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Let The Good Times Roll In The Big Easy

Colorful manequin in parade dress
Don't miss the excellent Mardi Gras Exhibit at the Presbytere
Photo by Charles Pannell

New Orleans is synonymous with fun. The Big Easy is well know for good music, a party-time atmosphere and of course the annual Mardi Gras celebration. In fact, Mardi Gras attracts millions of visitors to the French Quarter every year. Some folks claim this once-in-a-lifetime event is a must-do, while others do their best to avoid New Orleans during carnival time. The good news is, no matter when you visit, you’ll find plenty of accessible sightseeing and entertainment options in this historic city.

The French Quarter is the cultural heart of New Orleans, and it’s a great place to roll around, explore the sights, watch the street musicians and just take in the ambiance. To be honest, the French Quarter was not built for wheelchair-access, but access improvements have been added over the years. The most accessible street in the French Quarter is Decatur Street, which runs parallel to the Mississippi River and is adjacent to the accessible Woldenburg Riverfront

Balloon artist decorates wheeelie
Getting into the Big Easy spirit is easy in the French Quarter!
Photo by Charles Pannell

The Historic French Market Inn (504-539-9000, www. frenchmarketinn .com), located on the corner of Decatur and St. Louis Streets is a good place to base yourself. It’s just a short roll away from most of the French Quarter attractions and it features an accessible guest room with a tub/shower combination, a hand-held shower head, grab bars in the shower and around the toilet, a roll-under sink and a plastic shower bench. There is level access to the public areas including the private courtyard. Additionally, there’s plenty of accessible parking (a hard-to-find commodity in this area) right across the street in the public parking lot.

The Historic French Market Inn is just two blocks away from Jackson Square. Be sure and stop in at the Jackson Square visitors center and pick up your free French Quarter Self Guided Walking Tour map. You can do the walking tour at your own pace or choose an alternate route if you encounter any access obstacles.

Right behind Jackson Square, you’ll find The Presbytere (504-568-6968). This historic building formerly served as the clergy residence for neighboring St. Louis Cathedral, and today it’s part of the Louisiana State Museum. It currently houses the excellent Mardi Gras; It’s Carnival Time In Louisiana exhibit.

This multimedia exhibit includes floats, costumes and masks from Mardi Gras parades, plus an comprehensive collection of old Mardi Gras photos and video clips. The museum has ramped access, elevator access to the second floor, accessible restrooms and excellent pathway access. If you only have time for one museum I highly recommend the Presbytere, as the Mardi Gras exhibit is excellent.

And don’t miss Cafe Du Monde (504-525-4544, www.cafedumonde.com), an open-air cafe located at 800 Decatur Street, across the street from Jackson Square. There is level access to this 24-hour cafe, and it’s a nice place to linger over your cafe au lait and beignets and enjoy the street musicians. It’s a madhouse most of the day, with heavy tourist crowds after 8 AM, so get there early to enjoy a little peace and quiet.

Another place to hit early in the day is the French Market, which is located just a few blocks from Cafe Du Monde. Most of the market is accessible, with no steps and ample room to maneuver.

New Orleans riverfront trolley
The accessible Riverfront Trolley runs through the French Quarter and along the Mississippi River.
Photo by Charles Pannell

Getting around New Orleans is actually pretty easy, as most everything is within rolling distance in the French Quarter. If you tire of walking, hop aboard the Riverfront Trolley, a lift-equipped trolley which runs a two mile route along the riverfront and stops at most of the major downtown attractions.

If you’d prefer a guided tour, check out Gray Line Tours (504-569-1401). Lift equipped coaches are available on their city tour, with 48 hours notice. The city tour includes the French Quarter, the Garden District and a stop at St. Louis Cemetery #3.

Alternatively, you can see New Orleans by boat aboard the steamboat Natchez (800-233-2628, www.steamboatnatchez.com). There is ramped access to the boat, but only stairway access between the decks. The food and entertainment are located on the second deck, so if you board on the second deck it’s pretty accessible.

Mardi Gras in the making
See how the magic of the Mardi Grasis created at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World
Photo by Charles Pannell

Finally, for an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how the Mardi Gras floats are made, take the Canal Street Ferry over to Algiers Point and visit Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World (504-361-7821, www. mardigrasworld. com). The whole Mardi Gras World tour is accessible with either level or ramped access. It’s great fun to see that Mardi Gras magic created right before your eyes.

For more information about the Big Easy, visit the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention Bureau at www.neworleanscvb.com.