Group Tour: New Orleans

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[Note: this tour already took place in 2014, but I've included the itinerary here in case you'd like more information about my larger, group tours]

New Orleans has always held a unique place in my heart. From late nights in the Quarter as a college kid, to lazy rides on the St. Charles streetcar as a tourist, in search of an oyster po’boy or a strong Sazerac. I proposed marriage in Audubon Park after an epic jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace nearly 20 years ago, so yes, you could say NOLA has always been special to me. Few cities in America are so resolute in their distinctiveness. The birthplace of jazz and the American cocktail only add to its allure. Cajun, Creole, African, Spanish and French accents fill The Big Easy with a gumbo of sorts that’s impossible to fully understand unless you’ve actually been.

 

Join me for a special, curated food-and-drink-lover’s adventure to a city that is truly one-of-a-kind. We’ll see both the old and the new New Orleans, visiting some of the city’s hottest restaurants and cocktail lounges, but also going back in time, slurping oysters in one of the most historic spots in the U.S., then indulging in a country crawfish boil and boat ride on a nearby plantation. We’ll get private cocktail lessons from two of the city’s top bartenders and a private cooking demo from Team Besh. Along the way, we’ll visit a local artist, tour the historic Garden District and meet with a surprise guest whom every restaurateur in town looks up to. Here’s the lagniappe: our base of operations is the Windsor Court Hotel, one of the city’s grande dames. Oh, and we’ll also get to experience that jazz brunch at Commander’s from one of the best tables in this legendary restaurant. As they say in NOLA, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” (Let the good times roll!)

 

TOUR ITINERARY

 

SATURDAY, MARCH 8

Arrive in New Orleans independently and check into the Windsor Court. This award-winning hotel welcomes you after a recent 22 million dollar renovation and features a rooftop pool, fitness center and spa. It boasts a fantastic downtown location, a 5-minute walk from the French Quarter.

 

We’ll meet this afternoon for welcome drinks at Cure. Named one of the best bars in America by Esquire and Travel & Leisure, this Uptown spot is known for its craft cocktails. Its establishment after Hurricane Katrina anchored an area of comeback and development for the neighborhood. Enjoy two of Cure’s handcrafted cocktails.

 

IMG_3045Dinner this evening will be at Casamento’s, a New Orleans landmark since 1919. Owner CJ Gerdes has worked here since he was a kid. The restaurant shuts down when it’s not oyster season (in the summer) and the entire kitchen is taken apart, cleaned piece-by-piece, and then reassembled. Known for their raw oysters (shucked throughout the day in the dining room), their po’boys are truly unique, served on buttered and griddled thick toast, as opposed to the usual French loaf. We’ll also try their char-grilled oysters, a relatively new addition to the menu. I’ll order everything ahead, so just sit back and enjoy.

 

 

Return to the hotel after dinner or perhaps take in a late-night set at Tipitina’s. Begun as a neighborhood juke joint in 1977 as a place for Professor Longhair to perform in his final years, it is now a thriving club hosting local musicians and national acts.

 

SUNDAY, MARCH 9IMG_2588

A fun and food-filled day lies ahead! Take the historic St. Charles Streetcar to the Garden District, a gracious and historic neighborhood filled with stately homes and pristine gardens. Among the tree-lined streets sits Commander’s Palace, long regarded as one of the best upscale restaurants in New Orleans. A landmark since 1880, this former antebellum mansion will host us for a 4-course jazz brunch and plenty of libations. Give the famous Turtle Soup a try.

 

We’ll be ready for a walk and will join our expert local guide for a 2-hour tour of the streets and history of the Garden District. The area is home to one of the city’s most well-maintained above-ground cemeteries, Lafayette #1, which you’ll recognize from many films.

 

Our private mini-coach will meet us following the tour to take us to the Swizzle Stick Bar. Here you will meet Mixologist Lu Brow and learn how to make two signature cocktails. Lu will share her professional expertise by demonstrating the preparation and you’ll be able to taste both drinks. She will send you on your way feeling like a local with a “go cup”. Most bars in New Orleans are allowed to serve alcoholic beverages in disposable cups to be enjoyed after leaving the establishment. Take yours on the bus and relax during a ride outside the city.

 

Our destination is Woodland Plantation to experience the hospitality of Foster Creppel, owner of this beautifully restored property and friend of local chef Donald Link (Herbsaint, Cochon). The home has been featured on Southern Comfort bourbon labels since 1934 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The drive is less than an hour but will transport you into the deep Mississippi Delta, a setting rich in history and natural beauty. Explore the wetlands on an airboat tour then settle in for a casual, relaxing feast. Foster and I collaborated on a menu of local seasonal specialties including alligator sauce picante, jambalaya, oysters and a crawfish boil accompanied by drinks of your choice.

 

MONDAY, MARCH 10

This morning we’ll take a ride to the Bywater area to visit the outdoor art studio of Dr, Bob, a New Orleans folk artist. Described as “prolific and authentic”, his paintings and assemblages are proudly displayed throughout the city. Common figures include creatures from the bayou, characters of the Quarter, and the spirits and demons of the Crescent City. We’ll see works in progress, finished pieces and perhaps meet the man himself.

 

Time for a po’boy lunch, so it’s off to Domilise’s, one of the oldest and best-loved po’boy shops in town. I  want you to try a different type of sandwich from Casamento’s, such as shrimp or roast beef, but also to taste the incomparable Leidenheimer French bread – the staple of any good po’boy shop in NOLA. We’ll line up with the locals to order at the counter.IMG_2584

 

This afternoon, we’ll have a private cooking demonstration with a member of award-winning, local chef John Besh’s team (Domenica, Lüke, August). I’m still working out the details, but it will focus on teaching our group about a regional dish using ingredients that can be found outside of New Orleans, so you can recreate it when you return home.

 

There will be time to rest and refresh before this evening’s activities.

 

We’ll walk to SoBou, a spirited bar, to learn the history of the Sazerac – the first truly American cocktail, and still the classic by which other cocktails are judged. Watch resident Mixologist Abigail Gullo prepare this quintessential New Orleans cocktail and learn how to make a perfect one at home. The demo is just for our group and yes, there will be samples!

The bar at SoBou

The bar at SoBou

 

Cochon is one of my favorite restaurants in the U.S. (I’ve been three times) and tonight I’ve chosen a family-style menu so you can enjoy a variety of Chef Donald Link’s signature dishes. Sample some local beer or enjoy a couple glasses of wine with your meal.

 

As on any evening in New Orleans, there will be options to enjoy live music late into the night.

 

TUESDAY, MARCH 11

Stroll through the French Quarter this morning and make a stop at Café du Monde for their famous beignets (French-style doughnuts) and dark roasted coffee with chicory. It’s a must-do even if you’ve been to New Orleans before. Established in 1862, it is open 24 hours a day and only closes for Christmas Day and the occasional hurricane.

 

IMG_0158Wander the cobblestone streets and peek into shops, specialized boutiques, voodoo emporiums, antique stores and more en route to our farewell lunch at Galatoire’s. Another of New Orleans’ landmarks, the restaurant was established by Jean Galatoire in 1905 and is still overseen by several 4th- generation descendants. I’ve selected a French Creole menu for our 3-course meal, followed by a Café Brulot – one of the most unique finishes to a meal, it’s a memorable way to cap off our fantastic trip; this celebratory coffee is made with citrus peels, aromatic spices and brandy. When you bite into the caramel banana bread pudding you’ll understand why people have been coming here for over a century.

 

Say goodbye to your fellow travelers before departing for home.

 

ADDITIONAL DETAILS

LAND TOUR COST

$1,599 per person/double occupancy Add +$499 for single occupancy Airfare additional

 

TOUR INCLUDES
3 nights at the deluxe Windsor Court Hotel

1 Jazz brunch & 2 lunches

3 cocktail events & 3 dinners

Drinks as listed in the itinerary

Plantation visit & airboat tour

Tour of the Garden District with expert local guide

Cooking demonstration

Private mini-coach transfers to places beyond walking distance

Taxes & gratuities for servers

On-site services of a professional AAA Tour Director

 

NOT INCLUDED

Airfare

Transfers to/from Louis Armstrong Airport

Anything not specified in the itinerary

 

FLIGHTS

Book your flight to arrive New Orleans by 3:00 p.m.
Departing flights should be booked out of New Orleans at 4:00 p.m. or later
Operation of this tour is based on a minimum of 20 travelers – Do not book your airline ticket until AAA confirms the trip is a go.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION OR TO MAKE A RESERVATION

Contact Deborah Childs – AAA Travel

630-328-7248
dachilds@aaachicago.com

 

Disclaimer: Price is per person based on double occupancy and is subject to change & availability. A minimum number of participants (20) are required to operate this tour. Airfare/airport transfers are not included. Cancellation penalties will apply. Travel arrangements by AAA Travel – The Auto Club Group.

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