I had the pleasure of returning to New Orleans last week to perform a few more site visits for our website debut in a few weeks. Having been there in November and spending the majority of my time in the French Quarter, I wanted to explore other parts of the city for accessibility.
This trip took me to the Garden and Warehouse/Arts Districts. I stayed near St. Charles in the lower Garden District and made my way around using public transportation. The busses were great. They were wheelchair accessible, and the drivers very pleasant. The St. Charles streetcars were not at all handicap accessible, and were erratic in their arrival times. I spent more than 40 minutes waiting for a streetcar on more than one occasion.
Upon arrival at Louis Armstrong Airport, I rushed over to my first site visit at the Loews Hotel New Orleans. I was immediately impressed by the location, the staff, and the facilities. Loews is located on Poydras, across the street from the Harrah's Casino, within a short distance from the French Quarter. I enjoyed lunch at the property with my host at Adelaide's Restaurant, which was very good. Even better, they had 25 cent martinis during lunchtime. I did not partake, but vowed to come back another time. I really didn't want my measurements skewed by one too many Cosmos. Loews did not disappoint. The accessibility features were fairly well thought out and the rooms very spacious. The views of the river and city were excellent.
I made my way onto the edge of the French Quarter to the Monteleone. This hotel is a historic gem in New Orleans, and a very sought after address for savvy clients who want to be pampered, yet still be a part of the French Quarter party scene. This property is quite large, having acquired other properties next to it and joining them together. This merging of buildings has caused a navigational challenge, especially when navigating between meeting rooms. The floors don't line up exactly, so there are stairs in the middle of the floors. There were plenty of elevators that can accommodate the changes in the elevation. Considering the age of the building and the attempt to maintain historical integrity, the adaptations made to accommodate wheelchairs were fairly impressive, although not perfect.
After a good night's rest, I was ready to see more properties. On to the W Hotel New Orleans and Westin. The W Hotel is a modern, trendy property across the street from the Loews. It is perched right on the fringe of the Warehouse/Arts District and the French Quarter, and close enough to the river. I love the W, but have been partial since staying at W Hotels in other cities in the past. Everything is minimalist, sleek, and there are lots of wide open spaces. The rooms were a bit on the small side, but the bathrooms were very nicely wheelchair accessible. The pool deck and workout areas were the stars of this property.
The Westin is a totally different vibe than the W. Very traditional, and a bit staid, it sits on top of the Canal Place Mall, which is a lovely shopping area with some very exclusive shots. I spotted some beautiful jewelry in the window of one of the stores that would use up my life's savings. The Westin sits on the river front, and its views are simply lovely. The rooms were a bit bigger than the W's, but not as large as the Loews. I was disappointed that their pool deck was closed for repair. The hotel was very wheelchair accessible, with the exception of a ramp that wraps around the back of the elevator bank to get into the dining room.
After visiting these two properties, I made my way into the Garden District to walk around and see the lay of the land. First of all, the homes are as beautiful as everyone said they would be. Secondly, traversing sidewalks in the Garden District is nearly impossible. Almost every patch of sidewalk has been uprooted by the same trees that make the area so lovely. Some previous bloggers have recommended taking a wheelchair into the street. Many of the streets are narrow, and I saw too many cars for it to be safe. I would recommend driving into the area or taking a bus tour.
There is a bright spot in the Garden District when it comes to wheelchair accessibility. It's Magazine Avenue. This street borders the Garden District, but it is more of a shopping and dining area. A city bus runs its length, which is wheelchair accessible. The city has also lain several blocks of new concrete sidewalks that are wide with great curb cuts. They were still working on a couple blocks when I was there. You can safely walk from Louisiana to Jackson without much issue. Several establishments' entrances were at grade level or had a small ramp to accommodate the one step into the building. The places I went into also had nice, accessible bathrooms, too. I especially enjoyed Byblos restaurant. It served great Mediterranean food and lovely cocktails. The weather was absolutely perfect for sitting in their outdoor café.
My third day was a real treat! I spent the day wandering the Warehouse/Arts District, which is by far, the most accessible area of the tourist areas in New Orleans. Wide sidewalks, curb cuts, and the majority of the businesses were at grade level; perfect for wheelchair and special needs travelers. The World War II museum is a cornerstone in this area, as are the several galleries and shops. The architecture is a mix of old New Orleans Creole with modern lofts. Emeril's restaurant can be found here, as well as several other fine establishments.
The Renaissance Arts Hotel is a modern property located in the heart of the district. To say I loved it is an understatement. The colors, the Chihuly chandeliers, the artwork, and open, accessible areas made this hotel stand out. All the meeting spaces are on the first level with very easy access to everything. The rooms were huge! The only drawback was that the pool deck was elevated with a lift that requires one to call the front desk.
On top of everything, as I strolled back to catch my streetcar, I ended up on the site of a movie being filmed! Totally excited, I asked the security guard if there was anyone famous, and he shook his head. No Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt sightings for me, I guess. It was still pretty cool!
My last day in New Orleans was spent touring the Embassy Suites and Doubletree hotels. While both properties have ADA rooms for special needs travelers, I felt that these rooms were more suited to those who were not in wheelchairs. The bathrooms were simply too small or laid out in a manner that would be difficult, especially for power chair users. Travelers with low vision, hearing impairments, or slow walkers may actually like the bathroom set up. Both hotels are in great locations; the Embassy Suites is right by the Convention Center, and the Doubletree is near the riverfront and French Quarter.
All of the hotels I visited displayed devices to serve those who are hard of hearing. Kits with strobes just need to be requested when making a reservation. All of the hotels had Braille, as appropriate, and the Embassy Suites has Braille menus in its restaurant upon request.
Meeting with all of the General/Sales Managers, I got the sense that they really want to do right by travelers with disabilities. They don't just want to provide compliant and accessible accommodations; they want to be sensitive to their guests needs. I felt they would all go the extra mile to serve their customers' needs.
All in all, it was a great trip. I was able to see some great hotels in new parts of town, try some new restaurants, almost make it into a film, and gather lots of information to share with you! We will have all of these hotels in great detail when the site goes live shortly.
On to Los Angeles for the Abilities Expo!