DO stay in the French Quarter if you plan to send your evenings at the bars. It’s not terribly priced and walking the streets is relatively safe after dark.
DO go against my usual advice and splurge on a hotel. Many cheaper options in the area had not fully repaired their rooms from water damage. I couldn’t care less when it comes to the looks, but the mold issues plagued us even in the lower levels of a five-star hotel (they moved us up to the top floors at no charge). This may or may not be accurate since it’s been a while, but definitely ask when they last renovated the rooms before booking at a less expensive option. If it sounds too good to be true, it definitely is when you’re in NOLA.
DON’T plan a trip during the heat of summer. Our road trip happened to cross us through the area during a week of recording-breaking heat. I wouldn’t recommend it.
DON’T put too much effort into your appearance in the dead heat of summer. Makeup will melt off your face – along with what feels like your skin – and your hair will frizz anyway. Bare-faced and hair up is the way to go.
DO remember sunscreen. NOLA’s sunshine demands to be noticed and no one likes traveling with peeling or burnt skin for days on end.
DO make a point to walk the neighborhoods. NOLA is surprisingly walkable and there are dozens of new cafés and shops popping up between old stalwarts and empty buildings.
DO trek toward the water and make a point to listen to the street musicians gathering there. Don’t forget to tip them.
DON’T waste your money on most food in the French Quarter. The decent restaurants will have a local following. Look for those and don’t bother with the overpriced food at bar-like establishments cloaked in tourists.
DO look for the bright spots amongst those still healing. Pay attention and respect it.
DO explore Bourbon Street even if it’s not your scene. It’s worth experiencing at least once, though choose to do so on a night where there’s sure to be a crowd to get the full experience.
DON’T think you should only visit NOLA during Mardi Gras. However, if you’re only going to go once in your life, splurge and do it. Stay a while. Come early or arrive late so you get to experience the city in its full party mode as well as when it’s more relaxed.
DO keep your expectations in check. Part of why I was let down by the city was because I had such high expectations for how much I was going to love it.
DON’T let it get you down if you don’t love it. New Orleans has a great vibe and even better lore – but on the average day those things have a tendency to hide. If you aren’t feeling it, that’s okay. Keep walking neighborhoods – you’re bound to find a little piece of what you seek and then it’s time to get on with your next destination.
– M. Ray Hall