New Orleans has certainly seen its unfair share of difficulties ever since Hurricane Katrina, but its importance as an iconic city has not waned; if anything, the tragedy has shown us that adversity proves a person, and a city's, true mettle. It didn't stop New Orleans from attracting nearly 700,000 people to Mardi Gras last year. Although the Carnival season of feasting and fun began January 6, it concludes on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, or "Fat Tuesday" the day before the beginning of Lent. With its key colors purple, green and gold representing justice, faith and power, respectively, Mardi Gras this year is February 20, but many of the festivities begin the weekend before that. As you're looking through deals and packages, you'll find that many hotels have three-night minimum stay requirements.
The New Orleans Visitors and Convention Bureau (tel. 800/672-6124; www.neworleansscvb.com) is a great place to start, for general information on the Crescent City as well as a listing of accommodations coupons, which consist of packages and special rates at more than a dozen hotels across the city. The Best Western French Quarter Landmark Hotel, for example, has rates for Mardi Gras starting at $119, good for stays through February 21. The Loews New Orleans Hotel starts from $219, and the Historic French Market Inn, from $229. From there, check out the link to Mardis Gras New Orleans (www.mardigrasneworleans.com) which gives specifics about guests -- such as James Gandolfini to serve as celebrity king for the krewe of Bacchus, and Taylor Hicks to reign as Endymion Grand Marshall 2007. Mardis Gras festivities generally draw hundreds of thousands of visitors -- last year's figures put it at 700,000 people -- but according to the New Orleans Visitors and Convention Bureau, the city doesn't spend any money to promote it.
New Orleans is served by ten airlines, large and small, from Air Tran, Northwest, Southwest, Midwest and Jet Blue to American, Delta, United, US Airways and Continental. It is wise to keep checking the web sites for these airlines because fare sales are announced frequently. In the meantime, your best bet might be to try meta search engines like Side Step (www.sidestep.com) or Mobissimo (www.mobissimo.com)
Expedia (tel. 800/EXPEDIA; www.expedia.com) has some special pricing for air and three nights hotel to New Orleans with departures from New York from $528, Chicago from $464 and Washington, D.C. from $565, for stays at the International House, a boutique Beaux Arts hotel within two blocks of the French Quarter. There are more than a dozen hotels to choose from if that one doesn't suit you. It's important to note, though, that the price advertised is for early March travel. At press time, packages from New York to New Orleans for three nights that include Mardi Gras start around $715 per person. Read the fine print carefully.
Orbitz (tel. 800/504-3248; www.orbitz.com) has a handful of packages that bundle flights and hotels into one rate, but the best prices, starting from around $280, reflect rates at two and three-star hotels on the outskirts of the Mardi Gras activities. If the distance doesn't bother you, the Best Western Bayou Inn, for example, is priced from $295 per person for roundtrip airfare from Reagan International Airport in Washington D.C. and two nights, for late February travel. For a closer stay, The French Quarter Courtyard Hotel, within walking distance of Bourbon Street, shows a two-night plus airfare package starting at $381 per person. You can also choose from three and four night stays, and it's worth noting that taxes are not included.
Orbitz also has deals on dozens of hotel rooms in New Orleans and surrounding vicinity, if you've managed to find airfare elsewhere with rates starting at $51, and the prices posted for the deals reflect a variety of dates, from the immediate future to early March, so you'll need to search carefully. Still, a search for rooms at the five-star Le Pavilllon Hotel for Sunday February 18 through Wednesday, February 21 reveal availability for standard room with a queen bed and an average nightly rate of $212.34.
Hotwire (tel. 866/468-9473; www.hotwire.com) has about five hotels available in the downtown and French Quarter for Saturday, February 17 through Wednesday, February 21, starting around $139 for a three-star hotel in downtown. You may end up in a Doubletree, Radisson, Holiday Inn or other similarly rated hotel but you won't know until you've booked. Still, if you're willing to take a risk it's a great rate for a hotel adjacent to the French Quarter with a business and fitness centers, high speed Internet access. Other properties showing availability include a four-star hotel in the French Quarter at $180 per night -- hotels in this class include Hyatt, Omni, Intercontinental, and other similar properties. The hotel is guaranteed to offer guests a restaurant, high-speed Internet access, a fitness center and a pool -- although most of those things might not matter if you're going to spend a lot of time carousing in the streets.
Hotels.com (tel. 800/246-8357; www.hotels.com) is offering special rates for Mardi Gras, with February 15-20 offering the best prices. The special rates start from $179 for the Ambassador Hotel New Orleans but can fluctuate wildly from night to night, depending on when you arrive and depart, and run up to $349 per night for the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, with plenty of hotels settling in the $200-plus price range.
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