As exciting as our scheduled convention tours are, they only begin to scratch the surface of New Orleans. If at all possible, come a day early and maybe stay a day or two later (at the same low $99 hotel rate), and experience more of these unique New Orleans attractions.
The Secret Gardens Tour
The Secret Gardens Tour® (non-profit organization) opens to the public many of the most spectacular private gardens in Uptown New Orleans. During the tours, volunteer docents direct visitors through the gardens, while renowned landscaping experts and homeowners are on hand to answer questions and offer insider details. Aside from the gardens, there are musical performances throughout, and Secret Treasures, an outdoor boutique offering garden accessories, gifts and art by local artists and merchants.
This year the Secret Garden Tour coincides with the ASA convention. Although not an official part of the ASA convention, this is a wonderful opportunity to see hidden gardens and a great way to spend a day in New Orleans. The self-guided walking tour takes place on Saturday, March 13, 2010 and includes twelve private gardens in Uptown New Orleans, and Bird Island, a natural rookery in Audubon Park. The tour occurs on upscale St. Charles Avenue near historic Audubon Park (a short taxi or streetcar ride from the French Quarter).
This part of town bears little resemblance to the French Quarter, and there’s a darn good reason for it: no French. Americans started arriving in New Orleans after the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, a bargain at $15 million thanks to negotiator Thomas Jefferson. These (mostly) Yankees rubbed the Creoles the wrong way, so they set up their own encampment, which they dubbed the city of Lafayette, upriver. It was annexed to New Orleans in 1852, and today we know it as the Garden District, a National Historic Landmark. Most of the families planted large, lush gardens next to their homes to help counteract the foul odors emanating from the stockyards near the river. The gardens are resplendent in magnolias, palms and live oaks. The houses aren’t shabby, either, a confection of wrought iron, graceful balconies and Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns as architects imported from Baltimore and Philadelphia engaged in a bigger-is-better rivalry with the Creoles of the French Quarter. Edgar Degas’ uncle lived here, despite being French, over a hundred years ago and yes, the painter did visit. The popular author Anne Rice maintains two homes here today (clue to house #1: it has a wooden sculpture of a dog on the balcony). Take a tour of the neighborhood (the National Park Service offers an excellent free tour daily—call them at 504-589-3882) and revel in its magnificence.
Audubon Nature Institute
Audubon Nature Institute’s family of museums and parks include three award-winning facilities: Audubon Zoo, Aquarium of the Americas, and Insectarium. For information, call 1-800-774-7394 or check their website at http://www.auduboninstitute.org.
One of the country’s top-ranked zoos, Audubon Zoo offers an exotic mix of animals from around the globe, engaging natural habitats, lush gardens and resting spots, the mystical Louisiana swamp and ‘hands-on’ animal encounters. With innovative natural habitat exhibits and an animal collection ranging from the unique white alligators to the extraordinary white tigers, Audubon Zoo has become one of the Gulf South’s favorite family gathering spots.
Walk beneath the vivid Caribbean Reef, marvel at the lush beauty of the Amazon Rainforest and journey the Mississippi River at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas where penguins, sting rays, sharks and other deep sea creatures await your visit.
Insectarium showcases the largest group of animals on the planet, Insects. Your visit to the one-of-a-kind, interactive, and award-winning Audubon Insectarium will illuminate amazing things about these tiny (and not so tiny!) creatures. Located in the historic U.S. Custom House on Canal Street (3 blocks from the Iberville Suites Hotel), Audubon Insectarium will delight you with ‘up close and personal’ live insect encounters, the indelible story of the Crescent City and insects, and “Life Underground,” where you’ll be shrunk to insect size. Discover global insect customs, sample exotic insect cuisine, learn about the history of termites and the latest technologies used in pest control management. Take in a fun animated insect film at our immersion theater, traipse through the Louisiana swamp, enjoy the tranquility of our Japanese butterfly garden and watch hundreds of winged beauties as they flit about.
St. Charles Streetcar
A must do in New Orleans is to hop on the St. Charles Streetcar, the longest continually operating street car line in the United States. Remember, it’s a streetcar, not a trolley. This moving National Historic Landmark starts its run at Canal Street (3 blocks from Iberville Suites hotel), clanging through the Garden District (see above), passing Tulane and Loyola Universities (and very green Audubon Park across the street, not to mention the nearby mansions with wraparound porches) and winding up at Palmer Park in Carrollton. This 13-mile, 90-minute roundtrip jaunt can be had 24 hours a day. And what happens when the streetcar reaches the end of the line? Well, the driver flips the wood bench seats in the opposite direction, heads to the other end of the car (there are controls at both ends) and goes back into town. The St. Charles Streetcar is $1.25 each way. It’s the best buck you’ll spend, even if you have nowhere to go.
National World War II Museum
The National World War II Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world – why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today – so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as the country’s official museum of the Second World War, it celebrates the American Spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women fought on the battlefront and the Home Front.
A $300 million expansion that includes a six-acre campus of exhibition pavilions, the 4-D Victory Theater, Stage Door Canteen and a research and conference center is scheduled to open at the end of 2009, just in time for the ASA Convention! This museum is fantastic and within walking distance or short taxi ride (10 blocks) of the French Quarter! For more information, call 877-813-3329 or visit their website.
Music in New Orleans is everywhere—on the streets and in nightclubs, restaurants, and hotels. Call ahead for showtimes and cover charges.
A must-stop is Preservation Hall in the French Quarter, a showcase for traditional jazz which is low on style points and high on musicianship. No food and drink are served, so bring your own, and bear in mind, you’ll probably stand (seats are few). Tipitina’s is a red-hot dance hall which features top local bands and is a regular stop for the Neville Brothers, solo or en famille. It’s bound to be packed, which is half the fun. If you visit on a Sunday evening, get ready for the fais-do-do, a Cajun party featuring finger lickin’ red beans and rice and pre-recorded tunes for dancing. Decidedly different is Rock ‘n’ Bowl at Mid-City Lanes (taxi ride). You got it, music and dancing among the ten-pins. Local heroes Boozoo Chavis and the Iguanas play here regularly, and this is without a doubt one of the most rockin’ good times you’ll have in town.
Mardi Gras World
Blaine Kern Studios has been New Orleans’ first family of float builders since 1947. The company is so closely identified with Carnival tradition that Blaine Kern himself is widely known as “Mr. Mardi Gras”.
The guided tour takes about one hour and includes a 12 minute movie presentation, an opportunity to try on costumes, King Cake (a Mardi Gras tradition) and coffee (strong), Mardi Gras beads. The tour finishes with a walk through the Prop Shop to see the artists creating, painting, constructing and sculpting props for next year’s parade. The group will also view the most awesome floats ever built for carnival – the Orpheus 140 foot, triple-tandem sea monster “Leviathan” and the 240 foot quintuple-tandem “Captain Eddie’s S.S. Endymion” with tens of thousands of fiber optic lights.