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New Orleans: Romance Down South

by Kathryn Lemmon, Wedding Zone Staff Writer

There's only one U.S. city where you'll find elegance and kitsch, modern and historic, traditional and quirky, all living happily side-by-side, New Orleans. It requires several visits to see everything this romantic, southern city has to offer. After three attempts, I'm still trying.

On my third visit to N'awlins, (as the locals say) I had the pleasure of staying at The Fairmont, New Orleans. As I had previously lodged at The Fairmont, San Francisco, I knew I was in for a uncommon treat. Fairmont is a highly respected name in the lodging industry.

Now in it's third century providing exceptional service, the Fairmont in New Orleans has every right to boast. Eight U.S. presidents have stayed under its roof, including Kennedy, Ford, Bush and Clinton. Hollywood celebrities are among their regular guests. The New Orleans Fairmont was also the model for Arthur Hailey's novel, "Hotel" and some of the characters were based on staff members.

The incredible block-long lobby, a place of Victorian extravagance, will dazzle you with their fit-for-a-king decor. Built in 1893, the hotel comes from a time when the term "grand" really meant something. Above and beyond the architecture, you'll quickly discover personalized service is the credo at the Fairmont.

For plenty of space to luxuriate, request one of their 85 plush suites. I had the Bayou Suite, which included a larger living room than my own back home! With 24-hour a day in-room dining, you need never go hungry at the Fairmont.

The Fairmont also offers a Romance Package for your honeymoon. You'll receive a special room rate, champagne, and breakfast. Find more information at www.fairmont.com.

When you get ready to sightsee, you'll find no lack of alternatives in New Orleans. Conveniently, the Fairmont borders on the French Quarter.

Spend one day immersing yourself in the fantastic world of Mardi Gras and Carnival. Between Mardi Gras World and an exhibit at the Presbytere, (now a museum) you'll come away with a much greater understanding of this unique way of life. Incredibly, Mardi Gras pumps nearly one billion (that's with a "B") dollars into the New Orleans economy. But, it's not just about money, tradition plays an important role.

A quick ferry ride across the river and a courtesy shuttle brings you to the mammoth warehouses of Mardi Gras World. Both the car ferry and the shuttle are free to pedestrians, but cars must pay a fee on the ferry. This is the spot where extraordinary parade floats and props are dreamed-up, designed and created by hand. Manufacturing these wonders has become a year-round proposition at Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World. Be sure to bring your camera.

Back across the river, the Presbytere, easy to find near Jackson Square, houses an exhibit titled: Mardi Gras: It's Carnival Time in Louisiana. This building was re-tooled in 2000 to be a single theme museum, concentrating on Mardi Gras. The museum dedicates rooms to individual aspects such as Carnival balls, the power of the mask, and parades, among others. The costumes on display are phenomenal. I particularly enjoyed the short-subject films presented by local people who are third and fourth generation participants.

After two hours browsing the Presbytere, you'll deserve a sightseeing break at Cafe Du Monde, just a five minute walk away. Listed in every New Orleans guidebook, their beignets (donuts without holes) and rich cafe au lait are worth the wait. So popular, the cafe is open 24/7, cranking out those morsels of fried dough, day after day after day...etc. Touristy, yes, but who can argue with great taste.

One of the newer attractions in New Orleans is the National D-Day Museum. Opened on the anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 2000, the museum is unique in the U.S. Three floors of interactive galleries can easily fill a half day. True history buffs may need even longer. Since it's opening, 600,000 people have visited and given this facility high marks.

Begin with the 48-minute movie, explaining the days leading up to this pivotal point in the conflict. Utilizing actual film footage, the realism can't help but touch your heart, as you watch Americans face the toughest challenge of their young lives. Many a person has left the theater choked up, myself included.

Veterans are on hand to act as volunteers and guides. They encourage patrons to purchase an engraved brick at $100 each. Your name (or a Veteran in your family) can be added to the likes of Colin Powell, forever immortalized on the sidewalk. With no Federal funding, brick sales, admission fees and gift shop sales keep the museum going.

Streetcars are a must, especially if you're a first time visitor. The St. Charles line in New Orleans is the oldest continuously operated streetcar line in the world. The restored olive green cars are the best means of viewing the galleried mansions of this historic section of town known as the Garden District.

Whether it's the saucy sound of jazz, tempting cajun food or the slightly off-beat, New Orleans is a city you won't easily forget.


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