I began to let my mind wander across some of the destinations in which I’d experienced some situational sweetness.
I looked up during the entire short walk across the street from my luxury lodging at Loews New Orleans Hotel over to Vue Orleans. A 34-story view of the Loews Hotel, Mississippi River, French Quarter, Superdome, Canal Street, Garden District, and other New Orleans landmarks awaited from a new, 34-story, indoor/outdoor deck.
“I am afraid of heights,” I joked to the Vue Orleans docents after I toured my way through the colorful, musical ground-floor exhibits of the interactive attraction and eventually reached the elevator doors. You can safely describe Vue Orleans as “immersive,” and a major reason for that is the warm welcome and helpful presentations given by each of the staff docents I encountered along the way, such as the two I joked with at the elevator: Alexis and Crystal.
“Once you set foot in New Orleans you fall in love and you don’t want to go back,” said Alexis at the elevator reception stand outside the theater. “It was just one look into my eyes, and you got stuck. You fell in love with us.”
“Is it that obvious?”
“You haven’t stopped smiling since you started talking to us…and you’re blushing.”
“Guilty as charged. Should we get hitched?” I joked.
Crystal chimed, “I can be the witness!”
I confessed to the ladies I’d already been married four times.
“That’s okay. Fifth time is the charm,” Alexis laughed. “We can go to the chapel right now. Since you like New Orleans so much, we can have our honeymoon right here.”
My fun and playful elevator entrance conversation with Alexis and Crystal, who are lifetime New Orleanians and were dressed in their uniform collared shirts and vests, continued.
“You know you’ve missed three elevators now,” Crystal pointed out.
“I’m afraid of heights,” I deadpanned.
Meanwhile Alexis was making “wedding night plans.”
“We can go get a daiquiri and crawfish to start the evening. After that we have to go get a drink somewhere.”
“A drink after a drink?”
“Yep. There’s no stopping alcohol here. It’s five o’clock everywhere,” she said with a wink and a smile before Crystal chimed in.
“Bourbon Street gets sticky. It gets stuck to your shoe and stuck to your heart. I have met a lot of people who came to visit and got stuck here. You can get immersed and stuck here in a good way,” she warned. “Alexis and I are never leaving.”
Alexis nodded and added, “The culture itself here is way different than anything you’ll find anywhere. Different from Texas, Florida, Atlanta…you name it. We have our own culture.”
Part of the culture is the aforementioned drinking and partying – and everything that comes with it. Street performers with snakes and costumed people and strings-of-bead-covered brides and drummers banging on buckets, to offer a few striking snapshots.
“I am not shocked by anything. It’s New Orleans,” Alexis stated. “Everywhere you go expect something crazy to come out.”
Crystal countered, “Some things are amusing…and some are disturbing. Take Alexis, for instance. She practices voodoo.”
“Don’t say that! I do not!” Alexis protested. “People take voodoo bad but it’s not. Some people can do good, and some do bad with voodoo. I don’t do either. I have a pure heart.”
I asked Alexis and Crystal, who seemed to be authentic fonts of information, if it’s hard to handle hurricanes that pass through the Big Easy?
“You have to get Hurricane snacks. Some popcorn and chips. Maybe make it classy with some wine,” Alexis advised.
Crystal countered, “Before the storm charge up your devices. Download movies. And fill your bathtub up with water. You never know how long the power is going to be out. I over prepare by making sandwiches and such.”
Vue Orleans Is the Newest, Highest Tourist Attraction in New Orleans
I eventually bid Alexis and Crystal adieu and went into the elevator which, in itself, is a show. The panels covering the walls, on the way up, provide a video presentation showing scenes of historical, vintage New Orleans. 34 stories zoom by, and the doors open to reveal two more stories: the first, an enclosed, 360-degree, windowed viewing floor with occasional video screens to caption what landmarks below you may be looking down over and out to the horizon.
There is a fun virtual game which puts you in the pilot house and at the helm of a container ship and tests your ability to steer the freighter through the tightest bend of the entire Mississippi River, the actual banks of which are visible below right out the nearby window.
There is also a banked video screen and seating area showing a brief film called “Rising Up: Black New Orleanians Leading the Nation in the Pursuit of Equal Rights.”
One story up is the top floor: an open-air, glass-walled balcony – again 360-degrees – with a small café.
Ground Floor Anticipation
Unless you run into Alexis and Crystal like I did, you’ll naturally be inclined to hurry to get through the main-level exhibits and onto the elevator to see the scenic panoramic payoff at the top at “Vue Orleans” from its 34-story summit. But New Orleans is a sensual town, so resist the temptation to finish too quickly and let Vue Orleans take you on a timed-entry, tantric, touchless trip through its colorful exhibits before you reach its climax.
The New Orleans food scene can also be described as decadent, so while the main level exhibits serve as a starter to whet your appetite, and the observation tower is the main course, New Orleans itself is a dessert to dive into after you’ve learned about it and surveyed it from the sky.
“In New Orleans when you’re eating breakfast you are wondering what you’re going to have for lunch. At lunch you’re thinking about dinner. During dinner you’re discussing where to go for drinks,” said Drew Mills, Food and Beverage Director for Loews Hotel, which can be prominently seen from above atop Vue Orleans. But you wouldn’t skip the turtle soup to get to the catfish at Commander’s Palace Restaurant in the Garden District, so let’s have a look at the Vue Orleans ground level exhibits – my favorite of which revolved around food.
“Story Café” is made to look like a diner counter where you can sit at the stools and, via entertaining videos on the menu board, and hosted by PBS Chef Kevin Belton and “Louisiana Eats” host Poppy Tooker. The exhibit plaque reads, “find out why we eat red beans and rice on Mondays, king cake on Fat Tuesday, bananas Foster at Sunday brunch, and discover the story behind the dishes.”
You can walk through and linger at similar interactive audio and visual participatory displays featuring local artwork presenting music, history, culture, and have a chance to virtually “meet” legendary New Orleans figures such as Irma Thomas, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Henriette De Lisle, Giacomo Cusimano, and Tillie Karnofsky.
In truth if Vue Orleans ended there (and you exited through its’ gift shop) the exhibit would be worthwhile and memorable. Every docent staffer I met was very proud to present the exhibits and excited to engage me. I learned later they’d been hired based on their enthusiastic, special personalities. This friendly, welcoming, helpful element breathed true life and spirit into to Vue Orleans.
Timed tickets are $30.
Get There and Stay There
Loews Hotel New Orleans is in the arts district just across Poydras Street from Vue Orleans which is at the foot of Canal Street, the wide thoroughfare which divides the city. I love Loews because its decor incorporates New Orleans architecture, history in music in tasteful, subtle ways and its corner location, with large, ceiling to floor windows surrounding its lobby and restaurants keep guests connected to the city, its weather and its people.
As big as Loews is, it feels like a neighborhood hotel and is very close to everywhere you might wish to walk to – day or night – including the French Quarter, Natchez River Boat; Café du Monde; Saint Louis Cathedral; The National World War II Museum and Jefferson Square; Preservation Hall; Sazerac House; the Treme neighborhood and even the Superdome.
A long walk back from Lafayette Cemetery #1 in the Garden District deserves a liquid reward. Mills loves pouring handcrafted cocktails at Loews’ Bar Peters at the corner of Poydras and Peters which is also the name of the hotel’s American brasserie – where the Poydras Market stood for a decade beginning in 1838.
Vue Orleans, in one of New Orleans most recognizable (if dated) high-rise buildings, is in plain sight from the upper-story guestrooms of Loews – making it a mutual admiration society.