Spending 48 hours in New Orleans can be one of the most challenging or fun travel experiences, depending on your perspective. On one hand, the Crescent City has too much to try to cram into a 48-hour period. But if a visitor adopts the city’s great carefree attitude, well, 48 hours in New Orleans is a special experience, even when traveling as a family.
We drove the six hours from Memphis to spend 48 hours in New Orleans for the second installment of our NBA Road Trip series. We arrived a bit after 1 p.m. on Friday with the plan to leave mid-afternoon Sunday for home. The only planned activity on the agenda was the New Orleans Pelicans vs. Utah Jazz game on our first night.
After that, the plan called for us to enjoy amazing food, walk around the French Quarter, hit a few shops and see what kind of fun exploration we could do with our 7-year-old son. This was my ninth visit to New Orleans and Stacey’s seventh. We’ve visited pretty much every way imaginable: as college kids with friends, a romantic visit for our first wedding anniversary, many guys’ trips and one girls’ trip. The only kind of trip missing was as a family. That all changed with our NBA Road Trip.
When spending 48 hours in New Orleans, especially like we did as a family, there are so many options. My advice is to start in the French Quarter and branch out from there. The wild party on Bourbon Street is just a small part of the French Quarter, so a family can spend lots of time there and never have to worry about the kids seeing the R-rated party on Bourbon.
We centered our trip in the French Quarter, and that made our visit more enjoyable. We had a car, and did take it out each day to spend some time on Magazine Street in the Warehouse and Garden districts in addition to attending the New Orleans Pelicans game in the Central Business District.
Here are five ways to experience 48 hours in New Orleans centered on a visit to an NBA game.
French Quarter Culture
Yes, it might seem like the “tourist” thing to do, but I love the French Quarter. In all the visits I’ve made to New Orleans, every trip has been centered on the French Quarter action. We enjoyed walking the streets of the Quarter: from Royal Street and its great mix of shops, to the French Market on the eastern end of Decatur to the fun around Jackson Square.
One of my favorite views of the Quarter came along Chartres Street where our hotel, the Omni Royal Orleans, is located. From the hotel, the view down Chartres toward St. Louis Cathedral is awesome.
It’s also nice from the top of the Omni.
And not to be outdone, the view from the other side of the historic church is pretty cool, too.
The French Quarter does have plenty of tacky tourist souvenir shops, bars to buy huge drinks in and a number of overpriced restaurants. But there are also plenty of really good restaurants, some cool art galleries and antiques shops and a couple of awesome bookstores that we stumbled upon.
But no matter what kind of trip I’ve been on — as a college student, with my friends for a football game or with Stacey on a romantic getaway — the star of the French Quarter show always has been the awesome architecture.
Much of the architecture of the Quarter dates from the late 1700s in Spanish and some French styles.
The beautiful ironwork galleries and balconies are a staple of the district.
A Night With the Pelicans
So the whole reason for this trip was to experience a New Orleans Pelicans game. It was interesting attending an NBA game with no allegiance to either team playing. But we quickly found ourselves cheering for the hometown Pelicans against the Utah Jazz.
One thing I realize about basketball arenas when comparing them to baseball ballparks is there isn’t as much to set arenas apart. Baseball has done a great job during its building boom of the past 20 years to create quirky features into the ballpark. There isn’t much room or need for that with arenas. Baseball tends to be more about the full experience. Basketball, at least in my mind, is about the product on the court. But there are a few ways NBA arenas can set themselves apart.
I find what matters most is comfortable seating, an entertaining in-game experience and good concession options. At Smoothie King arena, our seats in the lower bowl behind the Utah Jazz bench were comfortable with plenty of room to move around. Music is a staple of NBA games, and I find the mix at Smoothie King to be part modern and fun, and part traditional arena tunes with plenty of organ mixed in.
The Pelicans dance team made plenty of appearances throughout the game, and they were joined by the junior dance squad during timeouts.
And of course our favorite non-game action to watch was the antics of Pierre the Pelican. Colby loves mascots, and he was thrilled to get a minute to interact with Pierre before the game. His night was made even more complete when Colby made a dancing appearance on the arena’s video board late in the game.
We didn’t order anything from the concession stands other than popcorn and beverages, but I was impressed with all the local food and beer concessions found throughout the arena. All concession stands were upgraded before the 2013-2014 season, and it showed.
A Place to Call Home
I’ve stayed in hotels in the French Quarter before, but never in one as centrally located as the Omni Royal Orleans. At the corner of Royal and St. Louis streets, the hotel is just a couple blocks from Jackson Square. This central location enabled us to be to most restaurants we visited within minutes. Colby and I were even able to go back to the room during the day Saturday very briefly while Stacey shopped. We’re never able to do that.
There are 345 rooms, 49 of which include balconies. We were on the fifth floor with a nice view looking toward the Central Business District’s skyline.
One thing that sometimes can cause concern when staying in the French Quarter is the potential for street noise at night. But despite being in the heart of the Quarter, the street below our room was fairly quiet. We were never awakened at night with any sounds from outside.
I wish we had more time to spend at the Omni Royal Orleans, especially on the rooftop. The heated pool, large decks and bar all overlook the Quarter. Next time I visit the city, I won’t be opposed to staying at the Omni Royal Orleans again and hanging out on the roof enjoying some late-afternoon cocktails.
New Orleans has a rich heritage, and to me the most important part of that is its food. We ate at several good restaurants, sampling everything from a fantastic brunch at the Court of Two Sisters to local seafood at Acme Oyster House, muffulettas at Napoleon House, gumbo and fried oysters at Royal House, beignets and more.
There’s not a lot I can say to get across the point of how amazing New Orleans is as a food city. Do you like seafood? Enjoy the oysters at Acme Oyster House just off Bourbon Street. I had the fried oyster po boy there. Speaking of po boys, you must check out Mother’s just outside the Quarter. The food there is amazing.
You’ve probably heard of beignets, and I would definitely check out Café du Monde. It was our first meal of the weekend. But we also visited Café Beignet on Royal Street. We couldn’t decide which we liked better. And that’s OK.
Get Out of the Quarter
As much fun as we had in the French Quarter, getting out and exploring other neighborhoods really completed our 48 hours in New Orleans experience. Stacey and Colby explored the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas while I spent some time at the National World War II Museum over in the Warehouse District. Even though we took Colby to the D-Day battlefields of Normandy, France, when he was 5, I felt he wasn’t quite ready at 7 to appreciate the World War II Museum. So I thought our time was best spent split up.
Stacey and I visited the aquarium on two visits back in college. I thought it was pretty cool back then. And Colby enjoyed himself this trip. They managed to see the highlights in a little more than an hour.
The World War II Museum, on the other hand, can take hours if the subject is of much interest. I visited back in 2003 when the museum was known as the D-Day Museum. The exhibits go into great detail about the D-Day landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944, as well as great details about the landings in the Pacific Theater. That’s where the museum ended on my last visit. This time, however, there is a an award-winning 4-D experience, “Beyond All Boundaries,” that features Tom Hanks.
And the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center is the newest pavilion that features six World War II-era aircraft. It is absolutely massive.
Stacey also got plenty of shopping time in. We spent parts of Saturday and Sunday afternoons exploring the furniture stores, boutiques and vintage shops along Magazine Street. She got some focused shopping time while Colby and I found a burger shop to sit and watch basketball on TV and enjoy a couple of beverages (water only for him, of course).
As always, New Orleans was a fantastic weekend destination. We had a great time introducing Colby to the wonders of one of this country’s great cities.
A special thanks to the Omni Royal Orleans, the New Orleans Pelicans and the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau for their wonderful hospitality. We were guests of the Pelicans, stayed in the Omni at a discounted media rate, and were given free admission to attractions thanks to the New Orleans CVB. We were in no way swayed by the city’s great hospitality, amazing food and wonderful atmosphere. As always, all opinions are my own.