New Orleans is possibly the coolest city in the United States. Most people make it one of their top stops to visit in the US, so when Dave and I told people we were going to New Orleans for the first time, they couldn't believe we hadn't been before. What? You haven't been to the Big Easy? What's wrong with you?
When IHG© Rewards Club asked offered us a chance to stay anywhere we wanted in the Continental U.S., New Orleans was the top of our list. Lucky for us, there are plenty of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) properties to choose from. We ended up choosing the InterContinental New Orleans in the CBD just minutes from the French Quarter. We couldn't have chosen a better location.
IHG has the largest rewards program in the world with hotels like InterContinental, Holiday Inn, Indigo Hotels and Crowne Plaza. New Orleans has more than a dozen IHG hotels to fit all budgets. We chose the InterContinental New Orleans with our 200,000 rewards points and were thrilled not only with the location, but the fabulous decor and excellent service. What we loved most about staying at the InterContinental NOLA was how close it was to everything. We were walking distance from most of the top sites or just a short cab or streetcar ride from everywhere else. The dilemma was where to start? Luckily, New Orleans is known for its food, so filling our bellies was a good place to begin.
We Fell in Love with the Big Easy
Our trip kicked off with dinner at Trenasse inside the InterContinental NOLA where we met another couple from North Carolina who commented that the next time they come to the city, they are going to stay here. “The French Quarter is fun” they said, but it can be a bit much after a few days. The InterContinental New Orleans is a welcome retreat from the hectic of the French Quarter.
The food at Trenasse was delicious as we started with a glass of bubbly Cava to complement our fresh raw oysters before digging into our main courses.
When in New Orleans, fish is on the menu and I had a crab trio to die for and Dave has the Gulf to Table Fish of the Day. The butter melted in my mouth as the tender meat flaked off with ease. I relished every morsel.
Interested in more IHG articles, check out our time at the InterContinental Key West
Take Advantage of The Hotel Concierge Service
It can be overwhelming when arriving in a new city with a limited amount of time. But the Concierge staff at the InterContinental New Orleans helped us plan our trip to make the most of every minute.
We sat down in front of a map, a computer monitor and Brook and Eric our concierge team as they showed us where and when to go to get every inch of a great experience out of New Orleans. If we wanted to book a tour, all they had to do was pick up the phone and get us on one. This was the most we ever put a concierge to work before and now that we see what they can do when put to the test, we'll be using them a lot more in our future travels. We now had a plan and we were going to see everything!
We set off on foot to the French Quarter to check out all the action. This is the first place you must visit when traveling to NOLA, it's the heartbeat of the city and party central. It's also where New Orleans got its nickname The Big Easy. The French Quarter has that laid back feel.
Check out another IHG Hotel: Staybridge Suites Times Square New York
As revellers walked down the streets with drinks in hand, we watched on in awe. It's as if time has stood still in the French Quarter. Voodoo Lounges, Vampires and tales of ghosts haunt the historic streets. It's no surprise that the supernatural is alive and well in New Orleans. It is after all, The City of the Dead. Early settlers had a difficult time keeping corpses down due to New Orleans water table. They stuffed coffins with stones and filled them with water to try to keep the dearly departed dead and buried. But as the saying goes, “You just can't keep a good person down!”
Today, New Orleans buries their residents above ground. One of the most popular cemeteries to visit is St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 where famous voodoo practitioner Marie Laveau is buried. You cannot enter this cemetery without going on a tour as it has seen much vandalism over time. At one time her grave was covered in black crosses and graffiti as people performed rituals at her grave to have wishes granted.
We are told that today you simply need to place a hand on the grave and ask her for a blessing. If it comes true, pay it forward in Marie Laveau's name.
The cemeteries remind us of the famous Paris cemeteries and it is no wonder, NOLA was formed by the French. As a matter a fact, New Orleans has a Canadian connection. The French Quarter was founded by Montreal native Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville who was originally from Dieppe, France. New Orleans was populated by French convicts in the early days. As it grew, it switched control and was run by Spanish but the French culture stayed strong as Spain only sent male soldiers to monitor the area. The French culture is still very strong to this day.
The Garden District
Another famous cemetery we visited was just a short streetcar ride from our hotel. The Lafayette Cemetery #1 is a cemetery is located in the picturesque Garden District and because it isn't a Catholic cemetery, you can tour this resting place of souls on your own without a guide.
The Intercontinental New Orleans is located just off Canal street along the St. Charles Streetcar line. The St. Charles line takes you directly to the Garden District and the cemetery is located just one block from the streetcar stop. From our hotel, we walked across the street, paid our $3 each for an entire day transit pass and road the street car out to the Garden District where we spent a few hours exploring.
The Garden District is a beautiful place to spend time perusing the streets marvelling at colonial mansions, sipping cappuccinos and peruse the shops in The Rink, an old roller skating rink converted to boutique shops and gift stores.
The rain came down hard that afternoon so we cut our trip to the Garden District short and retreated back to our Presidential Suite at the Intercontinental New Orleans. We booked a king room, but were blown away that they hotel upgraded us to a suite. We could only imagine what celebrities stayed in this room during Mardi Gras or while filming a movie in the city.
New Orleans has been home to many movie shoots including Interview with the Vampire and the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Brad Pitt loves the city so much, he helped build 109 new homes after Hurricane Katrina.
It's the perfect setting for a movie. Picturesque, historic, colourful, New Orleans has it all. We have always stated that New York is our favourite American City. I now understand why I love both New Orleans and New York. While New York is the Big Apple and full of excitement and energy, New Orleans is the Big Easy with a laid back vibe and easy breezy feeling. They're both completely opposites yet we love them both equally.
Ironically enough, the last time we were in New York, we stayed at the Intercontinental Time's Square It was another hotel that was centrally located within walking distance of everything but just far enough out of the action to escape the chaos of Time's Square and enjoy peace and quiet.
There are countless walking tours, museums and world class dining in the Big Easy. Dave and I are not what people would consider foodies, but everywhere we ate, we were amazed by the food. We chose from the many eateries by taking references from our concierge, we checked out spots recommended to us on social media and we listened to our various bartenders advice on where to eat and drink. The food in New Orleans is divine. When someone tells you that NOLA is a foodie city, you better believe it.
Being so centrally located, we could pop in and out of hotel between excursions. With a gym, swimming pool, two restaurants and elegant seating area, staying at the Intercontinental was as much a part of the experience as exploring the city. The room felt as historic and grand as the city itself.
Vampires and Ghosts of the Big Easy
One of my favourite things about exploring New Orleans was the undead. Dave and I explored everything supernatural from our cemetery tour to our ghosts and vampire's tour. Do you believe in vampires? In New Orleans they do, and the Vatican has even frequented the city to keep the vampires at bay. There are haunted hotels, churches and buildings. Plus there are many ghost stories and voodoo legends to be had.
An interesting stop is the Voodoo Museum. It's a tiny museum of two rooms that only costs $5 to visit, but it packs a punch. There are articles and photos of voodoo priests and practitioners, there are alters that are not to be touched, but you can leave an offering and ancient relics of Voodoo dolls and magical masks. New Orleans certainly has its fill of the mystical.
But if the paranormal isn't something you want to explore, there are other things to do.
Steam Boats and Mardi Gras
New Orleans is located directly on the Mississippi River and a trip to the Big Easy wouldn't be complete without a riverboat tour. We hopped on the Natchez Riverboat for a jazz tour of the river. It's the only steam engine left on the Mississippi giving a true historic experience. I can only imagine how the early settlers felt navigating this great river.
The trip begins with a musician playing the pipe organ as tourists stand in line under the big umbrella canopy. Once on board the talented dixieland band entertains from the main dining room and we are free to explore the boat from top to bottom checking out the nearly 100 year old steam engine and giant wooden paddle wheel. The two hour tour gave us a glimpse of like on the Bayou and a fabulous view of the New Orleans skyline.
The waterfront is an excellent place to spend the rest of the afternoon enjoy the breeze along the riverwalk leading to the Aquarium, the outlet mall and the shops lining the French Quarter.
If you are a fan of Mardi Gras, just a little out of the main quarter is Mardi Gras World where you can see old floats in storage and see artists working on next year's masterpieces. There are free shuttles to and from Canal street with your ticket purchase.
Whatever you decide to do in New Orleans, you won't be disappointed. It is definitely America's most unique city with a diverse culture, colonial architecture, and mysterious history. There's more to NOLA than Mardi Gras. While many people go to party and believe me, they party well in The Big Easy, Dave and I had an amazing time learning about the city, gorging on food and walking through the streets. The hospitality was second to none and we couldn't help but comment on how great the service was wherever we went.
Now is a perfect time to visit. The city has recovered from the Hurricane, the drainage system has kept more flooding at bay and it's ready and able to host many more tourists. One of our servers told us that New Orleans is planning on building one hundred thousand more hotel rooms. They're preparing for an influx so now is the time to see NOLA. So what are you waiting for? Start making your own memories from the Big Easy right now. .
Our trip to New Orleans was made possible by IHG© Rewards Club. To learn more visit the IHG© Rewards website. This post is in partnership with IHG Rewards, but as usual, all views of our experience are our own.