New Orleans area is a hot spot

Kent Erdahl

If you are one of the fortunate ones who scored a ticket to this weekend’s sold-out NCAA women’s Final Four in New Orleans, stock up a healthy supply of Gophers beads and get ready to experience some southern hospitality.

Whether you fly, drive or raft down the Mississippi River, there will be much more than basketball awaiting you upon arrival.

Assuming you want to make it to the game, Minnesota tips off at approximately 8 p.m. Sunday against Connecticut.

If the Gophers win, they will play in the national championship game on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Both the semifinals and national championship game will be played at New Orleans Arena, home of the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets.

The Arena is connected to the massive Superdome in downtown New Orleans. The complex was opened on Oct. 19, 1999.

The women’s Final Four was actually the first event booked in the Arena when the NCAA Division I women’s basketball committee awarded the tournament to New Orleans in July, 1999.

Other major events to hit the Superdome/Arena complex, include Super Bowl XXXVI in 2002, the 2003 men’s Final Four and the BCS Championship football game last January at the Nokia Sugar Bowl.

If you need a place to stay there are approximately 20,000 first-class downtown hotel rooms within walking distance.

For a break from the games, rowdy Gophers fans can utilize those famous Gophers beads or simply listen to some great music by hitting up Bourbon Street and the entire historic French Quarter, which is located within a mile of the complex.

Other attractions within one mile of the complex include the central business district, riverfront attractions and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

The riverfront is the place to go for shopping. It is home to the Riverwalk, which features more than 140 shops, restaurants and services along a half-mile stretch of the Mississippi River.

If shopping isn’t your bag, you can jump on a riverboat and take one of several tours around the city. They also continue on land, where you can visit historic homes, museums or haunted sites.

Die-hard basketball fans might just want to get their fix of special Final Four-related events.

In that case, check out the seventh annual NCAA Hoop City, which is an interactive experience that showcases college basketball.

The event runs from Saturday through Monday at the Superdome. Tickets are $3 for children under 12 and $5 for everyone else.

If you still can’t get enough, get to town early for the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association’s “Night of All-Stars.”

The special night held at Tulane University’s Fogelman Arena on Saturday, features the High School All-America Game, and the College All-Star Challenge.

No matter your preference, New Orleans will no doubt offer something to keep you occupied. After all, it is the destination of more than 10 million visitors annually.

You won’t believe how far this city is willing to go to make sure your stay is full of southern comfort.