An important port city established pre-Revolutionary War, it has grown into what many consider to be a "jewel". Lenny Kravitz, rock star and New Orleans resident once said, "There's certain things in life that I love. One is architecture. And music, culture, food, people. New Orleans has all of that."
The people of New Orleans are friendly, hospitable, and above all else, proud of their city and its heritage. They will eagerly share stories of their city. Whether it be the stories of the rich past, or the recent events of Hurricane Katrina and BP Oil Spill, you will nou doubt leave New Orleans finding a new appreciation for this city and its people.
The whole city is in a rebirth. Most of the infrastructure has been restored, but there is still a way to go. The hurricane has had its impact on the city, but it hasn't beaten it. The combinations of historical architecture along with strained resources for rebuilding make accessibility a challenge, but not a complete barrier.
Even in the French Quarter, the oldest part of the city, attempts have been made, and continue to be made, to welcome people with physical challenges. The key to enjoying New Orleans is to go there with an open mind, a willing spirit, and a sense of adventure. Careful planning and realistic expectations will open up a wonderful city to explore.
Each neighborhood will provide a completely new experience, and perspective on importance of the city.
The French Quarter, with its narrow stone and brick streets and plethora of shops, restaurants and taverns, is a challenge to navigate. Many buildings have steps and narrow passageways. The sidewalks are not always entirely even. Crowds, especially on Bourbon St., can be overwhelming. Parking is at a premium, and although a few streets have disabled parking signs, they were few and far between. Traffic in the quarter can be somewhat unwieldy with many one way streets. However, it is an area not to be missed, even for a short time. You will be treated with talented street musicians, wonderful antique shops lining Royal Avenue, and the true party spirit exists on Bourbon St. This is New Orleans as it was in the history books, and it is pure magic.
Curb cuts exist on almost every corner, and many streets are completely blocked off to traffic during peak times. While many buildings do have one step, there are many shops that do not. Most doorways have double doors so that a normally narrow passage can be opened up to accommodate a wheelchair. Enchanting art galleries abound in this area, and they are usually very accessible to wheelchairs. Accessible bathrooms are the greatest challenge. However, they do exist, and one only has to go into one of the larger hotels to find a clean, accessible bathroom that can accommodate any size wheelchair.
The Garden District is a gem within "The Big Easy". Its opulent homes and magnolia tree lined streets provide a lovely view into how Americans lived upon settling in New Orleans. Many of the streets are narrow, and tree roots have made traversing the sidewalks a bit trecherous. Magazine St., which is known for its shops and restaurants is getting a new makeover with brand new curb cuts and level sidewalks in the most popular areas.
Marigny, one of the more bohemian parts of town which is located next to the French Quarter. Frenchman Street is known as the place the locals go to eat and listen to music. Music clubs line a stretch for a few blocks, and one need only travel down this street to hear some of the best musicians in the city. Beware though; wheelchair accessible bathrooms were a rarity, so plan ahead.
The Warehouse/Arts district supports the largest port in New Orleans, but it is also home to many hotels, restaurants, a great riverside shopping area, and the only land-based casino in Louisiana. Sidewalks are wide, curb cuts are good; there are many hotels that have accessible rooms and bathrooms in this area, especially on Canal and Poydras Streets.
Hurricane Katrina has made the Ninth Ward a landmark. Many tour busses travel through the area and knowledgeable locals can tell you stories of what it was like in those days, weeks, months, and years since August, 2005. Most of the Ninth Ward is rebuilt, but there is still evidence of the devastation that occurred. Markings on buildings, water lines, FEMA trailers, and holes that were cut out of roofs to escape still exist. More than that, it was inspiring to see the lines of new homes built by various charities to help these residents get back on their feet.
The city is a treasure chest of experiences, so don't be afraid to check it out. Bottom line, plan ahead, but also be prepared to go with the flow, and you will find a great city worth exploring.