If a word association exercise using the phrase “New Orleans” was conducted, I’m willing to bet that 99 out of 100 people would respond “Bourbon Street” or “Mardi Gras”. But New Orleans is so much more than that! I’m not a big party person, so Bourbon Street is about the last place I would purposely spend time. I’m also a little past my prime to be begging for beads at Mardi Gras, yet I find New Orleans (NOLA or the Big Easy), to be one of the most fascinating places on earth. So what does someone with a little more conservative nature, and a conservative budget to match, do in New Orleans?

Let’s explore what attendees at OLC Innovate 2016 (April 20-22) can do in the Big Easy without breaking the bank.

Things to do in New Orleans

If you’ve never been to New Orleans, I find the recommended list of things to do in New Orleans from the Sheraton New Orleans itself a wonderful place to begin. One of the things I’ve loved about working with the hotel staff is that a huge number of them – from our event manager Shawne Savoie to Chef Mark Quitney – are locals who love New Orleans and know it like the back of their hand. Almost everyone I come in touch with there has a French Creole-sounding name, which I love (although trying to pronounce the meeting room names is a real challenge; forgive the OLC staff as we butcher the names while trying to direct you to your meeting rooms).

My top 5 attractions from their list that are easy walking distance from the hotel:

  1. Indulge in Beignets and Café au Lait at the Legendary Café du Monde– It’s so cliché’ and touristy, yet I highly recommend it. On a recent visit there, I walked by and paused, not wanting to wait in the huge queue, as it was Mardi Gras time. A friendly waiter spotted me and – hearing I was in a bit of a hurry – ran to get an order to go for me on the spot. Helpful staff aside, it’s a great people-watching spot with a great view of Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. Definitely pop into the cathedral to take a look – it’s a very dramatic and beautiful place, as well as a nice respite from the heat and craziness of Jackson Square.
  2. Take a Buggy Ride around the French Quarter– While not the cheapest thing to do ($18 individual, $90 for a private carriage for 4 guests), I love the kitschy Royal Carriages ride. If you are a history buff like me, having a guide give you a tour is always a plus. You’ll learn all kinds of interesting tidbits, including such lofty notes as where Elvis filmed King Creole. Don’t want to spend the money for a buggy ride? Take the Sheraton’s advice and amble around Jackson Square to survey the art. If you are a people watcher, it’s a lot of fun.
  3. Gallery Hop on Royal Street– New Orleans is full of amazing art and antique shops to browse or perhaps shop for a special souvenir from NOLA. On my recent visit, I found the Dutch Alley Artist’s Co-Op on N. Peters Street (right by Café du Monde) a wonderful place to pick up reasonably priced art and jewelry from local artists.
  4. Enjoy Live Jazz on Frenchman Street– Frenchman Street is where the locals hang out for their jazz music enjoyment. The locals I spoke to recommended Blue Nile, The Spotted Cat, Café Negril, and 3 Muses on Frenchman Street. Off of Frenchman Street, Snug Harbor Jazz Bistro is a top recommendation. Other local jazz recommendations are Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta Hotel and the Marginy area (cab or Uber ride required to this area). I know we have at least a few attendees who are jazz aficionados (including Steven, our OLC Conference Tech Manager) and plan to go at least one evening of jazz. Use our hashtag #olcdiningbuddies on Twitter or the message board at the registration desk to connect with them and join in the fun.
  5. Visit the WWII Museum– Again, the history buff in me is coming out, but I highly recommend the National WWII Museum…and this coming from someone who lives in Washington D.C. and has seen a few museums and memorials. It’s an easy walk out the back of the hotel and down Magazine Street. The Higgins boat was invented in New Orleans, so what better place to see and learn all about it along with a comprehensive look at the European and Pacific theaters of WWII.

Looking for some fun tours?  Check out some local experiences selections here.

Need something to do after 6:30pm? Some ideas from Joieful Tours include:

Contact a Joieful Tours concierge any time at concierge@joieful.com or text/call 504-207-4555.

There are so many great things to do in the city – buy a frozen daiquiri and walk around and just look at the French architecture (who doesn’t love the amazing wrought iron balconies?), take a ghost tour, have a drink at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone (yes, drink and spin on a real carousel), tour the St. Louis above-ground Cemetery (with funny tour names like 2 Chicks Walking Tours and Bloody Mary’s Tours), ride the street car to the Garden District – it goes on and on and on. We’ve built time into the schedule over lunch on Thursday (1.5 hours on your own) plus tried to end our meeting schedule early enough in the evenings to give you a chance to go out and explore.

If I haven’t hit on an interest area for you, check out http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans. It’s full of information on festivals, music, cultural arts, the French Quarter, museums, sports, recreation and outdoors, restaurants and cuisine, and more!

Speaking of festivals, if you are staying over the weekend for the start of the 2016 Jazz Festival, I recommend waiting to buy your tickets onsite at the hotel. Tickets will be for sale in the hotel lobby (somewhere in the $60 range) and include transportation by bus to/from the festival.

Dining without breaking the bank

So enough of tourist attractions – what about the really important stuff, i.e. – food! The most famous thing about New Orleans is the wide array of incredible dining options in the French Quarter, and you have them all at your fingertips. Cross Canal Street from the front door of the Sheraton, and you are IN the French Quarter with an easy 10 minute or less walk to some of the top dining destinations in the world.

There are plenty of people to give you advice on where to dine. We have a general link on our Travel Page, as well as a list of recommendations from Visit New Orleans for conservatively-priced lunch and dinner options. In regard to dining, my top recommendation is to save money by dining at the famous landmark restaurants at lunch. Dinner can be quite pricey at the many famous NOLA restaurants. If your budget can swing it, dine out at least one night for unforgettable food and atmosphere. Be prepared though – you can expect dinner for two to exceed $90+ tip, and that is excluding drinks. It’s worth the experience if you can swing it.

An alternate way to dine at famous restaurants without breaking the bank is to dine at lunch instead of dinner. As an example, I ate lunch recently at SoBou, which is an easy walk down the street from the Sheraton. My lunch consisted of seafood gumbo and sweet potato beignets – quite filling – for around $25+ tip. I got to enjoy amazing food in a lovely restaurant and not completely empty my wallet in the process. If I’m on a tight budget, I’m dining at a famous restaurant during lunch on Thursday and then dining at a cheaper option for dinner. Don’t forget to stop at one of the many Praline shops (I think there is one on every corner) for an after-dinner sweet. The pralines are fabulous, and cheaper than buying dessert in a restaurant.

On Wednesday, you have the option to join us for the OLC/MERLOT Awards lunch at $25 a ticket, in advance. OLC subsidizes the total cost of this lunch in order to only charge you $25, and I promise Chef Mark is going to prepare a wonderful lunch for us. Add a Wednesday awards lunch ticket to your registration; click here and then on “Already registered” at the bottom of the page to begin.

Final note – if you are attending the conference alone, or are just looking for some peers to dine with – be sure to use our #olcdiningbuddies hashtag on Twitter to connect with other attendees. We also have a message board near the registration desk where you can connect. Don’t forget those reservations before you head out, though. Dining in New Orleans – especially in the evening – can be a challenge without a reservation.

Have fun exploring one of the great old cities of the U.S., and stop by the registration desk for assistance if needed. See you in New Orleans!

About the Author:

Christine Hinkley
Director of Conferences – OLC

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Christine Hinkley has worked in sales and marketing for over 25 years. She currently serves as the Online Learning Consortium’s Director, Conferences. In this capacity, Christine, in conjunction with the Associate Director, Conferences and the Conference Support Manager, provides direction and leadership toward the planning and implementation of OLC’s three annual conferences. Formerly, Christine assisted with OLC’s conferences as part of her duties as Business Development Manager at The University of Central Florida’s Division of Continuing Education. Christine’s sales, marketing and business development skills were honed through the years in the transportation and medical fields, where she served in various sales and product management roles for Roche Molecular Diagnostics, Baxter Scientific Products, REMEL Microbiology, and CF AirFreight. Christine is a graduate of the University of Iowa with a B.B.A. Business Administration – Marketing.