FestiGals is an educational and bonding weekend
FestiGals is an educational and bonding weekend

An entertaining and enriching “Girls Getaway” in New Orleans

by Patricia Mack

FestiGals was created by Diane Lyons, a veteran New Orleans meeting and special events planner, who was touched by a simple phrase so often voiced by women visitors to the city — “I HAD NO IDEA!”

“The feedback from groups would be that they had “no idea” just how exciting and diverse our city is,” Lyons said. “I started thinking, ‘what if I created an experience specifically tailored to the needs and interests of women?’ ”

FestiGals has almost nothing in common with the general concept of a “girls’ getaway” with the stereotypical fashion show and shopping spree (although, heaven knows, there’s plenty of that if that’s what a girl wants to do). It is an educational and bonding weekend which in 2012 attracted about 400 women from more than fifteen states. A shout-out to women to take pride in who they are and what they do — New Orleans-style — which means it is a celebration of the fun things in life that women enjoy most.

Take Bodacious Bras For A Cause , the FestiGals event which supports the Cancer Association of Greater New Orleans. This year’s lunch raised $23,650 (in an hour) with the wild and wooly auction of elaborate and spectacular bras created by the likes of country singer Martina McBride, chefs Susan Spicer, Emeril Lagasse and NBC’s Today Show co-host Hoda Kotb, who was also the keynote speaker.

In addition to showcasing the city, supporting an important cause, and having fun, Lyons also kept in mind that often women are hesitant to travel alone, so she made support intrinsic to the experience with a staff available to offer advice, answer questions, and provide help for everything from transportation to making restaurant reservations. Attendees can customize the weekend to suit their taste and their needs, choosing from a menu of offerings, joining a larger group or going off on their own.

Next year FestiGals takes place from June 20-23 at the historic Hotel Monteleone in the French Quarter — FestiGals’ headquarters since its inception in 2010 — with a variety of empowerment seminars, inspirational and educational workshops, and cultural experiences designed to showcase the Crescent City as well as raise funds for a good cause.

There are cocktail parties at galleries and museums; a morning sugar walk to Café du Monde for café au lait and beignets dusted in confectioner’s sugar; tours of private homes and apartments; inspirational and informational lectures; pole dancing lessons; even an outrageous FestiGals Stiletto Stroll down Bourbon Street that may be on a much smaller scale than Mardi Gras parade, but certainly rivals it in spirit. Attendees can go to a lively Gospel Jazz Mass at historic St. Augustine Church in Treme followed by a tour of the infamous bordellos of one of New Orleans’ most celebrated madams.

The Ultimate FestiGals! Package costs about $300. Individual events prices start at about $35. The hotel offers rooms at a special FestiGals! rate.

For more information, call 504-524-1227 or visit www.festigals.org.

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