Southern Style Tours gives first-time visitors and longtime residents alike a mind-stretching perspective of New Orleans heritage and culture from its fleet of small coaches, which seat no more than 25 people. The three-hour tour begins with an in-depth look at both the greenery-bedecked Garden District and the historic French Quarter, so named because it is shaped like a quarter. Southern Style's expert guides narrate the journey, cruising by important buildings and ethnic enclaves and getting special notice of celebrity homes, including those of Sandra Bullock, the Manning family, and all three Musketeers. The group eventually disembarks for a short walking tour of the St. Louis Cemetery #3 and its gothic, aboveground tombs.
For more than three decades, Save Our Cemeteries has preserved the architectural and cultural beauty of historic cemeteries with restoration work, lectures, photography sales, and guided tours of the city's above-ground coffin repositories. At 10 a.m. from Friday through Sunday, cemetery sightseers can take a gander at the oven wall vaults and stone tombs of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which was founded in 1789 as the burial ground for famous Louisianan revolutionaries, chess champions, and voodoo queen Marie Laveau.
Vincent Catalanotto, the licensed guide of Authentic New Orleans History Bicycle Tours, leads curious cyclists around the little-known sites of his illustrious city while spinning yarns about its history. On provided cruiser bicycles, up to four tour-takers start and end their journey at Louisiana Music Factory in the French Quarter, pedaling to the American Sector and back while making intimidating motorcycle noises with their mouths. Riding through the French Quarter, Vincent tells about Jackson Square and the French Market, where Native Americans once traded pelts and other valuable goods, and which now houses shops, restaurants, and a farmers' market. Vincent also shares tales about New Orleans’ “mayor” of Storyville, tension between the French and Americans, and the first Mardi Gras ball in 1857, as he delivers detailed history ranging from the 1600s to present-day New Orleans, as well as the future New Orleans that will be powered solely by running hamsters.
With its maiden voyage held a mere 30 years ago, the "Paddlewheeler Creole Queen" seems to break the rules of time. From its outside, the vessel looks straight out of the 1800s. A giant, 24-foot paddle wheel propels the boat up and down the Mississippi River, and its soft lighting, wrought-iron trim, and Victorian-style draperies call to mind a bygone era. Look past those features, however, and you find modern equipment. Air conditioning and heating keep things comfortable, while a fuel-efficient, diesel-electric engine would make a steam-powered vessel scream like a tea kettle with envy.
Once that engine churns to life, the paddle wheeler can take more than 800 passengers at a time on two types of tours. A Creole buffet and live music take over the interior dining rooms during the Dinner Jazz Cruise. The Chalmette Battlefield River Cruise, on the other hand, focuses on history, with the captain spinning tails of local landmarks and key events, and the passengers disembarking to explore the historic site of the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.
Frommer's calls Historic New Orleans Tours "the place to go for authenticity rather than sensationalism," lauding the knowledgeable, entertaining guides and decreeing "we cannot recommend them enough." It's one of many publications that have sung the company's praises, due in no small part to owner Robert Florence's passion for and knowledge of local history. The published author and his crew take people on a variety of foot-, van-, and boat-based journeys, ranging from cruises through the Louisiana swamp to a ride past areas that are rebounding from Hurricane Katrina. On walking tours, guides regale patrons with humorous and tragic stories about voodoo cemeteries and the history or organized crime in New Orleans, from Jean Lafitte’s piracy to the first home of the American Mafia.