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Stay ... But Don't Sit 

Taking a "staycation" in the Crescent City is both easy on the wallet and avoids the hassles of summertime travel

click to enlarge Take a Jean Lafitte Swamp and Airboat Tour and see the picturesque moss-draped trees, alligators and other wildlife that define Louisiana swamps.
  • Take a Jean Lafitte Swamp and Airboat Tour and see the picturesque moss-draped trees, alligators and other wildlife that define Louisiana swamps.
With the recession still in force, this summer may not conjure up the usual fond feelings of traveling and visiting new places. Financial uncertainty, coupled with fuel prices that are rising with the heat, may scrap any elaborate vacation plans. But Mary Beth Romig of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (NOCVB) would like to remind New Orleanians that there's a reason tourists frequent this city. "New Orleans is consistently rated one of the of top destinations in the country," says Romig, director of communications and public relations for the NOMCVB. "We live here, so aren't we the lucky ones? Why not take advantage of this fact?"

  The six festivals that liven up summertime in New Orleans make staying inside the city limits enticing. The French Quarter will reach its festive peak this coming weekend, when the Creole Tomato Festival (www.frenchmarket.org), the Cajun Zydeco Festival (www.jazzandheritage.org/cajun-zydeco) and the Louisiana Seafood Festival (www.louisianaseafood.com) all take over the Vieux Carre. The Essence Music Festival (Louisiana Superdome, 1500 Poydras St.; www.essencemusicfestival.com) July 3-5 will host chart-toppers like Beyoncé and Ne-Yo, with some '90s throwbacks like En Vogue and Salt-n-Pepa. Tales of the Cocktail (www.talesofthecocktail.com), which manages to deftly combine education and libation, takes over the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St., 866-338-4684; www.hotelmonteleone.com) and surrounding locations July 8-12. The weekend of July 30 brings Satchmo Summer Fest (www.fqfi.org/satchmosummerfest), which includes music, seminars and many second lines.

  Besides the supersized plate of summer festivals, there are many ways to have vacation-quality fun right here in the city. While we can't help you with the sweltering heat, here are some ways to make a staycation work no matter what kind of crew is traveling — or not traveling — with you.

Lodging

  Local hotels have some clever ways of making you forget you're just a few minutes from home. Many of the city's best offer summertime steals. The Hampton Inn Downtown (226 Carondelet St., 529-9990; www.hamptoninn.com) offers its Hot, Hot, Hot package, starting at $89 per night, the weekends of June 12 and June 19. The Astor Crowne Plaza (739 Canal St., 962-0500; www.astorneworleans.com) offers similar packages, also starting at $89 per night.

click to enlarge Fats Domino's piano is among the musical treasures found at the Cabildo exhibit Unsung Heroes: The Secret History of Louisiana Rock 'n' Roll. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE LOUISIANA STATE MUSEUM

  To make staycationing even easier, some hotels offer lagniappe through themed packages. The Grand Victorian Bed and Breakfast (2727 S. Charles Ave., 895-1104; www.gvbb.com), located a few blocks from the mansion used in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, features its Experience Benjamin Button's New Orleans package. Starting at $432 per person, guests get a guided walking tour of the Garden District, a three-day RTA pass and a $100 credit for Commander's Palace. Hotel packages range from adult-themed — like the Country Inn and Suites' (315 Magazine St., 324-5400: www.countryinns.com)Romance Package or Le Pavilion's (833 Poydras St., 581-3111; www.lepavillon.com) Golf Enthusiast Package — to the kid-friendly, like the JW Marriott (614 Canal St., 525-6500; www.marriott.com) package that includes tickets to the Audubon Zoo (6500 Magazine St., 861-2537; www.auduboninstitute.org) and Aquarium of the Americas (1 Canal St., 861-2537; www.auduboninstitute.org). The Inn on Bourbon (541 Bourbon St., 524-7611; www.innonbourbon.com) also has an Audubon Experience package that includes a two-night stay at the hotel for two adults and two children, plus tickets to either the zoo or aquarium, starting at $263. It also offers an Opera House Romance package, which includes a two-night stay for two adults, daily breakfast buffet, a French Quarter carriage ride, in-room chocolates and wine, plus free valet parking for $515.

  One good way to get an authentic New Orleans experience is to search the Vacation Rentals by Owner Web site (www.vrbo.com) for local houses and apartments renting by the night or week. Garden District mansions and French Quarter apartments often pop up on this vacation home listing. On rare occasions, a gem like an apartment in Jackson Square's Pontalba buildings will appear on the site.

Families with young children

  Vacations are often a hassle for families with young children, but because a New Orleans staycation eliminates long travel times, it might be just the ticket. The kid-friendly Café du Monde (800 Decatur St., 525-4544; www.cafedumonde.com) is a great place to start for breakfast. From here the day can take many routes, all thanks to the Audubon Institute. Walk a few blocks to the Aquarium of the Americas or see a movie at the Entergy IMAX Theater. The newest IMAX feature is the 3-D Dinosaurs Alive, which ties in with the frighteningly lifelike dinosaur exhibit currently at the Audubon Zoo Uptown. (The zoo is only hosting the exhibit for a limited time.) On Canal Street, the Audubon Insectarium (423 Canal St., 410-2847; www.auduboninstitute.org) has produced a great deal of buzz. It's a place where children can learn there's more to a cockroach than its likelihood to succumb to a flying shoe and adventurous travelers can sample insect cuisine at the Tiny Termite Cafe.

  The Audubon Experience Package gives you passes to all four attractions for less than you would pay separately ($19.95 for children, $32.95 for adults); it's valid for five days so you don't have to rush through any of the attractions.

click to enlarge Explore the wonders of the world's seas at the Aquarium of the Americas. - PHOTO BY DAVID BULL
  • Photo by David Bull
  • Explore the wonders of the world's seas at the Aquarium of the Americas.

  While the boat ride that used to ferry passengers between the Aquarium and zoo no longer exists, you can hop aboard the Creole Queen (2 Poydras St., 524-0814; www.creolequeen.com) for an excursion to Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras World (233 Newton St., 361-7821; www.mardigrasworld.com) in Algiers and see Kern's opulent signature carnival floats. Round trip tickets start at $21. Or, go on a swamp tour with Jean Lafitte Swamp and Airboat Tours (6601 Leo Kerner Lafitte Pkwy., Marrero, 587-1719; www.jeanlafitteswamptour.com), where guides will sometimes cook up jambalaya or boil crabs for large groups.

  For lunch, have a picnic at New Orleans City Park (1 Palm Drive, 482·4888; www. neworleanscitypark.com), which is continually refurbished with new plantings. While there, kids can enjoy Storyland, ride the Ladybug roller coaster at Carousel Gardens amusement park, tour the New Orleans Museum of Art's sculpture garden or see the horses at Equest Stables.

  End the day by watching a baseball game at Zephyrs Field (6000 Airline Drive, Metairie, 734-5155; neworleans.zephyrs.milb.com), where tickets are cheap and promotions and entertainment options abound, or take the kids bowling at the new location of Rock 'N' Bowl (3000 S. Carrollton Ave., 861-1700; www.rockandbowl.com) after having dinner at the adjacent Ye Olde College Inn.

Young adults

  New Orleans offers many entertainment options for the young and energetic. Start the day with breakfast — or lunch, depending on when your day starts — at a Crescent City Farmer's Market (www.crescentcityfarmersmarket.org), which happen Tuesdays at Uptown Square and Saturdays in the Warehouse District at Magazine and Girod Streets. With everything from cinnamon scones to tamales available at these markets, one can have a local meal at any time of the day.

  Take a trek to the Northshore and visit the Abita Brewery (21084 Hwy. 36, Abita Springs, 985-893-3143; www.abita.com) to find out how its beer is made and, more important, to sample every Abita incarnation. Visitors report tasting rare brews, like the Satsuma Harvest Wit, that aren't available in stores.

  After returning to New Orleans, take a tour and get some exercise. Glide through the French Quarter on a guided Segway tour (www.segwaynola.com), which offers instruction on how to handle the balance-based vehicle followed by a comprehensive tour of the city. Confederacy of Cruisers (1815 Elysian Fields Ave., 400-5468; www.confederacyofcruisers.com) offers off-the-beaten-path tours on old-fashioned Schwinn bicycles. Eschewing the typical New Orleans stops, this tour takes bikers through the Marigny, Bywater and Treme neighborhoods, imparting colorful tales along the way.

  As the sun sets, have a drink at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop (941 Bourbon St., 593-9761; www.atneworleans.com), one of the oldest and most famous bars in New Orleans. While you can pay to go on a ghost tour, grabbing a go-cup from the bar and embarking on one of your own can be fun. Make stops at some of the rumored-to-be-haunted places in the city: the Lalaurie House (1140 Royal St., www.lalauriehouse.net), the Beauregard-Keyes House (1113 Chartres St., 523-7257; www.neworleansmuseums.com) and Le Petit Theater du Vieux Carre (616 St. Peter St., 522-9958; www.lepetittheatre.com).

  End the night at a music venue (check Gambit's listings to find out who is playing music where). If you visit One-Eyed Jacks (615 Toulouse St., 569-8361; www.oneeyedjacks.net) for instance, you can watch the New Orleans Bingo! Show, the girls of Fleur De Tease Burlesque, or shake a leg at the Fast Times '80s Dance Party on Thursdays.

Adults
click to enlarge Dance, listen to music and sample New Orleans food and beverages at the Satchmo Summer Fest in July. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FRENCH QUARTER FESTIVALS INC.
  • Photo courtesy of French Quarter Festivals Inc.
  • Dance, listen to music and sample New Orleans food and beverages at the Satchmo Summer Fest in July.

  For adults without kids in tow, start the day with flaky French pastries and hazelnut iced coffees at the bustling Croissant d'Or Patisserie (617 Ursulines Ave., 524-4663). Grabbing the nook by the front window allows for some prime early morning people watching. Afterward, head to the Historic New Orleans Collection (533 Royal St., 523-4662; www.hnoc.org) to learn about the city's history and catch an exhibition such as its current offering In the Spirit: The Photography of Michael P. Smith.

  You also won't want to miss Unsung Heroes: The Secret History of Louisiana Rock 'n' Roll, now on display at the Cabildo (701 Chartres St., 568- 6968; http://lsm.crt.state.la.us), which includes instruments and mementos from some of the city's most beloved musicians.

  Take a walk along Bayou St. John in Mid-City and tour the beautiful Creole colonial-style Pitot House (1440 Moss St., 482-0312; www.pitothouse.org), named after one of its residents, New Orleans' first American mayor, James Pitot. Be sure to spend some time in its lush garden. While you're in Mid-City, visit the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) in City Park, which offers free admission to locals (with a valid ID). Besides the wealth of offerings in NOMA's main building, it also maintains the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which has more than 50 sculptures outdoors and is free and open to the public Wednesday through Sunday. The museum offers cellphone tours of the garden, and even partners with East Jefferson General Hospital to host yoga classes among the sculptures on the first Saturday of every month.

  If it's Sunday, the National War World II Museum (945 Magazine St., 527-6012; www.ddaymuseum.org) has its weekly Sunday Swing event during the summertime. Professional swing dancers coach guests at all levels of expertise for the first hour, then the museum morphs into a USO dance and musicians perform for the rest of the evening. Replicating the famous post-war kiss photo outside the museum is completely optional.

  End the night by taking a ride on the Algiers ferry to have a drink at the Old Point Bar (545 Patterson Drive, 364-0950; www.oldpointbar.com) in historic Algiers Point. As the ferry moves across the Mississippi River, it reveals a stunning view of nighttime New Orleans.

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