While it might be world famous for its carnival, it’s not all Mardi Gras mayhem in the Louisiana city of New Orleans – it also has plenty to offer families, history lovers and foodies who choose visit this fascinating city any time of the year. Kristian Sonnier, Vice President of Communications and Public Relations for New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau gives us the lowdown on the different ways domestic and international tourists alike can experience for themselves this great American city and its Creole culture.
While Creole means many things to many different people, says Sonnier, a Louisiana native from Lake Charles, “In New Orleans we say that Creole means, from the old world born in the new.”
This common cultural thread spanning past, present and future has shaped life in the city today.
“It defines language, customs, cuisine,” Sonnier explains, “a lot of the old world traditions that came to New Orleans are still carried on and it is a very big part of our lives.”
Sonnier is often called on to arrange itineraries for visitors, and it seems the real work is in pinpointing the perfect activities for each person from such a huge number of possible attractions in New Orleans.
“The city sells itself.” states Sonnier. “And we know the city very well. So, we don’t design a visit for them per se, but we ask a lot of questions. We want to know if they are interested in arts or history, architecture or food or music. We then give them options for what they said they wanted to see and do.”
Sonnier’s team is truly immersed in everyday life in New Orleans, which helps immensely with their work. “There are ten of us total and we all know and love the city, and we consume the city. So when people want to know where a great late night place near Frenchmen for Creole food is, we have an answer.”
Sonnier highlights the importance of Creole culinary traditions in shaping the festive eating habits of New Orleanians throughout the year, and especially during the holidays.
“Every season has some of its own Creole traditions, especially Christmas and reveillon dinners, which is an old Creole custom,” explains Sonnier. “It was a dinner that the old Creoles would prepare after they returned from midnight mass, to have a big feast once they returned home.”
Out of the many varied dishes on offer, Sonnier has some personal favourites to recommend. “Shrimp Creole. I love a lot of the old seafood preparations, like Kala, a Creole fried rice dish.”
So how long should a visitor spend in New Orleans, to really appreciate it? Sonnier thinks a week is best to get a real taste, because there is so much to see and do.
“I try to experience the city as much as possible but it’s one of those places where you always get the sense you’re just scratching the surface. There are so many things going on at any given time on any given day. For someone who is on holiday and wants to get a taste of New Orleans, you need a week, to see how the pace of the city goes.”
He believes the best way to get started is to simply dive in. “It is a very user-friendly city. All you have to do is go and get out in it and have some amazing experiences.”
He values the exciting pace the city sets itself. “Our weekends begin on Thursdays. We do work and get things done – we work as hard at getting things done as we do at having fun. There is so much to see and do.”
Far beyond the adult pursuit of ‘work hard, play hard’, Sonnier says the city is a great destination for families, too.
“New Orleans gets overlooked when people think about family destinations, but New Orleans is a lovely place to raise children or bring them on holiday.”
In fact, he says, the city’s appeal is growing and widening all the time, offering more varied and unusual attractions than ever before.
“The city is evolving. It is not the same city it was five or ten years ago. There is a new youth and energy that is creating different experiences that haven’t begun to be explored.
“There is a whole movement of organic play houses and theaters that are popping up in back yards and houses. There is some amazing talent at these shows that no one knows about except for locals.”
He describes new musical movements that are reinventing old traditions in a city famous for its jazz.
“There’s a growing group of DJs, house and dub music. The traditional jazz is always going to be part of our legacy, and with the youngsters there are punk music bands that are using brass in their music. For example, the Morning 40 Federation, a loud rock band that play brass music.
“There are places where they bridge the gap between jazz music, led by Ben Jaffy, reinventing what jazz music is. They do it at places at Preservation Hall, called midnight preserves, and they will invite The Black Keys. I’ve seen Robert Plant play in that hall. It works well.”
With so much on offer, there must be at least one must-see for the more than nine million visitors the city receives each year. It’s a tough call to make, says Sonnier, “I would say Preservation Hall, because it’s in the middle of the French quarter, and to get to it you would pass a lot of other places.”
“If you haven’t been to New Orleans you need to come. Here in New Orleans you see Creole in modern times and it’s very real and continuing. You see it, taste it, hear it. It’s in the air.”