Every good New Orleans story should include either a good cocktail or a ghost story, and our stay at Bourbon Orleans hotel had a little of both.
Part of the New Orleans Hotel Collection, the Bourbon Orleans Hotel is located on Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter with a view of the back of the Saint Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. This is one of the top-ranked hotels in the city and it is easy to see why after our recent stay. At some hotels you might have to choose between character and luxury, but not at the Bourbon Orleans where you get both historical charm and grandeur.
From the moment you enter the lobby, you are warmly welcomed by tall ceilings, grand windows, a sparkling chandelier, and during the holiday season with Christmas decorations sparkling up the open area as well. This was the last hotel of our Thanksgiving stay in New Orleans and it was certainly the most opulent.
It is also the most centrally located hotel that I have ever stayed at in New Orleans. To be honest, I was not sure about staying on Bourbon Street. The street is more of a lagniappe for us, an extra or a side, and not the focus of our visits to this city of many offerings. So this would be the first time that we really immersed ourselves in the area, which I decided to embrace from the get-go.
I knew coming in to our stay that the reviews for Bourbon Orleans were very good. The New Orleans Hotel Collection provides a lot of complimentary amenities, including free wi-fi, bottled water, coffee and a welcome beverage at their on-site bar called “Bourbon O”. We stayed in a traditional King room, which was huge. The hotel also offers rooms with balconies, two floors and lofts.
Rooms offer MP3 docking stations, in-room dining, an on-site restaurant on site “Roux” (which was closed when we were there), fitness center, large saltwater pool (under maintenance when we were there), spacious bathrooms with granite countertops and a walk-in shower, a workspace area and involvement in the Stash Rewards program of boutique hotels across the nation. As an example of their high-end focus, coolers and ice chests are not allowed, and no roll away beds… this is luxury on Bourbon and not a party hotel.
The building has grown over time but it started out as a historic ballroom built around 1817 and was known for social gatherings of New Orleans elite. The owner later added The Orleans Theater to the cluster for additional entertaining in the city. But after the war much of the glamour faded and the needs of the city shifted. The buildings were combined and it was used as a school and a convent for 83 years until it was sold to hotel interests.
Before our visit, I had breakfast with New Orleans Hotel Collection Director of Marketing, Marc Becker, who gave me background on the hotel and informed me of some of their special events and offers. One such gathering is a Paranormal Festival “Ghost Camp” where attendees stay at the hotel along with local paranormal investigators for a weekend package of seminars, dinners, night-time ghost hunts and haunted walking tours. The extensive history of the hotel includes spirit sightings at the iconic property which have long been passed down and added to over its centuries of existence. The Bourbon Orleans decided to embrace its position as one of the nation’s preeminent haunted hotels, and is providing a special experience to visitors who have a hankering to meet a ghost.
And while some may want paranormal activity, there are others that come for a regular old night sleep as well, but it might be best for these folks to avoid the 6th floor. Mr. Becker told me of another blogger who visited the hotel and had a ghost experience that kept her awake all night so that she asked to be moved. I later found a video of her story here, though I did not see this at the time of our stay. He said that the 6th floor has the most activity. But he also noted that none of the spirits are mean, in fact the main activity on the sixth floor is of children wanting to play. And so, it was an interesting coincidence that when I checked in the next day that we were assigned to the 6th floor for our one-night stay.
The hotel is nice — very nice, but one should also know that it is older and the hotel was undergoing renovations during our stay. The pool was undergoing significant repairs and was emptied, which is not a big deal as the weather was not pool-worthy. And the elevator was also undergoing some maintenance as well. When we got into the elevator, the repairman told us that he would be turning off the elevator in ten minutes. No big deal, we just wanted to get to our room and we could walk down.
We got in the elevator and that is when I revealed to my husband, Dave, that we were going to stay on the haunted 6th floor. Dave joked, asking if I wanted him to provoke any ghosts for a good story and I said, “No, I do not want to see any ghosts. I want sleep.” At this moment, the elevator stopped on the 5th floor. I thought another hotel guest would join us at that point, but none was there. So we waited for it to time-out and continue up one more floor. But it remained stopped with the doors open. I pushed the close door button a few times and nothing happened. At the moment, I was kinda frustrated with the repairman who told us he would give us 10 minutes to get up to our room and back down. We both assumed that the repairman had stopped the service earlier, and decided to get off with our heavy luggage and walk up the last flight of stairs. We got out of the elevator and headed to the stair entrance. As we opened the door to the stairwell, the elevator closed its doors and left. The timing was very odd. Moment of frustration and confusion, but the elevators were under repair and a little exercise never hurts.
After lugging our suitcases up the stairs, we found our room. Opening the door, we were blown away. This was a traditional King room and it was gorgeous… and HUGE (for a standard room)!
We left the hotel and had a wonderful night out on the town. With it being a Monday night, the infamous Bourbon Street was rather quiet, which to me was the perfect way to explore it. We ended our night at the “Bourbon O” bar inside the hotel to use our complimentary coupons for a free welcome drink. There, we met the nicest bartender named Steven. The night before he was awarded the 2013 Best Mixologist in New Orleans by New Orleans Magazine. While we only had a few drinks from his experienced mixologist hand, I definitely think that part of the reason that he won the award is personality. He was a genuinely nice and engaging guy. Later on the plane ride home, I read an article in the Southwest Airlines SPIRIT Magazine that mentioned the bar as well, and highly recommended the Gator Death Roll drink. I would definitely recommend that you go and ask for Steven. In the midst of the circus that is Bourbon, “Bourbon O” Bar is an upscale stop for quality cocktails that might not be 3-for-1, but you are much less likely to have a headache in the morning.
As it was our last night in town, I wanted to go to bed at a decent time and so we took our drinks to go and headed back to our room. I like it cold at night, so I set the AC on 72 degrees and went to bed. Or I tried. The bed was comfortable and there were six fluffy pillows calling my name, but I could not sleep. Being the last night of our visit, thoughts of returning to work and to-do lists danced through my head. I was also feeling a little nauseous, and I worried that I had food poisoning. I did have oysters. All this was rather normal, though I felt like I was self-inflicting sleep issues without a ghost.
But, then it got a little weird. I got hot. Like really hot. I pushed off all the covers first. Still hot. I got up and turned the AC down to 68 degrees and checked to make sure cold air was coming out. Still hot. It felt like my left neck and shoulder were pressed on hot cement at one point. The sensation was very focused on this area and I got up to look at my back in the mirror. I thought it might be red from a rash or something. Again, everything appeared normal. I thought about taking a cold shower, but I was afraid that would wake me up even more. It was not until around 4:30AM that I finally slept. By the morning, I was feeling better.
The next morning I asked Dave about his sleep and he said he did not sleep well — because he was really hot. We had both pushed off the blankets completely. In the daytime with the sun shining in the window, and no change to the AC, it was cool. The AC was still on 68 from the previous night and the room felt good. Odd, but we dismissed it as work stress or vacation-end blues for both of us.
Checking out of the hotel, I saw some of the marketing materials displayed and grabbed them to make sure that I did not miss any amenity or detail in my reporting. Among the flyers there was one about the ghosts of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel. While we had not experienced any sightings, I grabbed it and put it in my bag to read later.
It was not until I got home and was preparing to write this article that I read the flyer. At that time, I also did further research on the ghosts and hauntings at the hotel. There are several well-known ghosts at the hotel; including a ghost dancer that reveals herself in the historic ballroom, a confederate soldier, a cigar smoking man in the lobby that reads a newspaper, a nun, and the ghost children. As I dug a little more, I found abundant stories about a woman who haunts the elevator (!). This seems to be an ongoing experience that dates back long before the repairman was scheduled. For example, paranormal investigators report that while taking photos on the 6th floor during an investigation that the elevator would not close its doors to go down. Another story tells of the doors opening for a hotel guest and a vintage hospital room from the past being in view for a few seconds. And yet another tells of two women who got in the elevator and had the doors open and close multiple times, so they got out and then the second elevator doors started opening and closing beside it. They took the stairs. These are just a few of the stories — there are more.
The other interesting piece of information that I discovered is that the children of the sixth floor are believed to be the ghosts of orphans that passed over during an outbreak of yellow fever in the infirmary on the 6th floor. Symptoms of yellow fever include fever, headache, chills, back pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. Whoa…
Stepping back and being scientific, the elevator was under repair at the time and I possibly ate something off on my last night in the Big Easy. There is absolutely no definitive proof that either the elevator or the body temperature issue were paranormal. In reality, I may have had “ghosts on the brain” from talking with Mr. Becker too. Though I did not know these details until I left the city, there is just no rational way for me to link them back to the ghost encounters, aside from saying that there were some interesting historical coincidences.
Additionally, I am reluctant to turn-off potential hotel visitors who might not want a ghost story, because this is a really nice hotel in a good location. I have no complaints, though I might recommend a face mask if you like blacked-out rooms (the blinds leak light). It is one of the nicest hotels in the heart of the action, and probably the nicest hotel to stumble back to at the end of the night. Be sure to get a cocktail from the Bourbon O bar (or some water if you are in recovery mode instead). And if you want to avoid ghostly happenings, then request that you are not placed on the 6th floor. But, with the popularity of ghost hunting these days, I bet the hotel will also get their fair share of folks asking to be planted right in the midst of a ghost adventure. At the Bourbon Orleans Hotel in New Orleans, you come across strong spirits of all kinds.
*Sponsored in part by the New Orleans Hotel Collection, but the opinions are all my own.