High Notes at Loews

A family escapes to the Loews New Orleans

By: Maribeth Mellin

NEW ORLEANS The luggage cart looked like a mini moving van. Squeals of protest from a cat carrier perched atop suitcases, a cooler, a litter box and extraneous plastic bags drew startled stares. The grandkids curbed their curiosity with great effort while exploring the elegant lobby at the Loews New Orleans Hotel. Our family weekend escape had begun.

Once our bodies and bags reached our rooms, Squeaker (an opinionated kitty) dashed under the bed in the grandparents’ retreat. The boys, ages four and six, were thrilled to find a TV by the foldout couch in the adjoining room. Then their eyes fell upon the 12th-story view of tiny cars in the street, and they soon were mesmerized. Their parents collapsed on the cushy bed.

We all (sans cat) headed back to the lobby for lunch at Adelaide’s, the hotel’s chic restaurant. The grownups’ anxiety level rose as they surveyed crystal and linen. The lack of a kid’s menu didn’t help their nerves. Brian and Jason were not interested in a hamburger topped with fried oysters, Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions. Not to worry the chef created perfect kid-sized plain burgers on white buns with fries.

A tray of cookies and milk arrived shortly after we returned to our rooms. Michele and Doug, the boys’ parents, gradually relaxed.

At first glance, the Loews New Orleans, which opened last December, looks like a dedicated business hotel. Suits are more common than shorts in the trendy Swizzle Bar and gracious lobby. Convention badges are de rigueur. Built atop an eight-story enclosed garage in a reconstructed office building, the Loews is ideally located near the Riverwalk, Harrah’s Casino and the World Trade Center. Most rooms are over 400 square feet and have sleek desks and cordless phones. The brown on beige decor is soothing; touches like chenille throws on the beds add a touch of home.

Turns out the rooms are perfect for families and pets as well as businessmen. Squeaker received a floor mat for her food and water dishes and a packet of dog biscuits (she was the hotel’s first feline guest). She found a hiding place behind the drapes and grew fond of the window ledge. The housekeeper carefully kept the door closed and skipped vacuuming pet guestrooms are cleaned with specially filtered vacuums to remove allergens after checkout.

“The Loews Loves Pets Program is by far the most lenient around,” said Zach Curry, director of marketing at the New Orleans hotel. “We’ve got pets galore.”

According to Curry, the hotel’s popularity with leisure travelers has been a surprise. “We did not fully understand how busy the weekends would be,” he said. “When we ended up with a lot of kids staying here we added a Family Concierge.”

The Loews Loves Kids program is one of the best in the industry, offering everything from cribs to CD players on loan for music-starved teens. Adapting a business hotel to fit the program involves some creative adjustments, however.

The New Orleans pool, encased by glass walls, is indoors at the spa. No waterslides and umbrella-topped tables here, just a hot tub and sauna in the room with the narrow lap pool a serious swimmer’s delight. We all viewed the situation with trepidation.

But you can’t stop two boys who have endured a three-hour drive and formal lunch. A few minutes after Brian and Jason slid into the pool (after lectures on proper etiquette and noise levels), a spa attendant arrived with foam floats and beach balls. We ended up spending a lot of time here, often in the company of other children before bedtime.

We chose the Loews in part because of its proximity to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, our main destination in New Orleans. Our first morning was devoted to seahorses, jellyfish and penguins, followed by a ferry ride across the Mississippi River.

The food court at the Riverwalk Marketplace between the aquarium and hotel satisfied each person’s cravings for a late lunch. Our table was covered with a global culinary tour Greek salad, a po’ boy and pizza. We discovered that it’s not a good idea to sample beignets in a bag from the Cafe du Monde outlet in the mall they get cold and chalky with powdered sugar quickly. Wait until you can sit at the original cafe and watch the calmer side of the French Quarter as you savor chicory coffee and fresh, hot beignets.

In general, the Bourbon Street scene is hardly family-friendly I wanted to cover the kids’ eyes when we strolled through the Quarter one evening. Tourists stumble from neon-lit bar to bar carrying plastic daiquiri glasses while a cacophonous mix of jazz, blues and rock blares in the street. We happened upon a jazz funeral with grown-ups dressed up for dinner tossing beads in the air. Turned out the participants were actually conventioneers parading in a mock funeral, a common occurrence in the Quarter.

The kids were more fascinated with parking meters and fire hydrants than the signs for semi-nude bars, and nearly became unglued in the voodoo shops. Days afterward, when asked what they liked best about the mini vacation, there was little hesitation.

“The pool,” they replied in unison. The view from their hotel room came in second, followed by sights and scenes at the aquarium. We probably could have just stayed in the hotel the whole weekend and they would have been happy.

Their introduction to New Orleans was a grand success, and Squeaker survived admirably. She clung to the carpet when it was time to leave, and whined all the way to the car. Seems the Loews knows how to treat families and pets.

Hotel Checklist

Loews New Orleans Hotel
300 Poydras St.
New Orleans, LA 70130

Hits: Special programs for kids, pets, teenagers and grandparents all add a personal touch. The “Did You Forget?” closet contains everything from gym shoes to evening bags, all available on loan for a nominal fee.

Misses: At $27 per night, the parking fee adds up. Harrah’s Casino, across the street, offers free parking if you use your Harrah’s card and play the slots for 30 minutes each day.

Be Aware: The only pool is in the enclosed spa, and is ideal for swimming laps but not for splashing kids. Be sure to ask about special programs when booking a room.

Plugging In: High-speed connection is available in the rooms. Rooms have two phones, one a cordless/speaker phone. All rooms have irons, ironing boards, hairdryers and coffee makers.

Clientele: Business travelers and conventioneers during the week, families and leisure groups on weekends. The business-leisure split is 50-50.

Rates: Room rates start at $149 for a standard double. The hotel is offering a special $75 per night rate for travel agents through 2004.

Commission: 15 percent through 2004.