This year was the first year that I attended the New Orleans Essence Festival AND I am so excited to share with you on how you can take the same trip, be on a budget, AND still have a VIP experience. I hate going on vacation feeling like you are barely getting by, staying in a roach motel, and struggling to afford food. That is not a vacation, and that is not fun. Instead, I am going to tell you how to ball on a budget.
Lets get into it yall!
New Orleans Essence Festival Get The VIP Experience On A Budget
New Orleans essence festival #1 Where To Stay
As with most trips whenever you are going somewhere during a high peak time the prices for EVERYTHING is going to go through the roof. In this instance the New Orleans Essence Festival was going on, and with the success of the recent movie Girl’s Trip, the number of people who came to the festival was INSANE. As I said, the whole point of this is to experience a VIP treatment on a budget.
To give you an example, hotels in New Orleans around Essence Fest were somewhere like $500 plus a night. And those were rooms that had two double beds only. Instead, consider an Airbnb. I cannot tell you how much of a substantial difference this makes. I stayed on New Orleans from July 5-8, and the entire cost was about $1100. That still sounds like a lot right? Not if you split the cost between 6 people, bringing the cost of lodging per person for three nights to $183.
Our Airbnb was a three bedroom home that had an awesome decked out patio, and we had more privacy to bring in drinks, food, play loud music, and do things that a hotel would not let you do. Location is also key. You will pay more to stay on places like the French Quarter or right off of Bourbon street. The Air BnB we stayed at was 5 blocks away from the streetcar and took us everywhere we wanted to go.
New Orleans essence festival #2 How To Get Around
The streetcar was the most accessible mode of transportation for us aside from an Uber or a Lyft. But remember we are cost-effective. For a one day, pass the cost was $3.00. Or really the day pass was more like a 24-hour pass. The first day we took the streetcar, we got out around 2 pm. Our $ 3.00-day pass was good until 2 pm the next day.
Since it was so packed at Essence Fest, there were plenty of times that we did not have to pay for a streetcar ticket at all. The driver was like “this is way too many people just get on the streetcar.” It was more of a hassle to count tickets, so they just let people ride for free. Taking the streetcar can get you to the Convention Center where Essence Fest is, near the Super dome where the concert is, as well as other New Orleans Specific locations such as shopping areas, the Casino (where I won $20 in poker by the way), and Bourbon Street.
New Orleans essence festival #3 The Concert
The concerts at Essence Fest are from 6pm-11pm every night. Essence fest does sell three-night tickets ranging from $160 to several thousand dollars. Of course, you can get the cheapest tickets for all three nights that will cost you $160. At that price, you will be so far in the nosebleed section that the people on the stage will look like a dot.
Instead, choose a closer seat and select a one-night concert ticket over all three nights. Look at the lineup and pick the best night to go, we went on a Saturday. New Orleans has so much to offer anyway; you do not want to spend every night at the Super dome watching a concert every night. For the same $160 price we got floor seating, expedited entrance to the Superdome (as opposed to waiting 30 plus minutes for the nosebleed seats we got in within 3 minutes) and we got an excellent view of the stage
New Orleans essence festival #4 The Convention Center
This is where most of the activities happen for the Essence Festival during the day, and it is FREE to get into. I recommend you download the app to find out all of what is going one. The free events include listening to the empowerment sessions, speakers, and even seeing some celebs. You do have to register for this event, but the registration is free. There are some add-ons that you can do such as networking events or the beauty bungalow. These events are an additional cost, and the tickets can cost over $100. What I recommend is getting tickets for the add-on events as soon as they come out because they have early bird special. For example, you can get the beauty bungalow tickets for $60 and if you wait to close to the event there went on sale for $120.
You can also choose to enjoy the free stuff which was my choice. In my opinion, the convention center is not somewhere you want to hang out all day anyway. It was super packed, the lines were very long, and you do not want to spend your entire vacation sitting in line, walking around, and doing nothing, waiting for events to happen. Especially when there are so many other places you can visit.
New Orleans essence festival Places To Visit
Right near the convention center is a shopping featuring over 75 retailers and restaurants on the Mississippi River in New Orleans. A great place to shop and to grab a quick bite to eat at an affordable cost. At the Riverwalk, I went to the food court and ate at Mike Anderson. The line was long, but they do have decent priced Cajun food, and they serve alcohol in the food court. I decided to go for the seafood gumbo, but the best dish was the grilled Oysters that my cousin got. They were SOOO good. Other things that you can do at the Riverwalk is to chill on the River or perhaps even take a river boat.
I know that a cemetery tour sounds creepy, but this is by far one of the best places you need to visit. My tour was done by tours by Steven, and he was such an awesome guide. There are over 10,000 bodies buried here since the 1700s. You get to learn about the burials of New Orleans, which may sound like a simple task IT IS NOT. To this day they have to dig up people that have already bee buried, taken them out of their coffin, and rebury their body to make more room. It was insane.
The most exciting part of this tour was that at one point in history, there were accidentally burying people alive because the people were in a comma. What I got most traumatized about was something called a tomb birth. Where if a pregnant woman were buried and died, then the baby would come out of her. INSANE. Some of the sites that were awesome to see were the graves of Madam Laveau, which is you watched American Horror Story Season 3, Angela Basset played her character. Apparently, this grave is one of the top 5 graves to see in the United States.
And the New Orleans Cemeteries (even though they are for dead people) are filled with beautiful sculptures and art. You cannot help to be amazed by it. The last thing we saw at this cemetery was this face of Jesus. Apparently, on Easter Sunday one year, this crack outside of the cemetery appeared and looked a lot like the face of Jesus. Which was pretty cool and eerie at the same time.
House Of Blues
This is an excellent option for having food and entertainment. We ordered a pitcher of Sangria for the table and that was the only drinking option we needed. It served about four of us. A much more affordable option than ordering 4 separate drinks. After eating, there was live entertainment in the back that was a free option. They pretty much played Jazz and some local music, we got up, danced, and had a fantastic time.
This was a place near my Airbnb that I could walk to. The food was good and it was all fried. In New Orleans you must beware of the fried food, it is a lot of it and you might end up having a heart attack or something. I got a seafood platter that I ended up sharing with my cousin. It was so much food that we still did not finish it.
Harrahs New Orleans Casino
Our streetcar let us off right in front of this casino, and it is also near the convention center. As long as you are gambling, then you can get free drinks. I am not a huge gambler because I do not like losing my money, but it is still a fun place to visit. I did play ultimate Texas Hold’ um and won $20, that was enough of an adventure for me.
This is a no-brainer, go to Bourbon street and walk around. It is free, and there are plenty of restaurants that you can go to. Of course during the Essence Festival, this place is a madhouse. There were so many people, the street was crowded, so much so that you could barely walk. So I did not stay there for a long time, but if you are going to New Orleans, visit Bourbon street it is what New Orleans is known for.
When it comes to the New Orleans Essence Festival as you can see I did a lot more stuff then attend the Essence Festival. The city is so full of culture and places to visit. I would hate for you to get all the way on a plane only to go to an Essence Concert and the convention center. Instead, see what the city has to offer.
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