously popular in the few short months since its opening.

My favorite activities can all be combined into one fascinating excursion in the city of New Orleans. All in one afternoon you can visit the amazing Aquarium of the Americas at the foot of Canal Street, then hop aboard a paddlewheel boat on the Mighty Mississippi River for a ride to the Audubon Zoo a few miles upstream.

The Audubon Zoo is one of the top five zoos in the United States, and one of my favorite places in the entire world. Exhibits include naturalistic habitats such as the Louisiana Swamp, African Savanna, Asian Domain, Jaguar Jungle and Australian Outback – each featuring animals indigenous to that area.

If exhaustion hasn’t gotten the better of you just yet, grab a zoo shuttle bus and head over to the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line, the oldest continuously operating rail system in the world. The views are tremendous as you pass by stately mansions framed by 100+ year old oak trees and colorful gardens along your return route to the French Quarter.

No visit to New Orleans would be complete without sampling the numerous culinary experiences available in the city. My personal favorite is Charley G’s Seafood Grill located on Veteran’s Blvd. Charley G's exists for quality dining in a casual atmosphere. Emphasis here is on top food quality, customer service and entertainment.

The French Quarter is host to such renowned dining venues as The Court of Two Sisters, Galatoire’s, Arnaud’s, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, (home to famed chef Paul Prudhomme) and the not-to-be-missed opportunity to enjoy breakfast at Brennan’s.

For a more casual dining experience, sink your teeth into one of the best sandwiches ever at The Original Pierre Maspero’s Restaurant on Decatur St.

Of course the most famous export of the New Orleans culinary scene is none other than Emeril Lagasse, chef extraordinaire. If you plan to sample Emeril’s delights, be sure to seek reservations well in advance of your planned visit! Emeril is one of the world’s most popular chefs and has become quite an ambassador for the City of New Orleans.

Reveling throughout the night on Bourbon Street, quiet reflection with classic jazz in Preservation Hall, romantic strolls along the landscaped Riverwalk, attempting to beat the odds at Harrah’s Casino or smelling the fragrant aroma of Café’ Au Lait (hot coffee) and beignets at Café’ Du Monde…whatever tickles your fancy can be found here in “The Big Easy”.

New Orleans’ popularity as a tourist destination makes it the ultimate port of departure for cruise ships with Carnival, Royal Caribbean and several other lines currently offering a host of popular Caribbean destinations. What better way to plan the perfect vacation than to combine a leisurely visit to The Big Easy with a relaxing cruise aboard a luxurious cruise ship!

photos: jackie w bernard