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Santa Claus is better known in New Orleans as Papa Noel, but even if you don’t celebrate Christmas you can celebrate the fact that “Papa Noel” is often said in the same breath as “rates” when NOLA hotels are trying to lure travelers with holiday bargains. One such deal is the Creole Christmas & Papa Noel Package at the Arts & Warehouse district’s Ambassador Hotel. Nightly rates for stays December 6-25 start at $69/night for a double or king deluxe and include free overnight valet parking as well as a free day cruise on a paddlewheeler. Plus, if you walk south from the hotel on fun-to-say Tchoupitoulas Street for about five minutes and hang a right on Julia St. you’ll be at the worthy Louisiana Children’s Museum (www.lcm.org), good for at least a couple hours of hands-on fun.
Rates at some properties drop depending on what days of the week you stay, of course. For instance, at the French Quarter’s Maison Dupuy rates start at $99/night Sunday through Thursday on December 5 - 23, but are upwards of $20-40 more for Friday and Saturday stays. But if you're intent on a weekend stay and don’t mind basing yourself near the airport, the Crowne Plaza New Orleans Airport has rates beginning at $109/night, offers a free airport shuttle, and will reimburse you for up to $50 to offset your checked baggage fees. Your reimbursement will come in the form of a prepaid Visa card and you’ll likewise need to book your stay with a Visa card (a two-night weekend stay before December 30 is required).
I’ve blogged previously about family volunteering and if you and your brood are so inclined, New Orleans could use you. Guided trips to NOLA giving kids a chance to understand Hurricane Katrina’s devastation and see the ongoing rebuilding are available through such organizations as Volunteer Expeditions, which is running one such trip December 27-30; children need to be 12 and older and no special skills are necessary. Likewise, even if you have just one day to spare on your New Orleans trip this fall or winter and you have the ability to put a plant in the ground, volunteers 18 and older are welcome to assist environmental nonprofit Project195 with wetland restoration during the ongoing Gulf of Mexico cleanup. The New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau also regularly lists voluntourism opportunities in the city.