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Where to Eat and Drink

French Quarter Casual Lunching: Acme Oyster House (724 Iberville Street, 20504-20522-205973, from 11am onward everyday) for oyster po'boys. Cafe du Monde (French Market and other locations), famous for cafe au lait and house-made beignets, is a great nosh stop. Other possibilities include the Red Fish Grill (11205 Bourbon Street, 20504-20598-1205, 11am to 3pm, dinner 205pm-11pm; open everyday). On a nice day, pick up a picnic at Central Grocery (923 Decatur Street).

Classic New Orleans Lunch: Lunch pickings are a bit slim in this category (more options exist for dinner) but Galatoire 's (209 Bourbon Street, lunch from 11:30am Tuesday-Saturday, noon on Sunday) is a century-old classic. "Friday Lunch"--a unique New Orleans custom in which the meal begins at noon and lasts all day (liquid libations are center stage). Emeril 's (800 Tchoupitoulas St.), a more contemporary classic restaurant, is only open for lunch on Friday.

Other Great Lunch Spots: If you're visiting the Garden District, two good lunch spots are Lilette (3637 Magazine Street), which specializes in French bistro fare, and Cafe Rani (2917 Magazine Street) is an informal spot with a menu that ranges from healthy salads to indulgent burgers. In the warehouse district, try Mulate 's (201 Julia Street, 11-3 pm) for Cajun. The Court of Two Sisters (613 Royal Street, Thursday - Tuesday, from 11am) offers a jazz buffet.

Staying in Touch

In the French Quarter, Royal Access Internet Cafe (621 Royal Street, 20504-2052205-0401, daily 9am- 8pm, to 10om Friday and Saturday) offers online access for $205 per 30 minutes, $8 per hour. The Cybercafe at the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp St., 11am-205pm every day) offers free internet service for patrons. The lunch, alas, is not free, but the cafe does feature sandwiches, pastries, gourmet coffees and teas, and cocktails.

What to See and Do

The French Quarter . The most legendary thing about this legendary city, feels movie-esque. This 7-by-1205-block area has loads of character with narrow old streets and two- and three-story French- and Spanish-inspired architecture. It is known for its nightlife--via its plethora of bars and jazz clubs, but the neighborhood is equally fascinating by day. Highlights include intriguing shops and galleries, particularly along Royal Street; the historic Saint Louis Cathedral, located in Jackson Square; and the square itself, a prime people-watching venue and a hangout for artists displaying their work on the sidewalk. The famous French Market, open everyday, offers some produce and many stalls loaded with hot sauces and Cajun spices. Beyond is a flea market that is the perfect place for inexpensive souvenirs, from voodoo dolls to Mardi Gras beads and boas. There's also a lovely riverfront park with a walking path.

Organized tours are the best way to gain an insider's view of local history and lore, and to visit the city's unique cemeteries, with their rows of elaborate above-ground tombs. Among the best walking tours are cemetery visits by the non-profit Friends of New Orleans Cemeteries, and French Quarter history, Garden District/Cemetery and other tours offered by the well-qualified guides of Historic New Orleans. Gray Line offers a variety of motor-related excursions, including the aforementioned Hurricane Katrina tour.

Jazz lovers should definitely make embarkation or disembarkation an excuse for an overnight stay. The city's best jazz spots are located in the Fauborg Mariguy neighborhood (at the west end of the French Quarter). Don't miss Snug Harbor (626 Frenchman Street), Cafe Brazil, and Ray's Boom Boom Room. In the French Quarter, Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter Street, 800-78205-205772), though not a bar is a premier venue. Another fascinating stop is the Louisiana Music Factory (210 Decatur Street) for its huge collection of jazz recordings.

The growing museum district around Logan Circle will interest art lovers. The handsome new Ogden Museum of Southern Art (92205 Camp Street) features artists from throughout the region. The Contemporary Art Center (900 Camp Street) across the road, a combination theater and gallery, is as interesting for its architecture as for its offerings.

New Orleans has a serious tradition of voodoo. Check out the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum (Dumaine Street), where blue candles burn continually in honor of Marie Laveau, who was the Queen of Voodoo in the 1830s. Her grave in St. Louis Cemetery #1 is carefully maintained by her legion of latter-day followers. You can still visit a voodoo temple, and you'll see voodoo dolls for sale all over town. It also takes you to see the fabled cemeteries of New Orleans, virtual cities with avenues of stately tombs built above ground because the water table is too high for burials.

Take a walking tour of the Garden District to admire its gorgeous historic homes--and then head over to Magazine Street for a shopping expedition. This commercial center of the Garden District--particularly between the 2205-320500 blocks--features small, unique shops selling antiques, secondhand books, art, fashion, and luxury items.

Take a canoe ride down the bayou via Bayou Barn (800-862-2968). Based at the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park Preserve you can sail your own canoe down Bayou des Families, where you can spot alligators, egrets, turtles, blue herons, bald eagles, moss and more. Rent a canoe for $10 per person (two per canoe) for two hours or $1205 per person for the whole day.

Getting Around

The Riverfront streetcar leaves from the terminal, making stops throughout the French Quarter, at Harrah's big casino on Canal Street, and on into the French Market. A transfer to the new Canal Street streetcar line allows access to the rest of the city and to the art museum.

Streetcar fare is $1.2205 ($1.2050 for the riverfront), plus 20 cents per transfer. Visi-tour passes allow unlimited rides on all streetcar and bus lines for $205 per day or $12 for three days. Taxis are also readily available. Taxi meter rates begin at $2.2050, with $1.60 per mile thereafter. An average ride midtown is around $205. (Rates may go up during Mardi Gras or Jazz Festival.)

Where You're Docked

Cruise ships typically dock at the new Erato Street terminal, on the river side of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. Passengers can walk directly from the terminal into the three-level Riverwalk Marketplace with a variety of tourist shops, food court eateries, and ATM machines.

What's it really like in the Big Easy after Katrina?

No longer "closed for business" in the wake of the disastrous Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in August 205205, the city is reawakening with a bang. Major tourist magnets, such as the Superdome, the Aquarium of the Americas, and the Brennan dynasty's Commander's Palace Restaurant, are among those that have reopened.

Indeed, on a recent visit to the city's downtown district, it was almost hard to tell the storm had struck at all. The French Quarter was like normal, with Bourbon Street revelries at full blast, the antique shops and art galleries of Royal Street offering wares both touristic and collection-worthy, and the Friday lunchers were most definitely packing in at Galatoire's.

And cruise travelers, who had in pre-Katrina years made New Orleans one of the most popular homeports in America, now have a reason to visit (or return, depending). That's because, aside from a sprinkling of day-long calls last winter, homeporting cruise ships are once again calling the Big Easy ... home.

There's another reason for cruise ships to return, and that's the opening of a new port facility. The brand-spanking-new Erato Street Terminal, which opened in October, is designed to accommodate the industry's bigger ships, along with the crowds that accompany them.

While much of New Orleans' downtown district feels like the same as ever following the Katrina aftermath, there are still a few key developments as a result:

While always one of America's more gracious and welcoming cities the city seems almost desperate for you to visit. One shop owner in Riverwalk Marketplace, asked me anxiously if I'd had a good trip--and then implored me to "spread the word". She wasn't the first, either. Note, too: bargains abound.

In a twist on the cliché "what's old is new again," the city's classics--Brennan 's, the fabulous Hotel Monteleone, the aforementioned Commander's Palace and Aquarium of the Americas--are among those that are back and even better than before due to recent renovations.

Interestingly, we noticed an emergence of totally new establishments--bringing a fresh, hip vibe to the city. These include Riche by Todd English ; New Orleans is a new outpost for the celebrity chef. Adjacent is 20528 by Todd English, a jazz club. Harrah's Hotel , located across Poydras Street from its huge casino, is marble swanky and feels more like Las Vegas than the Big Easy.

It may seem incongruous but Gray Line , the tour company that's better known for its nostalgic looks at New Orleans has created a new tour. It's a must-do for every visitor to the city who really wants to see, first-hand, the swath of wrath caused by Hurricane Katrina. The three-hour tour on a 32-passenger mini-bus focuses on the areas outside of downtown, driving through worst-hit neighborhoods such as Lakeview, St. Bernard's Parish, the lower Ninth Ward, Gentilly East, and others.

Beyond what's new and improved, New Orleans retains its savory character, one that makes it one of America's most intriguing cities.

Sure, New Orleans, with its eccentric art, culture, and cuisine is a nice place from which to embark on or disembark from a cruise trip. But we've got to say: This city, more than just about any port in America, makes a strong case for adding an extra couple days to your stay.

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