You can't keep New Orleans down. After weathering economic turmoil in the post-Hurricane Katrina years, the city is not only back ... it's on a roll, with an influx of artists and entrepreneurs drawn to its brassy music, savory cuisine, historic architecture and cultural diversity. Mardi Gras continues to draw massive crowds of revelers, the city remains a favorite for meetings and conventions, and it seems like there's a festival just about every weekend, regardless of the season. (While Jazzfest is the big one, taking up extended weekends in April and May, Essence Fest, French Quarter Fest and even Voodoo Fest have their devotees.) And New Orleans remains a favorite with cruisers; according to Port of New Orleans officials, 60 percent of cruise passengers spend two days or more in the city before or after they board their ships.
Whether you have an afternoon in port or a few days to explore, here's some advice: Don't take the easy way out when discovering the Big Easy. There is so much more than Bourbon Street honkytonks to this gorgeous city, with its leafy garden district avenues, wrought iron balconies and gastronomic gems. New Orleans represents a gumbo of cultures, from African and Spanish to Cajun and French, a melding over the past three centuries that delivers dining, music and art so diverse it truly stands alone.
A major early port for products from the Caribbean, New Orleans was also home to a significant community of Creoles, a term that originally denoted locals with Spanish and French blood. Over time, the term has morphed to include persons of mixed ethnicity, often with Caribbean, African and Native American bloodlines. Yet its early ties to France are perhaps the strongest influence, as evidenced by the ubiquitous fleur-de-lis signet synonymous with the original French Quarter, not to mention the NFL's New Orleans Saints. The French Quarter, with its cobblestone streets and Creole cottages laced with ironwork, is the heart and soul of the town.
That said, if you have a few days or it's a repeat visit, take time to explore some of New Orleans' other neighborhoods. Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood is the hub of the city's music scene, with jazz clubs and restaurants lining either side of the street (many with no cover charges). The funky Bywater neighborhood has gone beyond its beginnings as an artist enclave, with noted restaurants joining the gallery scene. You could spend a day wandering the shops of Magazine Street, which stretches through the Garden District and Uptown before it reaches leafy Audubon Park. Take a pilgrimage to Congo Square in Treme, arguably where jazz music was born. Even the city's Warehouse District and Central Business District have a number of clubs, sports bars and restaurants, many anchored by New Orleans celebrity chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, Donald Link and John Besh.
There is so much to do, you could return again and again and never be bored. You'll find yourself adopting the New Orleans slogan: Laissez les bon temps rouler! "Let the good times roll!"