Food, history and all that jazz in New Orleans

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The Carnival Dream docked in New Orleans, which is celebrating its tricentennial this year.
The Carnival Dream docked in New Orleans, which is celebrating its tricentennial this year.
Outside of the Eastern Seaboard, not many U.S. cities can say they've been around for three centuries


But New Orleans is an exception. It is celebrating its tricentennial this year and has quietly become a hub not only for river boats but for ocean cruises.

Last year, New Orleans had more than 1 million passenger movements for the fourth straight year, putting it seventh among U.S. cruise ports, behind only the three big Florida ports; New York; Galveston, Texas; and San Juan.

Of those cities, perhaps only New York offers better prospects for a pre- or post-cruise stay.

Start with a waterfront streetcar line that stops outside the Julia Street Cruise Terminal, which is itself between two major attractions: the Garden District upriver and the French Quarter downtown.

On a recent stay, we used the streetcar to go from Julia Street to the Cafe du Monde at the foot of Jackson Square. The beignet is a French variant of a doughnut, served hot and covered in powdered sugar, and Cafe du Monde is where to get one.

The French heritage of New Orleans and its position on the Gulf Coast have created a unique cuisine. The city's fine dining scene includes French Quarter favorites Antoine's, Arnaud's and Galatoire's. We chose Arnaud's for its jazz brunch and enjoyed a tableside serenade by a jazz trio.

For oysters — a New Orleans specialty — we bypassed the always mobbed Acme Oyster House in favor of the Royal House Oyster Bar, where couples can share a narrow table on the second-floor balcony with a view of the street.

There's no shortage of people willing to show you around New Orleans. There are swamp tours, cemetery tours, Voodoo tours and carriage tours.

Our family of four spent two hours with a guide from Free Tours by Foot and wound up tipping $100, although the ground rules didn't obligate us to pay a dime. The guide gave us a curated list of music venues on Frenchmen Street where patrons under 21 are admitted (Maison is one).

Located in the Marigny district, a couple of blocks downriver from the Quarter, Frenchmen Street is the city's axis of live music, lined with clubs featuring jazz, blues, funk and zydeco. Although like much of the city it is a bit shabby, I would put this street on my must-do list, along with Preservation Hall, the French Quarter shrine featuring septuagenarian musicians playing '20s jazz the way Louis Armstrong might.

If you only have a few hours before or after a cruise, head to the corner of Royal and St. Peter streets where there's always a solid group playing for tips.

A New Orleans attraction that will take more time than you've got is the National WWII Museum. The history of the war is presented in various ways, one of which is a life-size version of the interior of the submarine Tang with its final voyage and sinking re-created.

A Boeing-sponsored pavilion creatively displays a half-dozen aircraft from the conflict including My Gal Sal, a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.

The WWII museum is in New Orleans' Warehouse District, which, in addition to offering the closest hotels to the cruise terminal, has its own restaurant and nightlife scene.

It's also bisected by St. Charles Street, with its 1920s-era streetcar, and it's within easy walking distance of the Harrah's Casino.

There are some significant developments in New Orleans cruises this year. The 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway becomes the largest ship to regularly sail there starting in November. Also in November, Royal Caribbean International is returning to the port with the Vision of the Seas.

The city's 300th birthday is as good an excuse as any to go.

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