Wheelchair Accessible New Orleans
By Steve
Coveney & Janet Doherty © 2005

Steve and Janet Doherty share their impressions of a  trip to "The Big Easy." Janet's report is in plain text, and Steve's comments are in italics. Steve included a handy list of links to many of the places they visited. Don't miss the link to his trip photos at the end of their article.

My husband Steve and I just returned from New Orleans, and we want to share our experience with you.  Steve is a polio survivor and he uses a non-motorized wheelchair to get around on our trips. 

We stayed in the French Quarter at the Dauphine Orleans and we stayed in the disability-friendly room.  We really enjoyed the hotel which is one block back from Bourbon Street.  A convenient location without the noise, or smell, of Bourbon Street.  The room we stayed in (#212) faced out on a brick wall but it was clean, comfortable and quiet.

The room was pretty good from an accessibility viewpoint but it had three problems. The bathroom floor, smooth tiles, didn’t provide much traction for crutch tips once it got wet.  They could have used a couple more grab bars: one in the shower and another near the toilet. There was a shower chair but it was shaky because it had a loose wing nut underneath.  Janet tightened it and the chair was fine after that. One other thing, the hotel seemed to be short on those chairs because at one point they called to ask if I still needed it.  The shower head was usable either mounted on the wall or hand held.

The hotel had two small elevators (Steve and his wheelchair, plus myself just, just fit in. The elevators were quick to close but there is a knob that can be pulled to make the doors stay open until you're settled. Don’t worry about the alarm bell. If you enter through the street-level garage which most of the guests do, the elevators are right there and there are no stairs or curbs to contend with.

We cannot recommend taking the Airport Shuttle.  Evidently, they have a van with a wheelchair lift but we never saw it.  Even though we specifically asked for it.  I had read that reservations should be made early on for the van with the lift so I made reservations about six weeks beforehand.  We arrived at the airport, and there was no van.  I was told that I should have paid via credit card when I made the reservation.   tried to pay them at the time of reservation but was told it wasn't necessary. Well hindsight is 20/20, and I probably should have called a few days beforehand to firm up the reservation.  So for the return trip home, I called two days beforehand and did confirm the reservation.  I once again offered up my credit card number but was told I would have to pay by cash.  No big deal. The van showed up at 9:30 a.m. as scheduled, but there was no wheelchair lift. At that point, we were told that generally the wheelchair lift van was used for motorized wheelchairs only. But they had never asked what kind of wheelchair we had.  So we called a cab.  Again.

New Orlean's sidewalks are good in some places and pretty bad in others. But in general we didn't have a hard time getting around. I am accustomed to lifting the wheelchair slightly when a surface is not smooth. They have a lot of brick and flagstone sidewalks, and these are not always the best for wheelchairs.   There are side streets in the Garden District where tree roots have forced the sidewalks up and the going is sometimes blocked. Curb cuts can be spotty too and you may find yourself doubling back a bit or going out onto the street for short stretches. This was not a big problem though because the area is nice, the streets are wide and the traffic was light.  In the French Quarter there’s a lot of pavement that’s cracked and uneven. A chair will roll over most of it but some spots will catch the front wheels and it’s good to watch for those. 

We took a steamboat cruise on the Mississippi River, (the Steamboat Natchez), and it was totally wheelchair friendly.  Boarding was easy and at the end of the cruise wheelchair passengers disembarked first.  And, like everything else around the French Quarter, it was easy to get to, just about a five minute walk from Decatur Street to the ticket booths.  

We were also able to go on a swamp tour at Honey Island, which is not wheelchair accessible.  Using his crutches, Steve was able to board the boat. To get off, we wheeled the chair right down to the edge of the boat and he was able to slide into it. A big thanks to fellow passenger Jim from North Dakota.  I couldn’t lift my leg high enough to get out of the boat and he was the one to suggest sliding off backwards. Turns out that like myself his brother had polio many years ago and Jim was an old hand at things wheelchair.

New Orleans has three streetcar lines. We hear that the red streetcars are wheelchair accessible (the Canal Street line and the Riverfront line). The green streetcars which take you to the Garden District are not wheelchair accessible.  They’ve been listed as a National Historic something or other and are therefore not covered by the ADA.  I think it’s kind of a dodge but they’re nice old trolleys so I’m not going to say much even though I couldn’t ride one.  Also, having ridden Boston’s old trolley cars in the 50’s and 60’s I have to say the experience is somewhat overrated.   We went to the Garden District twice and took the Magazine Street bus which had a lift.  All the city buses do.  The buses were great and the drivers helpful and competent.  Also, out on Magazine Street the curb cuts are plentiful.  You can catch the Magazine Street bus at the corner of Canal and Magazine Streets, just outside the French Quarter. 

The cemeteries where the Creoles preferred to be buried are all on the outer edges of the old city.  There are various tours available but we were not able to find one that could accommodate a wheelchair.  There is a small cemetery where the Americans were buried (Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 on Washington Street in the Garden District) which we were able to tour on our own.  The pathways are mostly hard packed dirt, bumpy and uneven in places but we got around well enough. We had heard that some of the cemeteries in New Orleans were not safe, muggers etc., but there were plenty of other tourists around when we went and safety was not an issue. 

Across the street is the fine, fine restaurant Commander’s Palace and it has a ramp. Emeril LaGasse got his start there as did Paul Prudhomme and the whole blackened cooking thing. Do go in for lunch.  It is one of the best restaurants in the city. Lunchtime prices are quite reasonable, especially considering what you get, and it is well worth it.  Did I mention they feature martinis for 25 cents?  And make sure you try the Turtle Soup – it’s indescribably delicious.

Mother’s: Mother’s is a terrific place to eat. Located just outside the French Quarter it’s famous for its Po’Boys, wonderful sandwiches at reasonable prices. Try the Ferdi Special and or the fried oyster po’boy. Mmmm!  Accessibility? There are no stairs and they have a wheelchair ramp right out front. At the top is a set of nice wide double doors. While we were there, we saw two other parties that had folks in wheelchairs.

Places on Bourbon street were mixed.  Some you can roll right in and others may have a step or two or even three. We went to a club one night (the 544 Club), where we saw the All Purpose Blues Band. There was one step up to get inside but it was manageable for us.  They offered to lift the chair but it was not necessary. This was true at several places, people were quick to offer to push or lift. 

Café du Monde had no stairs. It’s an open air café and you just roll right in off the sidewalk.  It’s crowded usually but informal too and people move or pull their feet in if need be.

The aisles at Central Grocery on Decatur Street were too tight for a wheelchair but that didn't stop us from getting a Muffuletta sandwich and eating it across the street.  If you like a good cold cut sandwich on a good roll try one of these. They’re big too so you can share with someone.

The Acme Oyster House is wheelchair accessible and they have doormen so getting in and out is easy.   

Bayona is another top quality New Orleans restaurant.  The day before we went there for dinner we made reservations.   Because there was one high step up into the dining room they had two men waiting for us when we arrived and they were ready to assist us with entering.   This is something I could have managed on my own but it was nice that they were so well prepared.  Bayona also features patio dining. 

Other than the one at the airport I only saw one public restroom while I was there.  It’s was in the Starbuck’s in the Garden District at the corner of Washington and Magazine,(2 minutes from Commander’s Palace and the cemetery).   It was clean and wheelchair accessible with no problem and the location couldn’t have been more convenient.   

All in all, a fun trip and not too hard on either of us. Pictures of the trip are posted at flickr.com under the name candlemaker .

We've used your site in the past, and are happy to be able to finally contribute.  Thanks, Janet Doherty and Steve Coveney.

List of links including a link to pictures

http://www.dauphineorleans.com/

http://www.steamboatnatchez.com/

http://www.honeyislandswamp.com/

http://www.commanderspalace.com/

http://members.aol.com/crescntcem/page_lafayette_1.html

http://www.mothersrestaurant.net/

http://www.cafedumonde.com/

http://www.usrg.com/script/byrestaurant.asp?ID=611581   Central Grocery

http://www.acmeoyster.com/

http://www.bayona.com/flash_content/bayona.htm

http://flickr.com/photos/99805939@N00/sets/236618/  Pictures

http://www.allpurposeblues.com/

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