Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans (www.neworleanscvb.com) hard and the subsequent flooding caused immense disruption to the city and its people. Visitors were unable to enjoy the architecture, food, music, nightlife, shopping and the distinctive joie de vivre that New Orleans was famous for. But now, the Crescent City is back in the tourism business and better than ever.
With a new motto, "Soul Is Waterproof," high-profile events such as the Sugar Bowl and Mardi Gras, and the Jazz and Heritage Festival are returning, and the historic heart, including the French Quarter (www.frenchquarter.com), Faubourg Marigny, Warehouse and Arts District, the Garden District, Magazine Street, Audubon Park and Zoo, and St. Charles Avenue, are again welcoming visitors.
A walk along the city streets gives one the feeling that the vibrant urban culture is flourishing anew. Old favorite restaurants, with their celebrity chefs, have been joined by new places opened by bold creative restaurateurs (www.neworleansrestaurants.com). Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville pays homage to the conjunction of great music and food, and the Tire Swing Bar makes a mean cocktail. Ride the streetcars down Canal Street, between attractions, or along the river. The shops and boutiques along Magazine Street are again packed to the hilt with interesting goods. Don't miss the New Orleans Museum of Art, among the nation's best, and the premier art museum in the Gulf South region.
The Mardi Gras (www.mardigrasneworleans.com) parades are back in February this year and it's time to party and catch the color and movement of this vibrant and raunchy annual celebration of city life. The krewes will have even bigger and brighter floats on show. If you have to miss the parades, you can get the feeling of Mardi Gras year-round at Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World, the world's largest float designing and building facility, where more than 80 percent of the New Orleans' floats are constructed. New Orleans' celebrated nightlife, from piano bars and pubs, to music clubs are open to the small hours of the morning, and the casinos are again operating.
Billed as "The World's Largest Block Party" (www.worldfacts.us/US-New-Orleans.htm) in April, the annual French Quarter Festival celebrates with a flourish. This vibrant part of New Orleans becomes a vast outdoor mall offering the best local music, culinary delights and art exhibitions. Be entertained by some of the more than 150 musical performances on 15 stages throughout the French Quarter, and be tempted by the 60 food and beverage stalls featuring authentic local cuisine in Jackson Square, Woldenberg Riverfront Park and elsewhere.
And then there's the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival (www.nojazzfest.com) in May, which features 12 stages of jazz, gospel, cajun, zydeco, blues, African, Latin, R&B, rock, Caribbean, folk, funk and much more. Known as JazzFest, it has featured Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel, Jimmy Buffett, Sheryl Crow, and the Neville Brothers, just to name a few. Obviously, New Orleans is back in the swing.
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