By COREY KILGANNON
Published: January 13, 2006
LAST Friday, Jack and Jennifer Jacobs piled into their car and drove from wintry Buffalo to the French Quarter for a week of revelry - eating Cajun food, listening to jazz and walking narrow cobblestone streets lined with row houses with ornate verandas.
They could almost imagine that they were in New Orleans, a place they visited regularly and where Mr. Jacobs used to live.
And that was the point. For the Jacobses were at Disney World in Florida - at the French Quarter replica in the Port Orleans Resort, a place that duplicates the Big Easy right down to its lampposts, wrought-iron railings and hurricane cocktails.
"It's not the real New Orleans, but it'll have to do for now," Mr. Jacobs said, drinking a beer at Scat Cat's, the resort's jazz-themed lounge whose walls are covered with mounted saxophones and trombones, photographs of Louis Armstrong and Earl Hines and sheet music for "Basin Street Blues."
It seems that in this post-Katrina world, some people who can't get to the real New Orleans are opting for the next best thing.
The real French Quarter may still be shaking off the effects of Hurricane Katrina and struggling to lure tourists back, but the Disney World version has managed to avoid the devastation and has remained open for business since the hurricane struck four months ago.
Disney officials would not say whether bookings were up or down since Katrina, but conversations with a dozen guests at the resort last week indicated that it has been bustling with New Orleans-lovers seeking a substitute for the real thing. What has been long regarded as a good-natured and slightly hokey theme has taken on a greater poignancy since late August.
"I've had a lot of people since Katrina telling me they came because it's the only New Orleans left to visit," said Elliot Dyson, 58, a musician at the resort who plays New Orleans staples like "Iko, Iko," "Mardi Gras Mambo" and "Jambalaya," switching from saxophone to guitar to keyboard throughout his set.
The hotel exteriors simulate the filigreed row houses of the French Quarter. They are bordered by lush courtyards and cobblestone streets bearing names of their real-world counterparts. The grounds are landscaped to resemble New Orleans gardens.
Even New Orleans aficionados acknowledged the place does have the feel of a tamer, more sanitized Big Easy.
"You can never recreate the real New Orleans because it's all about the people and the history, but I'd say this place definitely gives you a bit of the feeling of the real New Orleans," Mr. Jacobs said..
Mr. Jacobs, 38, said he chose the resort partly out of nostalgia for the French Quarter, where he lived for two years while managing a restaurant opened by a friend on Decatur Street.
"It's funny, I waited tables at a place called Port Orleans on Bourbon Street when I first moved down there," he said. He recalled spending nights at Tipitina's hearing bands like the Radiators and the Neville Brothers.
"There are definitely differences," he said. "For one, this place is immaculate. All the service people are smiling and well dressed, healthy looking."
The Jacobses visited New Orleans two years ago and stayed with friends in the Ninth Ward, a neighborhood devastated by flooding. The friend lost the house and has moved away for good, Mr. Jacobs said.
Nearby, Richard and Christine Williams ordered drinks. They had just been married at the nearby Boardwalk Inn, a Disney resort with a seaside theme, and they proudly wore their Disney-themed wedding headgear - her wedding veil and his top hat both sprouted Mickey Mouse ears. The Williamses, both lawyers, said they had chosen the resort because they had never visited the real New Orleans and were wary of visiting there now.
"We figured this is the next best thing," said Ms. Williams, 31, "It's kind of a G-rated version, but we wanted a taste of New Orleans, even if it was by proxy.
"We've always heard about New Orleans - the food, the music and the French Quarter - and you do get the feel of it here," she added. "The music is piped in wherever you go."
LILTING swing is broadcast throughout the resort from speakers tucked discreetly throughout the property, and there are statues of garishly green, grinning gators dressed in vests and playing jazz. Building signs have banjo and tuba designs, and guests do their wash at Laundry on the Levee. The poolside bar is called Mardi Grogs, and depictions of Mardi Gras revelry are ubiquitous. Disney workers constantly prune, rake, sweep, trim and water.
The front entrance is a New Orleans-style train depot. At the rear, riverboats ply a waterway Disney calls the Sassagoula River, to take guests to other Disney areas.
The main eating area, the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory, is bedecked with Mardi Gras floats and props. A half-dozen sugar-powdered beignets, the famous New Orleans-style doughnuts, cost $3.99. Cajun-inspired dishes include jambalaya, and seafood and chicken Creole.
Some guests shrugged when asked about New Orleans and said they chose to stay at Port Orleans only because of its proximity to Disney attractions and moderate price.
Other guests, however, said they chose the resort specifically because of the theme.
"We've never been to New Orleans, and now I don't think we'll be going there anytime soon," said Johan DeKok, 42, a beer salesman from Pretoria, South Africa, who brought his wife and two daughters to the resort. "This seems like a good way to try to get the feel of it."
Loraine Lopez, 53, a health care administrator from Tampa, said parts of the resort reminded her of the real New Orleans, which she had visited.
"You can't recreate the music of New Orleans or the people and the culture," Ms. Lopez said. "I've got to say, though, the beignets are pretty good. They got that recipe down pat."
Colin Quinn, 45, a psychiatrist from Atlanta, was lounging at the Doubloon Lagoon pool. "The place definitely brings back fond memories of New Orleans," he said. "There is a little piece of New Orleans here."
His sister Terry Quinn, 53, of Orlando, said, "In a way, something like this might give the new New Orleans something to shoot for, in the rebuilding."
She added: "They keep this place much cleaner. I've walked down Bourbon Street, and there's a little different odor."