New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans: The Big Easy
by Jorge F. Vazquez
Our World Magazine - July / August 1999

I couldn't believe my good luck when I received notification that I was a winner in "Our World Magazine's Tenth Anniversary Contest."  My award, one of ten tour and cruise giveaways, was an all expense paid luxury trip for two for Halloween in New Orleans with DavidTours.  I immediately contacted owner David Rubin who, with his staff, took wonderful care of everything.  He worked with my travel agent, Lynne Hormick of Bensalem, Pennsylvania, arranging the free round trip air to New Orleans.

David advised us that the theme for the event this year was "Le Bal Grotesque" and promised that we would receive the same deluxe treatment received by all of his clients.  David delivered on his promise!

Joe, my partner, was more than happy to take the unexpected vacation, and weeks before departure we were kept busy searching for festive, imaginative costumes.  We finally settled on a medieval minstrel for Joe, and a realistic Captain Hook for me.

On Thursday, our plane touched down at New Orleans Airport, where we were delightfully collected and whisked to our hotel by pre-arranged stretch limousine.  My travel agent had told us in advance of the high quality of our hotel, The Dauphine Orleans, located right in the French Quarter.  On arrival we realized that Lynn had been too cautious with her comments.  The elegant Dauphine included exceptional service and lots of 5-star extras.

Our award included airfare and hotel, plus tickets to three official events, private luncheons at two posh restaurants, and a welcome cocktail party attended by all of David's clients.  The Halloween celebrations are fundraisers for Project Lazarus, an organization serving people with AIDS.  David and a host of other sponsors underwrite the costs of the spectacular parties, and four days of open bar (only premium brand liquor, of course!)

After unpacking and catching our breath, we took a stroll along Bourbon Street.  The atmosphere was electric, and you could feel everyone around you was intent on having a great time.  We stopped for drinks at Oz and The Parade, two bars that were jam-packed with friendly locals and visitors.

On Friday afternoon we met our host and the group he was escorting: friendly and fun men from all over North America, Holland, Germany, and Brazil.  For lunch, the assembled group walked to Arnaud's, a French-Creole restaurant that is a tradition in the city.  Our superb meal included a presentation on the history of this New Orleans landmark.  Its owners are very active with the Mardi Gras celebrations and even keep a small museum with some of the fabulous fantasy costumes from the Balls of the 1930's and 40's.

Following our luncheon, we visited legendary Jackson Square where we watched street performers and soaked up more of the Big Easy spirit.  In the evening we attended the Hippodrome party at the Fairgrounds Race Course, a huge venue that got more crowded as the night went on.  DJ Neil Lewis was in charge of the music, and he kept us dancing into the wee hours.  Decorations included impressive air sculptures and a display with Project Lazarus memorabilia from previous years' celebrations.

The next morning we further explored the French Quarter, enjoying not only the distinctive architecture, but also the wide variety of street art displayed all around us by performers, dancers, psychics and living statues.  Saturday's luncheon was held at the Commander's Palace, one of the city's finest, located in the Garden District across from Lafayette Cemetery.  The meal was remarkable and the day was filled with surprises that were not listed in any of David's original tour literature; namely, chauffeur driven limousines provided our transfers to Commander's, a tour of uptown New Orleans, and the return to our hotel.  All accomplished in great style! In all, nine limos were used to transport David's 80 clients and 10 local friends.  The locals were interspersed at various tables and in each car, affording a very personal introduction to the city and its sights.  To top it all off, we were invited to their homes.

The tour of the Garden District included the opportunity to view the magnificent mansions that make up this area.  David's college friend, Larry, who is a local attorney, owns a charming "Shotgun House" and graciously invited us in to explain what the phrase means.  The name is derived from that fact that all rooms are built in a row with no hall- ways, so if you shoot a gun at the front door, the bullet reaches the back porch without obstacles.  We were certainly "blown away" by the quality being pro- vided during this trip, especially David and his staff's personal, unpretentious, yet lavish approach to travel.  Every detail was perfectly orchestrated.  I almost forgot to mention, they even arranged for our group to enjoy limousine service throughout the major events, between the hotel and each party.  This was not only luxurious and convenient, but it also fostered friendship and unity among the group.

In the early evening we napped, then had dinner at Remoulade on Bourbon Street, walked to Cafe du Monde for chicory coffee and sugary beignets, and proceeded to buy a copy of the latest novel by New Orleans local Anne Rice.  We also had the chance to catch early sights of some of the impressive partygoers, all decked out in their costumes and wending their way to events.  Back at the hotel we prepared our costumes, snapped photos, and joined the group.  We made our way to the weekend's main event - Le Bal Grotesque - held at the Esplanade Wharf complex by the Mississippi River.  It was as if we were entering another world.  No one was without costume; there was perpetual music hosted by DJ Julian Marsh.  The sound and light show on stage was extraordinary by any measure, performers marching, balancing on swings, and accomplishing gymnastics that defied gravity.

As the night wore on, revelers began to strut on stage, which was open to all, to show off their theme dress.  There were individualists as well as group costumes: genies, seven-foot demons, blind Playboy bunnies, even a contingent of cowboys wrapped in the Texas flag.

Around midnight the really big show began: The Na Lei Hulu / Ka Wekia Hawaiian Dance Troupe.  They electrified the masses with their emotionally charged dances, the connection between the audience and performers was incredible.  This was the most amazing event I have ever attended!

Sunday was a day for late risers.  We attended a Gospel Brunch at the Generations Hall complete with a buffet of jambalaya, gumbo, and bread pudding with whiskey sauce, among many other selections.  The gospel group was excellent, revving up the audience as if the audience itself was a musical instrument.  Then, to our surprise, our now-beloved Hawaiian dancers arrived, this time paying tribute to the South with period costumes and choreography that brought the house down.

The brunch was a finale to our celebration.  Winning this trip provided us the opportunity to experience a Halloween so special it was indeed unparalleled.  David's attention to detail certainly enhanced this event and gave us the chance to meet some terrific people.  Winning this prize, thanks to our reading Our World, has underscored for us the wonderful world of travel possibilities for our community.

Editor's Note: We have been advised that Jorge and Joe, along with some friends, have made reservations with DavidTours to revisit New Orleans for Halloween XVI in 1999.  Congratulations David, and many thanks Jorge and Joe!