These days an action-packed corporate agenda, sampling local food favorites and Louisiana bayou discoveries can only mean one thing – a convention in The Big Easy. Just ask those attending the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association’s (FCCA) recent summer conference.
The organization’s most coveted Platinum members enjoyed a return visit, after gathering here six years earlier, shortly before Katrina arrived. The historic hurricane, the size of the Gulf of Mexico, left 88 percent of the city under water for three weeks.
That was August 2005. If anyone needs to be reminded, New Orleans has recovered – completely. Last year the city hosted 8.3 million visitors. The Army Corp of Engineers finished its massive system of levies. Memories of the Gulf oil spill are fading. Celebrated convention business once again rules, and the French Quarter remains an icon. Locals proudly remind us that the Super Bowl will be here again in 2013 – an envious tenth time (first since Katrina).
By New Orleans’ convention standards, the FCCA’s group of 120 attendees (some members returned from six years ago) is not large. While quality shines brighter than quantity, everyone agrees that continually filling the city’s estimated 33,500 hotel rooms reflects a solid comeback. Hotel guests discover what cruise passengers already know – a night or two in New Orleans is a must.
FCCA members, like many other groups coming during the post-Katrina years, make it a point to visit the incredible National WWII Museum. Considered the top attraction of its type in the United States, this marvel of machines and murals also has an eye-popping movie to end all movies. Homage is faithfully given on screen to events and people during the 1930s and 1940s.
The highlight is Beyond All Boundaries, an epic IMAX documentary film in 4D about the global conflict, produced and narrated by Tom Hanks. Sit back, watch the bombs drop and feel the seats shake. Thrills include seeing the nose cone of a B-29 Super Fortress lowered onto the fusilage to enhance an aerial combat sequence of bombers, flack and fighters.
“I came out with a ‘wow,’ ” says David Randel, VP sales for Mobile’s convention and visitors bureau. Allesandro Mencos, president of Gray Line Guatemala adds, “The movie was a perfect history lesson for my kids – and me.”
The museum (formerly known as D-day Museum) features a themed, nostalgia restaurant called The American Sector by Chef John Besh. After enjoying a dinner with photographic memorabilia surrounding you, get ready for showtime in the spirit of Bob Hope and the troops. The museum’s Stage Door Canteen completes your journey back in time with the Victory Belles, a harmonic trio of talented singers, who perform tunes from the era. Visitors like Judy and John Reeve, conventioneers from the Virgin Islands, remember the lyrics with lip-sync accuracy – I’ll be with you in Apple Blossom Time.
Right now dinner and a show wrapped around WWII costs $60. Reservations are recommended. Spectacular additions are planned for the museum. More buildings and displays are coming, including a restored PT Boat.
Kudos and hospitality converge in New Orleans
All conferences bestow accolades. FCCA gave recognition to Gary LaGrange, president and CEO for the port of New Orleans. “We wake up every morning with the intent to build a bigger and better community,” says Mr. LaGrange. “We’re not doing it alone. It is the cruise industry that brought life back to New Orleans after Katrina.”
Carnival Cruise Line’s Gordon Buck, remembers those tenuous times following the storm. “We had two ships docked here to house those who arrived to help in the aftermath.”
As with other conferences held in the Crescent City, New Orleans Tours transports delegates to local attractions like the famous Oak Alley Plantation and Jean Lefitte Swamp Tour. Lucky sightseers who are escorted by veteran guide Wolf Kassmeier hear colorful local lore, as well as some of the area’s misperceptions. The job of the Greater New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau is to dispel them.
Take the test – True or false?
- There is only Bourbon Street. Hey, this stretch of jazzy neon signs rocks, but it is only a small part of the historic French Quarter – a 13-block area unscarred by the Civil War.
- The city is located on the Gulf of Mexico and is loaded with casinos. Actually New Orleans is upriver about 105 miles north of the Gulf, on both banks of the Mississippi River Delta. As for casinos, local government allows only one – Harrah’s. And there are no beaches.
- Everyday city’s population has breakfast at Café Du Monde.
- Some people want to see the waters of Katrina. Others think they will see nothing at all.
FCCA’s contingent of elite members, plus the accompanying cruise industry executives (like so many others), visited the Museum of Art, Audubon Aquarium and Audubon Zoo – all ranked among the nation’s best. “I haven’t been to a zoo since I was a child,” says Cesar Navarro Lopez, from Costa Maya, Mexico. “It was great fun. I learned that elephants can forget.”