February 2018 was our first trip to New Orleans. We were taking a cruise on the Carnival Dream to the Western Caribbean and when I booked I honestly had no idea it was Mardi Gras. What started as a plan to get there early and maybe check out the French Quarter, turned into a day of revelry and fun! There is nothing quite like Mardi Gras I assure you. We are going back this year and we will share that in ways we have not been able to before! But, that is later…two cruises later in fact. So back to NOLA and our trip to the Big Easy.
‘Tis 1:00 a.m. in, KY the perfect time to start an adventure to warmer climates. The thermostat read 14 degrees when we pulled out and headed south on Interstate 65. Our route would take us past the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, on down past Nashville, TN and into Alabama until we reached Birmingham. There we picked up 59 South and started towards Mississippi and Louisiana. Be warned, traveling through Mississippi on this route you will not find an abundance of rest stops. When you feel like you may need to take a break, start looking immediately. We usually see the sun rise in Alabama and make it into New Orleans around noon local time. The time zone change adds a little to our day, but we have more than enough time to make up for missed sleep while out on the ocean.
As we were checking in early (very courteous of the Hilton Staff to accommodate our early arrival), the desk attendant mentioned the parades would be going on in a couple of hours. We had NO CLUE that there was even going to be a parade, much less several. We booked it upstairs and down the hall and up another elevator and towards another hall and thru the grand palace area where we found some elevators to take us to more hallways that eventually led to a very nice room. To say this place is big is a bit of an understatement, but it has everything you could want. The hotel is conveniently connected to the Riverwalk and the Outlets. You can catch the trolley at stops within a couple of blocks depending on which line you want to take. We used the valet parking and it was priced about what you would expect for downtown overnight. If I remember correctly, it was $40. From there, it is a short drive over to the port so, all in all, we felt like the location was perfect.
After inspecting our room and freshening up we headed toward the French Quarter. Right out the doors we were confronted with the temptation of Harrah’s Casino, but we stayed strong, hailed a cab and asked him to take us to Bourbon Street. He said “No”. I was confused, and there was a bit of a language barrier. Eventually he said, “No, I mean it is all closed off”. After some clarification he got us close! We were immediately greeted by our first ever second line parade. We saw everything you imagine a Mardi Gras parade to be and the further we walked, the better it got. We found a place to grab a bite while the party went on right outside. Crawfish Nachos are awesome and so was the Swamp Water. I just can’t remember the name of the bar. We collected some beads there, but did our best work at one of the corners where the parade line getting delayed. As the floats passed, piles of beads lay everywhere, but the highlight for me was my Moon Pie. There were cups, Frisbees and an assortment of other things flying at us, including the beads you would expect. As we walked from awning to awning avoiding the rain we kept making new friends all over town.
We strolled thru blocks and blocks of bars, tried countless daiquiris and hand grenades, danced, laughed and had an absolutely amazing time. As the afternoon wore on, we wore down and eventually stumbled back to Canal Street to flag down another ride. Unbelievably, it was the exact same driver that had dropped us off hours before. He already knew where we needed to go and we headed back to the Hilton for dinner.
Easily the highlight of the Hilton’s offered dining options was Drago’s Seafood. Large and well appointed, the dining room was warm and comfortable. I had a Sazerac to keep with the NOLA theme and Dawn enjoyed some white wine. I am a huge fan of oysters on the half shell and we ordered a dozen of those to get started. We also had to try the charbroiled oysters, which is pretty much what drew me here to begin with. Every bite was delicious, and Dawn did well for her first time with raw oysters. She is still getting used to the texture at this point, but her willingness to at least try new things never ceases to amaze me. For Dawn, we added the Crabmeat Au Gratin dip to fulfill her love affair with cheese and ended up stopping at appetizers. The service was great, but we were stationed close enough to the server stand to give our order directly and they kept the food and drinks coming. At this point, we had been out in NOLA for a little too long, so that dinner is a bit blurry. My wonderful wife has never met a stranger and apparently made a couple of new friends during her trip to the ladies room. More on that later…
In the middle of the night, Dawn awoke in a panic wondering where all of her stuff was and then we finally slept until morning. Funny how the mind works when you go to bed in a strange town. The room was very comfortable and the bedding was hypoallergenic. That’s a must for me or I will wake up congested and miserable. Instead, we woke up with what I am sure ails many travelers to NOLA, the dreaded hangover. We cleaned ourselves up and headed out to find some food to soak up the night before.
In the lower level there is a breakfast buffet at Le Croissant. We didn’t feel like heading out into town, so we just went downstairs for some grub. They had a bit of a long wait and we felt the buffet a bit pricey, but the food was good enough. Dawn had her first beignet among the other breakfast items and I did my standard bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuit and gravy breakfast. I cannot say the service was worth the wait, or price and we would not do it again. There is a Marketplace in the lobby nearby where you can grab a bite on the go. That would have been a better option in retrospect. Maybe it was an off day, and maybe my less than stellar condition made it a bit worse, so hopefully the Hilton has this squared away and future visitors have a better start.
We were eager to get to the port and see what was next, so we went upstairs and called the bell desk and valet. They brought our car around quickly, but never showed up to help us downstairs. I went and got my own luggage cart and we eventually got loaded up for the two minute drive to port. In the bell hop’s defense, they said they came to the room and we did not answer. My hearing is not great, so maybe they did. Regardless, I was not unhappy with our overall service from the staff. In fact, I would highly recommend the Hilton Riverside New Orleans for anyone that can afford the stay. It was not overly pricey during this particular stay, but has been more cost prohibitive since, so we have not been back. Also, we now try to do Stay and Cruise packages that include the room, parking and shuttle service to and from the port. I will discuss this in more detail on our future endeavors.