On a preview ride aboard New Orleans’ new double-decker City Sightseeing bus, my British friend had only one disappointment: Not a single Kate Middleton moment on the French Quarter balconies speeding by at eye level.
But everything else about the open-air ride – from the unexpected breeze to expansive bird’s-eye views – makes this new way to see the city a promising bet for locals and tourists alike.
“New Orleans is perfectly suited for this type of sightseeing,” said City Sightseeing’s Michael Valentino, who has been working on getting the buses to New Orleans since before Hurricane Katrina. “When you combine the topography of the city and the panoramic views, it can’t miss.”
On Friday, New Orleans joined 95 other international cities in offering the hop-on, hop-off buses – so-called because your ticket allows you to get on and off at various stops, and spend as much time at each as you wish. In New Orleans, an 80-minute loop through the French Quarter and CBD will yield nine stops.
The journey combines transportation with narration, too, as licensed tour guides deliver tips on local lore along the way. Headsets aboard the bus can be tuned to a number of foreign languages – seven in all if you count “Cajun” and “New Orleanian.”
At a preview of the new service, Mayor Mitch Landrieu professed himself impressed by the linguistics: “I can barely speak New Orleanian,” he quipped to the crowd.
Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson was more blasé about the international aspect of the tours: After all, she pointed out, “New Orleans is the only foreign city in America.”
In fact, the potential to bring more foreign tourists to New Orleans is a big sell for the idea of a multi-lingual city tour.
“It’s hard to sell a a city internationally when there is limited language capability,” said Kim Priez, vice president of tourism for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This is one more tool to being international visitors to the city.”
Not that the new bus tours won’t deliver a local product: City Sightseeing tour leaders have been recruited from the ranks of local licensed guides, who are encouraged to add individual personalities and historical bits to their spiels.
“Locals can describe the city like no one else can,” said Valentino. “They will bring their own kind of pixie dust to make this special.”
City Sightseeing New Orleans:
Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie.