Tuesday, March 8, 2011

"Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler"

They're partying in Brazil - and in New Orleans - where the tradition of celebrating Mardi Gras can be traced back to French-Canadian explorers in 1703.

It was about three years ago that ConferenceDirect held its Annual Partner Meeting in "N'Awlins", and my colleague Kelly Cyr and I spent a day exploring some of the city's finest hotels. The Quarter - post-Katrina - was looking better than I'd ever seen it, and since then air lift from Canada has improved considerably.

One of only three 4-Diamond hotels located in the famed French Quarter, this historic property is 4th generation family owned and operated and has recently undergone $65 million in renovations. With 600 guestrooms and more than 21,000 sq.ft. of meeting space, the hotel offers a wide range of modern amenities including a business centre and wireless internet access amid a decidedly historic ambiance (complete with requisite ghostly sightings!). The barstools of the famous Carousel Bar are brightly painted with circus animals, and the bar itself, covered with a gilded canopy, actually revolves like a real carousel.

THE RITZ CARLTON NEW ORLEANSComparable in size (with 527 guestrooms and over 23,000 sq.ft. of meeting space) and replete with original artworks, this luxury property is located on Canal Street, at the edge of the French Quarter and three blocks away from the Garden District. Elegant and luxurious, the hotel showed beautifully. Even the green and purple Mardi-gras colour scheme in some of the guest rooms worked. Billed as the city’s only full-service spa, the Ritz-Carlton Spa is a 20,000 sq.ft facility featuring its own Fitness and Wellness Centre, Beauty Salon, and Café which can be used for companion programs and lunches.

I remember this hotel when it was Le Meridien New Orleans, and although re-flagged, the property retains its European sensibilities, including an intimate lobby and Gallic touches such as the signature “Ile de France” Ballroom. The 494 rooms and suites feature Marriott Revive beds and linens, and there’s 19,000 sq.ft. of meeting space. Like the Ritz, the JW Marriott is located on Canal Street, across from the French Quarter, and within walking distance of various attractions and a wide variety of shopping options.

Topping the Ritz ever-so-slightly on the luxury meter, the Windsor Court is the only hotel in New Orleans rated with both 4 Stars and 4 Diamonds. With a disproportionate number of suites (264) versus regular/deluxe guestrooms (58) guests are treated to an exceptional VIP experience. The largest “Chinoiserie” ballroom is just over 4,500 sq.ft. and is representative of the intimate and elegant function space available. Located just behind Harrah’s Casino, The Windsor Court is a short walk from the French Quarter, shopping, and riverfront attractions.

RENAISSANCE ARTS HOTELCan you say “Tchoupitoulas Street”? That’s where this boutique-like property is located, in what’s known as the city’s “Warehouse District”, a stone’s throw from the New Orleans Convention Centre. In fact the hotel itself is built in a remodeled 1910 warehouse, updated with modern amenities, a whimsical décor, and original contemporary art, much of it local. With just over 200 guestrooms and 5,000 sq.ft. of meeting space, the Renaissance Arts is compact in size but “full” on service.

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