NEW ORLEANS - The bright red open-top double-decker tour buses seen all over New York, London and Paris are coming to New Orleans.
City Sightseeing New Orleans launched the new service Wednesday with an inaugural tour of downtown with Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and tourism and hospitality officials. The service, which opens to the general public Thursday, will operate daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Emily Valentino, the company's general manager, said the buses will offer a new convenient, entertaining and informative way to experience the city with a hop-on and hop-off model that allows visitors to tour sites at their own pace.
Stops include the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, the National World War II Museum, Harrah's Casino, Mardi Gras World, the Superdome and Basin Street Station, a former train depot that's been turned into a visitors' centre.
"It's going to be a full experience unlike anything else currently offered in New Orleans," said Michael Valentino, a co-owner of the franchise. "It's a fun transportation mode that we're going to layer with the personality of local tour guides."
Bus tours will be narrated live in English by certified tour hosts, but recordings will also be available in Spanish, French, Portuguese, German, Italian, Japanese and Chinese. There will also be recordings with Cajun and New Orleans dialects.
The tour buses with an upper deck providing open-air views come with a price: One-day passes are $40 for adults and $30 for children. The company will offer package options with discounted admissions to some attractions, but the cost is still significantly higher than the city's bus and streetcar service. Buses and streetcars operated by the Regional Transit Authority are $1.25 per person, per ride. RTA also has day passes for $3 a person.
Michael Valentino said he doesn't view the new venture as being in competition with what the New Orleans tourism industry already offers. He said his service is unique in that it merges a popular mode of transportation with a colorful, guided tour experience.
Dardenne said he's impressed that the tour will be offered in seven languages. "We've been putting a focus on international travel so that's important," he said.
Emily Valentino said the tour bus service is expected to generate 36 new full-time jobs and increased visitor access to attractions and businesses in the hospitality industry.
City Sightseeing already provides service in London, Paris, Berlin, San Francisco, New York and Seville, Spain.