By: Frank – @dugup46 – New Orleans, Louisiana! No place says jazz music, parties, and fine dining more than the Big Easy. Danielle and I spent last New Year’s Eve in Pittsburgh, PA and while we had a great time, we knew we wanted to spend 2016 somewhere a little warmer. After some consideration, we landed on New Orleans, and we both left feeling like we had the best New Years to date! So go ahead and click “Continue Reading” ahead to check out how we did it all, our daily itineraries, and what exactly makes New Orleans the perfect New Year’s Eve destination!
- Air Travel / Transportation – How we got there, and how we got around.
- Accommodations – Where we stayed in the city.
- Adventures – Write-ups of the activities we enjoyed during our visit.
- Total Trip Cost Breakdown – How much we actually paid for our trip
- Southwest Airlines – $0 (Free with Companion Pass)
- Street Car Jazzy Pass – $12 ($3 x 4 for two 2-day ride all day passes)
- Taxi / Uber – $96.71 ($80 for taxis and $16.71 for Uber)
Southwest Airlines – So there is no other way to start our trip report than saying the Southwest Companion Pass is the most amazing thing since sliced bread! For just 21,410 Southwest Rapid Reward points, we were both able to fly round trip to New Orleans from Pittsburgh! The $22.40 in fees were reimbursed by our American Express Platinum credit card as part of our $200 yearly reimbursement. If you haven’t flown much or haven’t tried out Southwest, just check out the picture below… that pretty much sums up that airline.
Street Cars – The one thing “everybody has to try” are the New Orleans street cars. This is New Orleans’ attempt at public transportation. While the nostalgic feel was certainly there, the cars were just extremely overcrowded. There is also no indication what stop you are at without asking around. For those two reasons, we really tried to stay away from them as much as possible. They are practical for getting you around and better for locals. However, for someone who has limited time – just hop on one for the experience and then rent a car.
Taxi/Uber – Without renting a car, the only way to get from the airport to downtown is by taxi. Uber is not allowed picking you up at the airport (the rates are about the same regardless). Taxis are a flat $36.00 rate from the airport to downtown, which is about a 30 minute ride. After a $4 tip, you’ll need $40 each way. It is expensive; however, staying in the French Quarter, we felt having a car was going to be unpractical. I felt we made the right decision.
The great thing about New Orleans is that Danielle and I had a good bit of hotel choices available to us through reward programs. Although we could pretty much choose anywhere, we had to go with the W French Quarter. We love the W brand and we had a good number of SPG points through our American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Card. The hotel could not have been placed in a better location! The party is year round in New Orleans, and week days are no exception! For the best rates, book on weekdays. We were there Tuesday-Friday, and we found the first couple days the best since the streets were a little less rowdy. You can book through the SPG website starting at 12,000 SPG points a night.
The W French Quarter is a small boutique hotel located between Bourbon and Decatur Streets. With any of the W brand properties, the first thing you’ll notice when you walk into the hotel is the eccentric decor and extremely friendly staff. This property was no exception. The entire hotel is decked out with two central themes, music and voodoo. You look one way, and you have Marie Laveau’s eyes staring you down. You look the other direction and you have a tuxedo and saxophone.
We were fortunate enough to have a little tour of the hotel and check out the two room designs. Half of the hotel’s 97 rooms sport the voodoo theme, with witches and black cats lining the hallways, and each room containing tarot pillows. The other half (where we stayed) have bow tie pillows and a huge painting of a saxophone horn oddly placed (in a good way) in the corner of the room with a fantastic back light to use for lighting in the room. For the hotel being as small as it is, the layout is very unique and makes everything feel much larger than it really is. You will rarely see or hear other guests in the hallways, given the layout. Here’s a peek of what our room looked like:
The central focal point of the hotel has to be the courtyard area. While many hotels may boast about their court yard, they are rarely used. The W French Quarter was the clear exception to that. While we were there, the weather was cool in the 50s with light rain about half the day. Each night at the hotel, we would still find at least a half dozen people outside, relaxing by the central fountain. It really is a unique place to kick back after a long day on the bustle of Bourbon Street.
Day One – Our First Taste of New Orleans
Welcome to New Orleans! Our flight departed Pittsburgh at 5:45AM, so we had to be at the airport at around 4:30! Crazy early. On the plane, I had a great chat with a guy about how I travel, credit cards, and all the awards. I’m glad he was into it, because once I start chatting about points and miles – things get ugly. I can really talk up a storm. After landing, Danielle and I grabbed a cab from the airport to our hotel.
Because we were there so early, we knew our room wouldn’t be ready. We left our bags at the hotel and headed out to the French Quarter. The first thing you realize is that it really feels like a different country there. All the buildings, architecture, and the atmosphere in general feel entirely different than any other US city we’ve visited.
French Quarter Phantoms | St Louis Number One Cemetery Tour
We knew seeing the cemetery was a “must do” attraction, and what better way to do it than with the French Quarter Phantoms?! There are a lot of choices when it comes to the tours, but we wanted something that was already very trusted (#1 on Trip Advisor) and had great talent. We could not have made a better decision! Our guide, Duckey, was awesome. The tour is about a mile of walking and over two hours long. You stop every 10 minutes to talk about the history of each spot, including some of the rough times that New Orleans went through with events like the Yellow Fever. Eventually you get into the cemetery, and it really is incredible. You stop at all the major tombs, get some back story, and then eventually head out.
Just remember, you can only get into the cemetery with a licensed tour guide! They have security guards at the entrance, and people will be turned away. After an eventful morning we checked into the hotel and took a much-needed afternoon nap. Later in the evening we had dinner reservations at SoBou, which is conveniently adjacent to the hotel and has direct access from inside the hotel.
SoBou | A Spirited Restaurant South of Bourbon
My buddy informed me when we landed in the city that there were two ways to become famous in New Orleans. The first way is to be a Saints player; the second way is to become a chef. He could not have hit the nail anymore on the head with that comment. Talk to the hotel staff, talk to the locals, talk to people online. There are a handful of restaurants that get mentioned every time you ask the question. SoBou, part of the Commander’s Family of restaurants, is one of them. Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez whips up one hell of a menu and introduces new items regularly. We had the luxury of eating here a couple times and ordering many of the menu’s small plates, so trust me when I say “This place is really incredible!”
So we started out with the Yellowfin Tuna Cones, Boudin Balls, Shrimp & Tasso Pinchos, and Sweet Potato Beignets. I know it sounds like a lot, but it’s really not all that much! They are small plates that are meant to be shared among a couple people. I’m not a seafood fan but the shrimp over grilled pineapple may have been my favorite. Danielle really enjoyed the Yellowfin Tuna Cones! Ice cream and tuna, who would have thought? Honorable mention goes to the Sweet Potato Beignets… they were incredible as well. We’ve dined at many restaurants, in many cities, but this may have been the best meal we have ever had the pleasure to enjoy!
We had the Pecan Pie Not Pie to close out the meal, which was awesome as well. I really don’t think you can get a bad plate in this establishment. I wish we had more time to go to the Commander’s Palace, because I’m sure they are equally as awesome there. SoBou offers 25-cent Martinis Monday-Friday 11:30AM through 3:00PM, with the purchase of any entree. Probably the best happy hour you’re going to find in a fine dining restaurant in New Orleans, and they have a really great bar! It gets busy though so get there early!
Cafe Du Monde
The world famous Cafe Du Monde! There’s not a whole lot to say that hasn’t already been said. It’s a restaurant that typically has a 2-hour wait to sit down, and all they serve are beignets and coffee. And it’s worth it. Pro tip for this place is that they are open 24 hours a day. DO NOT GO IN THE MORNING! Do late at night, during the week. We only had to wait about 15 minutes to get a table. [Editor’s note: Also look for inside seating to avoid the line for the patio area.]
Day Two – Exploring the French Quarter & Boucherie!
- Stanley’s Breakfast
- W French Quarter Hotel Tour
- Riding the Streetcars
- Boucherie « Contemporary Southern Cuisine
Stanley’s for Breakfast
Our first stop on day two was Stanley’s, on the advice of our hotel’s fantastic concierge, Elijah. Stanley’s just reminds you of your everyday, small-town diner that serves up a killer breakfast. Reasonable prices and they are located right in the heart of Jackson Square. After breakfast we walked around the French Quarter for a bit, then headed back to the hotel for a tour of the place.
W French Quarter Hotel Tour
We had the privilege of meeting up with the W French Quarter and Le Meridian’s Complex Marketing Manager, Emily Schmidt. Emily has such a fantastic personality and was extremely welcoming to us on our vacation. Emily, like Danielle and myself, is a huge fan of her hotel and wanted to tell us all about it. Walking through the various rooms of the hotel, Emily let us know about all the design elements that went into everything.
Riding the New Orleans’ Streetcars
If I had to pick out one disappointment for our entire trip… this is it. Sure, the streetcars look cool, but this has to be the most impractical form of public transportation I have ever experienced. The nostalgia feel was certainly there; however, they are crowded, slow, and loud. In theory, a streetcar is supposed to come by every 15 minutes. In practice, three come every 5 minutes, and then none pass for another hour. Of the three that come by, two of them will pass you without stopping because they are already full. Call me a hater, but I am just not a fan!
After 30 minutes on the street car, we came to a stop in the middle of the tracks. A woman decided to drive her car into a telephone pole ahead and it was blocking the tracks. We gave up and called Uber to take us the rest of the way. Uber would be our go-to form of transportation for the remainder of the trip.
Boucherie « Contemporary Southern Cuisine
Danielle and I met up with /u/sethuel1 and /u/brteacher from Reddit’s r/Churning community for dinner at Boucherie. After introductions and kicking it outside for a bit, we walked in and grabbed our table. Boucherie is a fine dining establishment in the Uptown area of New Orleans. It’s another one of those places that every-single-person in New Orleans knows about. You may even recognize Chef Nathanial Zimet as the winner of Food Network’s “Chopped!”
Boucherie had some truly amazing food! I went with the beef wagyu and garlic fries, while Danielle had the Pan Seared Tuna with Green Mango Puttanesca. It may be one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten. Nothing says “Frank” more than some beef and fries. After dinner, we were told we had no other option but to try the Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding. It. Was. Magic. This is another MUST visit restaurant when you go to New Orleans!
Day Three – Cuisine and New Year’s Fireworks
- Riverboat Steamboat Cruise
- New Year’s Countdown
Steamboat Natchez Riverboat Cruise
We booked our Natchez tickets the day before and stepped on board for our 2PM cruise. The cruise goes up and back on the Mississippi. Overall… it was… alright. Not something I would say you have to do, but if your tired legs need a break – this is certainly one way to do it!
Cochon Butcher is actually two different establishments. Cochon is the actual restaurant, Butcher is the sandwich shop that you stop in for a quick bite during lunch. The food was tasty but just not my cup of tea. Pork belly sounded really good on paper, but I just wasn’t really feeling the amount of cucumbers they loaded on the sandwich. Anyway, the ingredients are really high quality – that you can certainly tell. This is another one of those places everybody in the city knows about. While it wasn’t really for us, I would still recommend it for people to try.
New Year’s Countdown
To celebrate the New Year, Danielle and I walked down to Frenchman street and were fortunate enough to slip into Three Muses. The place had reservations way in advance, and the bar was filled. They only allow about 4 people to stand, but we didn’t want to stand all night! So we listened to Tom McDermott on the piano with his band and then headed over to Vaso.
Vaso wasn’t the… hippest of locations, but they had some fantastic blues! Blues 4 Sale was the group playing, and we were fortunate enough to grab a table there. We sat and listened to them play for a couple hours before heading up the river walk to watch the Fluer De Lis drop at midnight and watch some fireworks by the Mississippi River.
Day Four – Heading Back Home
On our final day in New Orleans, we took the streetcar (yes, the streetcar) back up to the Garden District and explored some of the old mansions in that area. The homes were all beautiful and very historical. After taking in some of the homes, I was coerced into letting the lady shop a little. We went to the outlet stores downtown, near the river walk, and then proceeded to grab a cab to head to the airport. Because of the Sugar Bowl, waiving down a cab and/or using Uber was not really an option. Our hotel valet actually ran three blocks to the main strip to get us a cab, talk about awesome! He really went above-and-beyond for us!
Overall, I think we are both in agreement this was our greatest New Year’s Eve to date! New Orleans is certainly a city that everybody has to check out at least once. I think 3 nights and 4 days was a perfect amount of time to take in the city, without getting bored and really searching for stuff to do. This will certainly go on our must see cities in the US list whenever we get around to creating one of those!