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If you're dreaming of spicing up your summer, then head to New Orleans, Louisiana and experience a world of excitement and sunshine. Let the Big Easy's decadent French architecture serve as a backdrop for an adventure into a world of exotic Creole food, riverboats on the Mississippi, and funky and artistic afternoons. And with the deals we found on hotels, vacations, and activities, you can do it all on a dime.Louisiana's favorite son is jazz legend Louis Armstrong. And indeed, New Orleans is so proud of him that it named the first structure to greet visitors after him, the Louis Armstrong International Airport. Book a cheap 1-way flight from Southwest Airlines (from $54.30, a low by $50; expires July 31) or a roundtrip ticket from American Airlines (from $133.60, a low by $19; expires July 30) for a visit. If you prefer buying your flight and hotel together, then checkout the latest vacation package sale from Southwest Airlines where you can save up to 60% off select hotels when you book with a flight. Plus you'll get $25 off per night for up to five nights via coupon code "NEWORLE125" (expires August 2).
From the airport you can hop on the airport shuttle (1-way, $20 per person), which will deposit you at any of the hotels in the Central Business District. Once you're in the CBD, jump straight into The Big Easy's elegant magic with a 2-night stay at The Pelham Hotel (from $138.60, a low by $48; expires September 29). With 18-foot ceilings and 10-foot tall windows, you'll begin to feel they city's unique enchantment take hold of you.
What's also great about New Orleans is that it's a pedestrian-friendly city; embrace being car-free with a comfortable pair of shoes and a centrally-located hotel. The French Quarter is considered to be the epicenter of New Orleans' nightlife and the perfect place for dining and imbibing. You can reside in style with a 2-night stay for two at the 4-star Bourbon Orleans Hotel (from $238, a low by $20; expires July 27), fittingly located on the famed and lively Bourbon Street. In addition to your sleek and regal French-Quarter Queen Room, this offer includes welcome drinks, daily breakfast for two, and two vouchers for a "Jazz Brunch" at the Court of Two Sisters Restaurant.
While you're in The French Quarter, laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll!) by visiting the historic French Market (pictured above). Situated on the banks of the Mississippi, this market actually began as a Native American trading post. And if you're interested in experiencing Louisiana's unique Creole culture, a 2-night stay at the Hotel Royal French Quarter, coupled with two harbor cruise tickets aboard the Steamboat Natchez (from $156, a low by $5; expires July 30), will give you a glimpse back in time. The boutique Hotel Royal is a renovated Creole townhouse that dates back to 1827. The Steamboat Natchez is the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi and serves up Creole food and music alongside conviviality and southern hospitality.Speaking of cuisine, a word to the wise: Many tourists come to New Orleans under the impression that it's the home of Cajun food. In fact, Cajun food wasn't introduced to New Orleans until the late '70s and actually originates from the Acadiana section of Louisiana. That doesn't mean you won't find plenty of restaurants advertising Cajun everything, but be warned that it may have more to do with getting tourists through the door than the flavor of the food — which means your dollars might be better spent elsewhere.
If you're looking for something more reserved, then perhaps The Westin New Orleans Canal Place (from $109, a low by $30; expires August 2) is more your speed. With postcard views of the river out front and access to the New Orleans Streetcar line out back, this hotel is also ideally situated for strolling around the French Quarter and exploring the profusion of restaurants and cafes. And no trip to this neighborhood is complete without a stop at the Café Du Monde on Jackson Square, where you must try the beignets. (They are, after all, the state doughnut of Louisiana.) Café Du Monde's beignets are a creole variation on the original french fritter, served with powdered sugar on top and ideally accompanied by a cafe au lait or chicory coffee.
To walk off some of the delicious cuisine, go explore the St. Louis Cathedral, the Cabildo, and the Moon Walk. Or, let the city draw you in; you never know what you'll encounter when you ditch the guidebook and wander the charismatic streets and back alleys. While you're wandering the neighborhood, try and make your way out of the French Quarter, into the nearby Business and Arts District and through the Creole quarter of Tremé — easily accessed by the city's streetcar system.
New Orleans is billed as "America's Most Interesting City" and for good reason. Here the old world and the new world coexist side by side, and the timeless Mississippi keeps the rhythm at a steady beat. Take the opportunity to reset your own internal clock by finding accommodations near the water with a 2-night stay at the Hilton New Orleans Riverside Hotel ($99, a low by $20; expires August 1). From there, you'll be able to sip your Creole Bloody Mary at sunset while watching the riverboats go by. (You'll also receive a $25 food rebate for up to four days, but don't blow it all on Bloody Marys!)
Of course, New Orleans is not without its more complex side. Along with music and food, the African diaspora brought religion and superstitions to New Orleans. Voodoo and the occult, mixed with the city's French roots and tempestuous history, are behind the city's bright colors and sunshine. A New Orleans Spirit Walking Tour for two ($15, a low by $15; expires July 28) will take you back through the sinister history of the Vieux Carré (French Quarter) and introduce you to the city's famous spirits and spectres. You can also check out Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo on Bourbon Street for all your love potion and gris-gris needs.
If you want to get out of the city, an hour's drive north will bring you to Kliebert's Turtle and Alligator Farm in Hammond, Louisiana. Two tickets for a 1-hour guided tour ($12, a low by $12; expires July 29) will allow you to discover the park's 47,000 turtles, a Nile crocodile, and a 17-foot long python!
Between the music, cuisine, and pythons, New Orleans seems to have more than enough to offer. But maybe the city down south isn't what you're in the mood for. Check out our weekly roundup of the top travel deals for additional discounted flights, hotels, and vacation packages.
Note that this feature has been updated since it was originally published in February. At the time of publication, these travel deals offered the lowest prices we could find. Deals may include blackout dates, additional taxes, and fees. Some of our prices may be based on mandatory double occupancy.