October 2010 saw the arrival of the NFDA Convention and Expo to the city of New Orleans.  This was our fourth year attending as a vendor.  Below, you will find my overall impressions of the event and some insights into how the convention benefited us.

I hadn’t been back to New Orleans since Katrina hit the city in 2005.  My only pre-hurricane visit, during a Carnival cruise that also stopped in Grand Cayman and Cozumel, had only lasted a few hours, with our entire experience restricted to the French Quarter and the cruise terminal.

So like many Americans, my impression of New Orleans was tourism and, thanks to news reports, flooding.

On the Saturday before the show, we drove from our base in Florida to Slidell, Louisiana.  The drive took just over nine hours and brought us within 30 miles of downtown New Orleans.  We crashed at a recently-built Best Western, which was beautifully-appointed and very clean.  (Good rule of thumb when picking a cheap hotel:  the name doesn’t matter so much as when the building was erected.  An old Radisson is probably going to be less pleasant than a really new Red Roof Inn.)

We got up Sunday morning, had a nice hot breakfast and drove into New Orleans.  As we crossed the low bridge into the outskirts, we started to see signs of hurricane damage.  Second floor apartments burned out, abandoned houses with broken windows, signs for water damage experts.  It wasn’t so much a wasteland – from what we could see from the highway – as much as it was clearly an area that was still trying to recover.

Of course, the downtown areas where the money is made was in better shape.  Our hotel, which was one block from the convention center, was located in a converted warehouse.  Here’s a picture of our room, with it’s 16-foot ceilings:

We spent Sunday morning setting up our booth in the convention center.  We had a great location, just steps off the main aisle with only a large, see-through booth in our way.  We’ve gotten good enough at setting up the booth that it took us less than two hours to go from bare, concrete floors to this:

The show itself didn’t start until Monday afternoon, so we had an opportunity to explore the city and had a great time in the French Quarter.  We had an awesome lunch (try a muffaletta sandwich, unless you absolutely hate olives) and explored the area.  We listened as a street band played an unbelievable set of blues and jazz music while the lead singer’s kid slept on a reclining lawn chair nearby.  We dropped some much-deserved cash in their donation jar (and we weren’t the only ones – these people sounded amazing!).

Part Two later.