HEYYYYY!!! WELCOME BACK!!
This next journey is to the wonderful city of New Orleans, Louisiana. For this blog, I am going to merge two trips to NOLA into one. It will more so be the pictures than the overall experience. (July 2014 and July 2018)
This time of year is one of the city’s busiest times, because it’s the annual Essence Festival. If you don’t know what Essence Fest is, it’s a large celebration of black excellence. New Orleans lends it’s city to the Essence Brand and they’ve designed the festival to include a diverse group of talent across generations. Most of the action happens at the Mercedes Benz Superdome and New Orleans Convention Center. It is four days (Thursday to Sunday) of music, food, fun, game shows, shopping, seminars, live broadcasts, book signings, and so much more. If you have never been, it is highly recommended that you go. Keep in mind, people are there by the thousands, and it has grown over that last couple of years, and New Orleans is HOT!!!!
As the festival’s 25th year celebration has come to an end, I figured it was a perfect time to share my experience. I went to Essence Fest. in 2014 for the 20th year celebration and it was a great time. This trip came about randomly, as do many of my journeys. I was in the process of planning my summer and realized that I would be close by New Orleans right before Essence Fest began. If you don’t know this about me, I am often times a spur of the moment person. An idea pops into my head and if it is realistic I will begin to act on it. This situation was no different. I recall planning to attend a family friend wedding as well as spend time with family in Atlanta, GA. Immediately I began working out how I could just extend my trip to include riding over to New Orleans. After sharing my idea with my mother, this trip quickly turned into a family occasion lol. At the time, my mother was the only one who have ever been to NOLA, so of course the trip was necessary, and so the planning began.
First thing about attending Essence Fest is to PLAN IN ADVANCE!!! When I say advance, I mean, if you want to attend Essence Fest next year, then NOW (a year ahead) is the best time to begin calling or trying to book an hotel for next year. So far, Essence Fest has been the first weekend of July every year. Hotels fill up quick, especially if you want to stay in the French Quarters or as close to the Superdome or Convention Center as possible. Luckily, now with the help of Airbnb, deciding where to stay for this event can be a bit easier, but even those fill up quick. I was planning to attend this year with friends, and when we began researching shortly after it ended last year there were more selections for places to stay at different price points than waiting until the last minute.
As for when we went, because it was a last minute trip (booked in April), our options were even slimmer, and Airbnb was not as well known. Our flight pricing was good around that time about $250 per person with United. As for hotel, I was able to locate a hotel that was about four miles away from where everything would be, which was ok for us because we had a rental car. Unfortunately, the hotel I originally chose was not up to our standards so we cancelled and was blessed to get a room at the Holiday Inn New Orleans West Bank in Gretna, Louisiana. The hotel is in a very convenient location, right next to the expressway and was a 10min drive to where we needed to go. Although we had the rental car, we found ourselves using a taxi (Uber and Lyft weren’t that popular yet) because it was still cheaper than paying for parking at the Superdome and/or the Convention Center. In addition to the fact that street parking in the area was horrible. So if you do find yourself having to stay a bit farther away I recommend using a car service (taxi, uber, lyft etc.)
When I went to NOLA in July 2018 I stayed at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside. This hotel is in a perfect location because it’s right next to the Convention Center. It’s home to the popular Drago’s Seafood Restaurant known for their charbroiled oysters. At this hotel you have the option to walk over to the Convention Center by going outside or through the Outlet Collection Riverwalk. The Outlet Collection Riverwalk is also a great place to grab food if you are in between events in the center or just want to do some shopping. If you are looking to grab a mask, there’s a nice store in there that has a good selection of items. If not there are plenty of stores on Bourbon Street that carries them. In addition to the Hilton, there are several other hotels on the same street that are right across from the convention center (Hampton Inn and Suites, Hyatt Place, Marriott, Omni Riverfront).
When it comes to deciding what to do while at Essence Fest and in NOLA, you have to decided how long you want to stay. Since this was my first time going, trying to create an itinerary was a challenge. Based on what I saw and the performances, events, etc. that I wanted to attend, we decided to go from Saturday to Wednesday. This schedule worked for my family and I. However, to get the full variety of everything at Essence Fest, especially now since the movie Girls Trip, it is recommended to go from Thursday to Monday, and that’s only if you are only doing Essence Fest. If you intend to tour other parts of New Orleans, you can add more days or do so within that time frame.
The way Essence Fest is designed, there is so much going on at once, that you have to decide what is most important to you. Also, planning to attend the first day of the festival is good because they continue to add performers, performances, and activities up until the beginning of the festival. When I went Trey Songz was added as a Thursday night performer about 3 weeks before. I was a bit disappointed to miss his performance. So once you have decided you want to go just keep a look out for all the information they send about performers and events because it will change and be updated leading up to the beginning of the festival. However, if you have planned to attend at the beginning you have the opportunity to experience as much as possible.
During the day everything is happening in the Convention Center. The Convention Center, is the central location for all celebrity meet and greets, different brands are there selling products or doing giveaways, seminars are taking place, anything you can think of is happening at different times throughout the day. One thing is for sure, if you like freebies, they have them, and bags for days. We came home with so many bags from different brands, I’m sure I still have a few. The beauty is everything is timed out in a detailed schedule that you get upon entry into the center. Now everything is electronic based and you can download the app that has all of the information you need about who will be where, what time different events are happening, and you just have to plan it out for what you want to participate in. The app also allows you to purchase your tickets for the different events and the Superdome performances.
As much as there is so much going on, don’t rush. Take time to enjoy each activity. If you go to a seminar, enjoy it, and be in the moment. Sometimes other areas of the event may seem to be more “live”. That’s ok. Set a purpose for what you want to get out of the whole experience. Essence Fest does an amazing job at making sure there is something for everyone regardless of age. The same with the concerts. If you know you love the vibe of a particular artist, stay and enjoy the performance. The mainstage will run late into the night, sometimes ending after midnight. If you have already seen someone live before then go check out someone you haven’t. Just make sure your selections meet your needs and what you will enjoy.
The best place to take pictures with and see your favorite celebrities is at the Convention Center. I enjoyed meeting one of my favorite romance novel writers Brenda Jackson during a book signing, and was able to meet gospel artist James Fortune. Many celebrities are there as a partnership with different brands. Especially now with the new world of social media influencers. While some require you to wait in line to take a picture due to popular demand like Taraji did, others maybe standing just a few feet away and you can walk up to them. Still be careful of security.
Funny story: I was walking around the Convention Center on the phone with my best friend Karen. Out of no where I see Anthony Anderson walking in my direction and he was surrounded by security. I immediately went into fan mode lol. Although I didn’t move to go towards him, I think the excitement in my eyes and my high pitched ” Oh my God, that’s Anthony Anderson”, put his security team on alert and one security guard put his hand out and yelled stay back lol. I understood they had a job but be mindful that many of the celebrities will be guarded, so don’t try to run up to them because security is ready if you do.
If you get overwhelmed quickly by long lines and big crowds you may want to consider just attending the ticketed events or seminars. I remember one of the worst lines that year was the Coca Cola line. This was when Coca Cola had just released the can that had your name on it and everyone was in line waiting to get one. The wait time was over two hours at times. This may also be the case for other entertainers or activities. Another option for day time activities are some of the day parties that are held at different local spots. Some of these may fall under the Essence Fest umbrella, while others may just be happening by local event planners. I didn’t attend any of them when I went but a party is still a party so I’m sure they were enjoyable. Just research who is throwing the party and what the feedback has been. Other than that you can always walk the illustrious Bourbon Street all day. I don’t recommend it though. NOLA is too hot to stay outside all day.
The Superdome is for the night events. This is where all performances from a large variety of entertainers will take place. Now this is where things get a bit crazy. When I went this was the hardest part of my decision making. In the Superdome there are other performance areas called the Superlounge. There are about four of them throughout the Superdome. If you are not in one of these areas watching performances, then you are in the main stadium for the main stage performances. The only thing about having such a large number of options, is you won’t get to see everyone because all of the performances are happening at the same time.
This is where the scheduling on the app helps, because you are able to select who you want to see and it tells you where they are located in the Superdome. There will be more than one performer in the Superlounge and usually there wasn’t a lot or no seating at all, so be prepared to stand and don’t be afraid of crowds because those areas are usually packed. Also depending on who the performers are, there may be a line to enter, so getting there early will help. This is when comfortable and cute clothing is needed. You may find yourself running throughout the Superdome to catch different performers. Please! Please! Please! don’t be the one to wear heels and now falling all over the place. I have witnessed it. The Superdome is designed in a way that it has inclines and you will look crazy. Put on some nice sandals and get ready to enjoy the night. I also recommend taking a sweater because the air conditioning in there was on blast.
Since we arrived on Saturday, we missed the Friday night performances. At the time I based it on who I was fan of and I was ok with not being there. However, it was unfortunately the year that Prince was the headliner for Friday night. I definitely regret not going to witness his talent. We were able to enjoy all the performers on Saturday and Sunday night. Some of my favorites included Mary J. Blige, August Alsina, Day 26, 112, Marsha Ambrosius, Jill Scott, Tank, and Charlie Wilson. As I mentioned before, the performances include people from different generations. For me the only one I didn’t enjoy was Lionel Richie. After about two songs I had clocked out lol.
Once Sunday night is over, the festival has come to an end. There will still be a lot of after parties happening throughout the city but the Convention Center and other festival locations will be closing. Come Monday, New Orleans is a ghost town. All street vendors are gone, parking lots are back to their regular use for the everyday workers, the roads are clear, and it doesn’t even look like the festival happened. This is when you get to explore the city of New Orleans. Since we didn’t plan to leave until Wednesday the next two days were to do just that.
Since we had spent the first two days doing everything pertaining to the festival, our first stop was to Bourbon Street. Bourbon Street is best known for the music, food, and parties. The street is lined with different shops, restaurants, and bars. At different times of the day, you will get a different feel. During the day there is usually less people (unless there is a major event happening) and at night it is the best place to be for excitement, dancing, music, and just overall laughs and fun. We spent time just walking around, enjoyed the famous fish bowl (drink responsibly), grabbed a few souvenirs, and had lunch at the well known Mother’s Restaurant. The food there was great so I recommend you stop by. After that we continued to walk around Canal Street just taking in the city and the different shops.
New Orleans is a vibe. The city offers so much variety that you can be overwhelmed trying to experience everything. The food is comforting and delicious. My favorites when I go are gumbo, crawfish, and jambalaya. The aroma alone will have you longing for more. The music puts you into a carefree mood. Don’t be afraid or in such a rush that you don’t stop and enjoy the many talented street performers. You will do yourself a disservice. Also if you hear or see a band performing down the road, go ahead and hop in the festivities. New Orleans teaches you to celebrate the moment and celebrate life. Do so at every opportunity.
On Tuesday we did a tour of the city. The company Cajun Encounters Tours provided a tour of New Orleans that included historic landmarks, insight into the areas of New Orleans that was struck the hardest by Hurricane Katrina, and a swamp tour. This is the best time to see as much as possible if you won’t be there that long. I like doing planned tours wherever I go because often times there is always so much to see, so you want to get in as much as possible. It is also necessary to enjoy the great taste of beignets while there. Nothing says NOLA like beignets and gumbo. The best place for beignets is the famous Café Du Monde. Again this is a popular location and tourist place, if you want to avoid lines or a wait the best time to go is after the festival is over, because there are less people in the area. Also, there is another location inside the Outlet Collection Riverwalk in the food court area along with a Fat Tuesday (in case you want another location lol).
When I went for my sorority Boule in July 2018 I was able to walk around the city again after everything was over. Another nice outside area that is near the Convention Center is the Fulton Street Square. This is a nice outdoor space where you can take a nice evening stroll, it has a nice little park area, it is family friendly, restaurant options, and a overall relaxing outdoor environment where you can wind down from all the fun. If you have time enjoy all of Canal Street and the different stores. In addition, if you are looking to test your luck with gambling the Harrah’s Casino is also near by. I tried my luck but didn’t win. Overall I enjoyed both trips to NOLA! I would definitely do Essence Fest again in the future and I look forward to going for Mardi Gras one day. Until then, I hope you enjoyed this journey.
Until next time…… (Find more pictures and videos on IG: shesenroute)