New Orleans offers high-value holiday delights
Tribune News Service (TNS) December 5, 2022
NEW ORLEANS — While most people know this Louisiana city for its food, jazz and Mardi Gras, many travelers are unaware of just how spectacular a job New Orleans does putting its own spin on the winter holidays. With amazing food, abundant atmosphere and plenty of free and inexpensive options to balance the cost of a splurge or two, it’s the perfect place to experience Christmas — complete with a Creole twist, of course. Here are some tips for a high-value holiday in the Crescent City:
Want to get into the holiday spirit? Take a tip from the locals and go lobby hopping at some of The Big Easy’s most iconic hotels. With seasonal decorations, special cocktails and other yuletide activities, this is one of the highest-value ways to get your Christmas groove on in style. It’s perfectly acceptable just to go in and see the lights, but if you want to make the most of the trip, elevate your lobby hopping by taking advantage of the offerings at each establishment that are available to both visitors and hotel guests alike. This makes each lobby stop part of a mini travel itinerary. While there are a number of hotels to hit, a few in particular have perfected the experience to an art form.
The Windsor Court Hotel is one. With over-the-top tree and lobby decorations, an exquisite art collection you can explore for free with a self-guided tour app, weekend jazz brunches and live harpists and pianists playing traditional holiday tunes, it’s a must-see stop on any lobby tour of the city. The hotel also serves a mean brandy milk punch if you have some extra time and want to experience a breakfast cocktail unique to New Orleans.
The Ritz-Carlton’s jazz lounge is a great stop for leisurely drinks after checking out the decorations. It also has checker and chess tables in a variety of quiet little sitting areas within listening distance, for those who want to enjoy the experience with a little more privacy. The venue also offers gingerbread workshops for kids and parents, if you plan to travel as a family.
When you’re ready to have your mind blown by the quintessential Crescent City Christmas experience, there’s only one thing to do: Make your way to the Roosevelt. Home of the historic Blue Room and the landmark Sazerac bar, this hotel does the holiday lobby experience at a level unmatched. It’s best to take your time here. Up for dinner on site? Domenica offers an elevated rustic dining experience with a number of memorable menu items. The whipped feta roasted cauliflower and gulf shrimp risotto top my list of faves, but there are certainly plenty of other selections worth your taste-bud time. You can stroll the lobby afterward and soak up the atmosphere.
Historically, the city honored this French tradition via lavish dinners served in homes late on Christmas Eve. While still celebrated in this way, New Orleans restaurants have expanded the practice by offering this dining option throughout the season. Numerous places offer special menus featuring local holiday favorites, but if you’re looking to experience reveillon — the night before Christmas — in a place that’s deeply anchored in the city’s history, definitely make time for Broussard’s. This restaurant and courtyard establishment has been in operation for more than 100 years, making it a must-try for those in search of a meal steeped in the atmosphere of New Orleans. It offers a set selection of menu options for the experience, all chosen to suit the season and leave you feeling satisfied.
Another way to celebrate this tradition is something locals refer to as reveillon on the rocks. This is basically bar hopping on Christmas-themed steroids. With many establishments creating special yuletide cocktails, it’s easy to enjoy this practice as you make your way around the city for other festivities. However, if you happen to include the Roosevelt on your lobby-hopping itinerary, making time to sip something delish at the Sazerac bar will definitely be memorable. Not only do the bartenders always craft something specific for the season, they also have several other vintage cocktails in their repertoire. Enjoying one while soaking up the history infused in the venue is the perfect holiday activity.
While the city boasts numerous Christmas music performances throughout December, certain events offer exceptionally high value to your trip. Not to be missed are the free concerts at various churches throughout the city, featuring prominent local musicians and church choirs performing classic Christmas tunes. You will want to make the time for them. Seriously, they’re spectacular. Two of my favorite locations to enjoy this annual offering are St. Louis Cathedral and St. Anna’s Church.
While there’s no doubt the cathedral offers all the expected grandeur, St. Anna’s brings the intimate neighborhood charm that makes these concerts extra special. Beverages are also provided, which come in handy if you’ve walked from farther afoot. We made our way to the back expecting to support the congregation with a punch purchase. Oh, no. This is New Orleans, baby. There was a cash bar. I have to say, sitting in a church pew listening to holiday-themed hymns being belted out by people in choir robes with a frosty cold one in my hand was definitely a first.
Another city tradition is a public participation concert in the form of a massive caroling event held in Jackson Square the Sunday before Christmas. It’s free to attend, with hand-held candles typically distributed for a group lighting, and song sheets available so everyone can participate. To be clear, this is not a tiny street corner activity with a handful of people singing a couple of tunes. Au contraire. This is a large-scale annual singalong, and an absolute memory maker.
Got some extra time to spend in the Big Easy? Neworleans.com has a detailed section of seasonal festivals and lists a number of additional Christmas experiences scheduled to take place. Fun extras include bonfires on the levy, French Quarter holiday home tours and the annual Luna Fete celebration.