New Orleans » Utah football fans who get to the Crescent City on New Year's Eve might be surprised to hear the Utah Man song choreographed to fireworks bursting over the Mississippi River.
That's one of many events planned around Utah's Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl game against Alabama in the New Orleans Superdome. Bob Marshall, a veteran reporter and columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, said fans going to Bourbon Street in the days before the game will encounter big crowds.
"The whole French Quarter gets taken over by the fans of the two teams," he said. "It's a lot of fun. There are friendly cheering and drinking contests. It gets so crowded at times that there are wall-to-wall people. You can hardly move so you sit and talk and yell and scream."
Marshall said that while the city offers museums, disaster tours and outdoor adventures, Ute fans who have never visited New Orleans should plan on eating, drinking and listening to music.
And the town will be ready.
"We love having new people come to the city and love having teams come who've never been here before," said Mary Beth Romig, director of public relations for the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (www.neworleansonline.com).
One thing sure to make Utah fans feel at home is the Crescent City Countdown, a free New Years Eve Celebration that begins at 8:30 p.m. at the Decatur Street Stage in front of Jackson Square. The event includes a "gumbo pot drop" at the count of midnight to ring in the New Year followed by a Symphony in the Sky fireworks display.
The display will illuminate team colors of Utah and Alabama as well as the New Orleans Saints with fireworks choreographed to the school's fight songs. The finale features a barrage of purple, green and gold set to "Mardi Gras Mambo," followed by B. B. King's "Auld Lang Syne." Earlier in the night, some of New Orleans' top local musicians will perform.
Those who want to splurge might want to make reservations to watch the festivities from one of several large paddlewheel boats that stage celebrations on the Mississippi River. Cost of the Creole Queen (www.creolequeen.com) is $99 for adults and $69 for children for food, bar and entertainment.
Another football-related activity is the Allstate Sugar Bowl Fan Fest held near the Jax Brewery on Decatur Street on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1.
When pressed about "don't miss" things for Utah fans in New Orleans, Romig had two suggestions.
"Whatever people do they should enjoy our food," she said. "We have the best in the world from poor boys to muffalettas to a beautiful fish dish at a restaurant. You can't go wrong."
Oysters and shrimp are in season right now, making both an excellent dining choice.
Her other "must do" suggestion is to ride the St. Charles Avenue streetcar, an inexpensive and fun way to see the city and the Mississippi Riverfront. The street car dates back to the mid-1800s and is the oldest in the nation.
While there is a big casino in the heart of the city, Marshall said few tourists come to New Orleans to gamble. He said the weather is usually nice enough this time of year for visitors to walk around the French Quarter, go to music clubs and eat great food.
Much of the historic city, which was largely spared the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina on outlying areas, is walkable. People curious about the hurricane damage can take a disaster tour, though some view such tours as macabre.
"The old part of the city, the tourist part, did not flood," said Marshall. "It was the least damaged part of the metro area. It was back up and running quickly. If you hang around the French Quarter or the Garden District uptown, you will think there was never a storm. If you venture out into the center part of the city, you will still see blocks and miles of empty places where they have not been able to rebuild."
And, of course, there is the Superdome, the oldest and perhaps grandest of America's indoor sports facility. Completely rebuilt after Katrina to resemble a flying saucer on the outside, it remains an impressive structure.
"People walk in there and their jaws drop open," said Marshall.
Visitors seeking adventure can take a swamp tour by renting a kayak or going with a guide. Anglers fish for tuna and amberjack in the Gulf of Mexico, and Marshall said now is a great time to catch speckled trout and redfish. Other notable sites include the Audubon Zoo and Aquarium and the city's old churches, museums and jazz club.
Romig recommends taking time to enjoy a beignet, a little donut-like confection covered with powdered sugar, at Cafe DuMonde, the oldest coffeehouse in America, located on Jackson Square next to the Mississippi River.
Having trouble finding a way to get to New Orleans for the Jan. 2 Sugar Bowl? Or is the cost just too much?
Mary Beth Romig, director of public relations for the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation, said that while finding a direct flight from Salt Lake City to New Orleans is difficult and expensive over New Years, fans should try to fly through Atlanta, Houston and Dallas, all of which offer regular flights into New Orleans.
Another possibility would be to drive or fly to Las Vegas where there are still some decent deals for fans trying to get to New Orleans. A recent check of a few online sites for a flight departing Dec. 31 and returning on Jan. 3 turned up a deal on AirTran for $371, Delta for $434 and U.S. Airways for $494.
Finally, check out flight and rental car packages to cities within driving distance of New Orleans such as Houston, Memphis, Jackson, Miss., Baton Rouge, La., or Mobile, Ala.
Here is some trivia and history about New Orleans and Louisiana for Sugar Bowl-bound Utahns who want to understand the area's culture:
What's a Cajun?
Cajuns are descended from a specific group of Catholic, French-speaking trappers and farmers exiled from Nova Scotia by the ruling English Protestants in 1775. About 10,000 eventually settled in southwest Louisiana in what is now called Acadiana. Some later came to New Orleans neighborhoods such as Westwego. More than 1 million people of Cajun descent live in Louisiana.
What's a Creole?
Creole is a chameleon term that describes a variety of tomato, an exotic cuisine or a poetic architectural style. It also refers to people. Creoles have always been colonials versus European immigrants. The original New Orleans Creoles were thoroughbred French who were the first generation born in the colonies. The word Creole derives from the Spanish criollo or the Portuguese crioullo which distinguished a person born in the colonies from an immigrant or imported slave. In present-day New Orleans, there are people of various combinations of French, Spanish, West Indian and African ancestry who proudly call themselves Creoles.
How did New Orleans get its name?
The city was founded as a strategic port five feet below sea level near the juncture of the Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico by Sieur de la Bienville in 1718. It had to be reclaimed from a swamp. The new city was named La Nouvelle Orleans for Philippe, Duc d' Orleans, and centered around the Place d' Armes (later known as Jackson Square). It was confined to the area now called the French Quarter or Vieux Carre' (Old Square).
What was the Battle of New Orleans?
It occurred in 1815 and basically ended the War of 1812. In 1815, British troops attacked New Orleans and tried to persuade pirate Jean Lafitte to join them. Instead, Lafitte offered his men and guns to U.S. Commander General Andrew Jackson. On the morning of Jan. 8, a polyglot band of 4,000 militia, frontiersmen, former Haitian slaves and pirates outfought 8,000 British veterans at Chalmette Battlefield just a few miles east of the French Quarter. Only eight Americans died while English casualties exceeded 2,000.
Source: New Orleans Marketing and Tourism Corporation