How to save money on your N’Awlins vacation

New Orleans, pronounced N’Awlins by the locals, was tagged the Big Easy by gossip columnist Betty Guillaud in the 1970s. As that nickname suggests, it’s a laid back city, easy going and, in my opinion, the best place in the States to let your hair down and enjoy yourself. But to do that, you’ll need money, so rather than waste it on the boring aspects of your holiday spending, here’s how to make some cuts that won’t spoil your fun – and will allow you to divert your cash into things that will make your vacation memorable.

One of the French Quarter's ornate balconies

One of the French Quarter’s ornate balconies

Ditch the car

Forget what you’ve heard about needing a car in the USA, in the Big Easy it’ll just make things more difficult. Parking is hard to find, can be expensive and being towed if you get it wrong will really put a downer on your vacation. If you’re arriving by plane, then from the airport to the heart of the city, you have three options. First, a taxi – it’s a fixed rate of $33 for one or two people, with an additional charge for more than two. It’s convenient, and if you time your visit for hot and sultry summer, then it’s the coolest option too. Second, a shuttle – for $20, you can take a shared shuttle; they go round the houses, but it’s a saving if there’s one of you. Third, and cheapest of all, take the E2 bus for $2 (yes, you read that right, a saving of $31 on the cost of a taxi) to get right to the heart of downtown. From the centrally located Amtrak rail station, tram 49 gets you right into Canal Street for a budget-busting $1.25, with transfer to other trams or city buses for an additional $0.25.

Riverfront tram

Riverfront tram

Getting around

Much of the tourist area of New Orleans – think French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny and Downtown – is easily walkable. To get further afield, buy a $3 day pass for the city’s buses and trams and hop on and off to your heart’s content. Ride the green line to City Park, for the Botanical Gardens and Bayou Saint John, the historic St Charles Avenue tram for the beautiful mansions of the Garden District or the Riverfront tram for the eclectic shopping and ice cream daiquiris of the French Market. Check http://www.norta.com/ for current schedules.

Free self-guided walks around the Garden District are easy to find online

Free self-guided walks around the Garden District are easy to find online

Choose your tours carefully

While much of New Orleans can be visited independently, for some things a tour is compulsory. Since Marie Laveau’s tomb at St Louis Cemetery #1 was spray-painted pink and smashed up with a baseball bat last year, visiting on your own has been impossible. To make sure your tour money does some good, and for a reasonably priced tour, try Save our Cemeteries http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/. The organisation works tirelessly to restore, repair and educate. Other cemeteries can be visited for nothing, including the atmospheric Lafayette cemetery in the Garden District. An excellent self-guided walk can be found at http://www.scsh.com/pdfs/Garden-Dist-tour-2.pdf

Lafayette cemetery

Lafayette cemetery

Taking a carriage ride around the French Quarter is a great way to get your bearings, but can be expensive. Rather than taking a private trip, opt for a place on a larger shared carriage, which costs $18 for a half hour tour compared to the $90 for up to four people if you don’t want to share.

Shared carriage around the French Quarter

Shared carriage around the French Quarter

If you want to get out on the river, the steamboat Natchez makes regular trips on the Mississippi several times a day. Eschew the expensive dinner cruise which costs a whopping $46 even without food ($77 with dinner) and board in the afternoon when cruises are better value at $29.50. You’ll still get all that jazz!

Look for coupons

Most hotel foyers have a stack of leaflets about nearby attractions and many of them include money-off vouchers. The free map given out across the city also has a few – I saved a couple of bucks off the $19.95 entrance fee at the excellent Mardi Gras World by ripping off a corner. The savings will soon add up.

Last year's float being recycled at Mardi Gras World

Last year’s float being recycled at Mardi Gras World

See a band for free

Forget Bourbon Street, the action’s moved to Frenchmen Street where you’ll find a whole lot of great music for the price of a drink. While some clubs apply a nominal cover charge, many offer free entertainment. Try The Maison, where you can listen to a band while chowing down on tasty shrimp and grits. If you’re not too bothered about alcohol, ordering a soda gets you free refills.

Free music is easy to find throughout the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny

Free music is easy to find throughout the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny

Save money on drinks

A trip to N’Awlins wouldn’t really be complete without at least one cocktail but the cost of drinks in bars and restaurants will soon mount up. Take advantage of the city’s laid back attitude to drinking and get one to go from the Gazebo Café at French Market. Takeaway ice cream daiquiris, a speciality, cost $7.75, a saving of between two and four dollars off a typical indoor price. Carrying out a “to-go” cup is completely legal, though make sure it has a lid, and don’t get too intoxicated or you’ll fall foul of the authorities.

Got any tips of your own? I’d love it if you posted in my comments section!

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