Planes, trains and boats
Frequent fliers who live in New Orleans may not agree on a favorite destination, but they can agree on one thing: The world is a big place, and for New Orleanians, it seems even bigger. Unless international travel plans include Toronto, Canada, or San Pedro Sula, Honduras, New Orleans globe-trotters can bank on one certainty: stopping before reaching their final international destination.
From New Orleans, it’s often the old fly-west-to-go-east, north-to-go-south game. For example, to get to London, you may first go to Houston; to go to Montego Bay, Jamaica, you may first find yourself in Atlanta. American Airlines offers a reasonable winter fare to San Juan, Puerto Rico. The catch, in some cases, is that you have to fly via Chicago.
So where can New Orleanians go for a quick, direct getaway? Nineteen airlines fly nonstop to 41 domestic cities. You can do museums in Washington, D.C.; historical neighborhoods in Boston; the Colorado outdoors in and around Denver; the casinos in Las Vegas; and shopping, deserts and ghost towns in and around Phoenix. Philadelphia is a short noninterrupted jump, too – although four of its daily nonstops are on the struggling US Airways. The other is on Southwest.
Those dreaming of California can get to Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego without pit-stopping. The Florida-bound can choose from Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale or Miami. And in just about an hour, travelers can be in Memphis or Nashville, Tenn., or Birmingham, Ala.
For New Orleanians, it’s also a cinch to get to travel hubs: There are 29 nonstop flights to Houston per day; 23 to Dallas; and 15 to Atlanta. There are nine daily nonstops each to Chicago and the New York City area airports (including Newark). From New Orleans, Northwest Airlines makes three nonstops per day to both its Minneapolis and Detroit hubs. From those cities, Northwest can connect you to Asia.
When planning a trip, don’t forget about low-cost carrier options: Southwest, America West, AirTran, Midwest, JetBlue and Frontier all operate flights out of New Orleans. Further, a few are starting to fly international, but you’ll have to travel to their hubs. For example, JetBlue offers cheap flights to the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas from its JFK hub. America West is flying to Mexico destinations such as Los Cabos, Guadalajara and Acapulco and to Costa Rica, but from Phoenix.
Although traveling by plane is about getting to your destination as quickly as possible, this goal is sometimes impeded by delays and layovers. How do you make the best of it? First, travel prepared. Take books, magazines, work and, if you are OK with lugging it around for the remainder of your trip, a laptop. With it, you can watch DVDs and, in most airports, access the Internet for a fee.
Air travel is also made easier if you achieve status with an airline’s frequent-flier program. Loyalty brings comfort: You can breeze through check-in lines, board the aircraft first and snag free upgrades when available. First-class passengers also get the privilege of access to the business-class lounge, which offers free refreshments, alcoholic beverages, snacks, newspapers, magazines, TVs and sometimes free Internet access. Some airlines allow other passengers to use their lounges for a fee, usually about $40. The quality of the goods and services in a business-class lounge varies by airport location and by carrier.
While planes usually mean convenience (barring layovers and delays), trains are about the journey.
Should you want to travel the old-fashioned way from New Orleans, three Amtrak trains pass through the city, two of which pay tribute in their route names. The Crescent rolls from New Orleans to New York, and The City of New Orleans carries passengers to Chicago. New Orleans is also a stop for the Sunset Limited, which travels from sea to sea, from Orlando, Fla., to Los Angeles.
The journey to Los Angeles is approximately 45 hours. To New York, it’s 30 hours and to Chicago, 19. You can book a coach ticket and sit (or recline) for the length of your journey, or you can reserve a sleeper. When you book a sleeper, you are considered a first-class passenger and are entitled to complimentary meals in the dining car and other amenities such as daily newspapers, bottled water and access to the station lounges (where available). The difference in price is often substantial. As of press time, a one-way reserved coach fare to Los Angeles for departure in February is $112 per person. Add an additional $410 to this fare for a “roomette” that sleeps two adults. That means it’s $634 for two adults to travel one-way to Los Angeles.
As part of the “Trails and Rails” program, National Park Service guides are onboard the Sunset Limited between New Orleans and Houston. Other perks are the people you meet and the glimpses of America. On the Sunset Limited, for example, you’ll cross the Rio Grande, get within 30 feet of the Mexico border, and whiz by the scenic Palm Springs desert.
For train luxury, American Orient Express takes you on stylish journeys on board its 1940s and 1950s-built carriages, with dark mahogany walls, brass fixtures, plush upholstered furnishings and even a baby grand. Guests can participate in lectures, tours and side trips and are treated to gourmet meals; think high-end cruise but without the water. Its “Antebellum South” excursion leaves the city bound for D.C. at different times in the spring. The six-night trip starts at approximately $3,000 per person based on double occupancy.
Should you get antsy on your journey, I recommend The Size of The World by Jeff Greenwald for a lesson in patience. Greenwald circumnavigated the globe without letting his feet ever leave the ground (that means no planes), although he was sorely tempted. His delays sometimes lasted weeks.
Then there’s travel by sea, also more about the journey and pure pampering and indulgence. But the benefit is that you get to while away days in different ports. Ships leaving from New Orleans make stops in the western Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. The Norwegian and Royal Caribbean lines each have a ship in New Orleans from the fall until the spring. Carnival home ports two ships here year-round.
The floating version of the Orient Express, at least nostalgically speaking, is the Delta Queen. The steamboat is a National Historic Landmark. It takes weeklong Mississippi River trips, give or take a day, throughout the year, traveling mostly from and to New Orleans in the winter, spring and fall. It then explores upriver towns on the Mississippi throughout the summer. The six-deck Mississippi Queen, which was built in 1976, keeps nearly the same schedule as the Delta Queen. The lavish American Queen was deemed the largest steamboat ever built when she launched in 1995. The AQ is pretty much dedicated to three- and four-night round-trip itineraries from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, except in the summers, when she makes weeklong Memphis-to-New Orleans runs.
New Orleanians can also hit the water on a barge with RiverBarge Excursions. Trips such as the “Route of Jean Lafitte,” “Cajuns and Creoles,” and “Bayous and Buccaneers,” run to and from New Orleans, using the Mississippi River, the Atchafalaya River and the Intracoastal Waterway.
So while New Orleans may not be as rich in flight options as Houston and Atlanta, we’ve got other ways to escape.