Easy Livin’ in the Big Easy: New Orleans Anew
What to Do:
Swamp Tour with Airboat Adventures: Drive thirty miles from the French Quarter and you’re deep in the Louisiana Bayou in the depths of Cajun country, where alligators roam and swamp people rule. What could be more inviting, right?
Located near the Jean Lafitte Preserve, Airboat Adventures offers airboat swamp tours through the thick marsh and brackish water of the Louisiana wetlands. Alligators are what you’re seeking, of course, and yet, you’re just as likely to see herons and turtles - and nutria, the invasive furry rodent introduced by New Orleans entrepreneur, E.A. McIlhenny, of the Tabasco sauce family.
Cameras are mandatory for the photograph of you and a baby alligator, usually produced midway through the swamp tour to screams of alarm and delight. Best of all is when the airboat slows from its 35-50 mph cruise across the lake and slides almost silently into the shadowy riverways. This is the stuff of Louisiana legend, where you almost expect Longfellow’s "Evangeline" to appear at river’s bend. Mystical and slightly spooky, a swamp tour baptizes you as a Louisiana local.
LINK: Airboat Adventures
Southern Decadence: The largest gay event in New Orleans, with more than 100,000 celebrants, Southern Decadence is held annually over Labor Day weekend. What began as a going-away party has evolved into a non-stop celebration of LGBT culture in all its extreme manifestations, accompanied by music, dancing, and parades. The 41st edition of this annual bacchanal takes place from 29 August - 3 September, 2012.
LINK: Southern Decadence
Saints and Sinners Literary Festival: Founded in 2003, this LGBT literary festival originated to promote awareness of HIV/AIDS - and, subsequently has expanded to become one of the region’s more illustrious forums for LGBT literature and its practitioners and fans.
LINK: Saints and Sinners Lit Fest
New Orleans Halloween: Sometimes referred to as "Second Mardi Gras," Halloween might be the holiday most compatible with such a haunted, nocturnal town. The weekend-long, four-event circuit party, "Halloween in New Orleans," benefits Project Lazarus, a local HIV/AIDS hospice.
LINK: Halloween New Orleans
Mardi Gras Bourbon Street Awards: Every year on Mardi Gras Day, flamboyant contestants from around the world compete for the titles of "Best Drag," "Best Leather," "Best Group," and "Best of Show." Thousands of spectators and celebrity guests cheer for their favorites in what might well be the most famous drag-queen contest in the world. The next Mardi Gras takes place on 21 February 2012.
LINK: Mardi Gras Bourbon Street Awards
St. Charles Avenue Trolley/Garden District: One of the South’s most fabled neighborhoods, long celebrated for its grand antebellum residences, the Garden District is accessible via the St. Charles Avenue trolley. Ride the streetcar out to Audubon Park, across the avenue from Tulane University, and then amble slowly through the quiet streets of the Garden District, stopping for po’boys and coffee and beignets whenever you feel the vapors coming on. Before you hit the French Quarter again, you’ll be fanning yourself like a true Tennessee Williams heroine.
LINK: St. Charles Avenue Trolley/Garden District
Audubon Park: Designed by the nephew of Frederick Law Olmsted, Audubon Park (named for James Audubon) includes the Audubon Zoo, riding stables, a golf course and lagoons, as well as more than 300 acres of green space.
LINK: Audubon Park
(Travel feature continues on next pages: Where to Stay, Where to Eat, Where to Party, Where to Shop...)