Tuesday, February 20

It's Fat Tuesday in the Big Easy — a time for everyone of all ages to line up along the parade routes and scream for beads!

Celebration has been happening for the past two weeks, with 50 parades winding their way through the downtown city streets. Meanwhile, the French Quarters' business is booming; the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated 700,000 people are taking part in the carnival festival!

They've come from near and far, and are seen everywhere, filling up restaurants and the streets. As many as 1,600 restaurants have reopened since Katrina, and hotels are boasting occupancy rates of 95 percent. The Louis Armstrong International Airport is even getting their flight schedule back to pre-Katrina levels.

With all this progress, there are still struggles. The hospitality industry is still looking for employees and affordable housing is still hard to come by. The police department is increasing force in an attempt to quell headline grabbing violent crimes in the crescent city.

People along the parade route tell us they feel safe, since they see plenty of police patrolling and they feel safe. After all, they came from Europe, Central America, and other parts of the U.S. to catch beads and have a good time. They are part of the world largest outdoor party and they are loving every minute of it.

Wednesday, February 14

The spotlight is about to shine on New Orleans again and this time the city is more prepared for the crowds expected to descend here for Mardi Gras.

The city has hired a cleaning crew for the Uptown and French Quarter district and boy have they been working. In the 13 months I've been traveling to cover stories in New Orleans, the business district has never looked nicer. The streets are freshly scrubbed after the parades this weekend, and I couldn't even find a string of beads left behind, since the litter was picked up so fast.

One of the main streets in this area, Canal, is lined with new trees and construction cranes, as more businesses are preparing to re-open. And progress is not only limited to the Main Street area. When we went to Jefferson Parish,a suburb area of New Orleans, we noticed that there were much fewer houses with blue tarps on the roofs. Another sign that people are returning to the Big Easy was that the traffic was really backed up!

On our way to a story, photographer Guy Hernandez and I were hungry and outside of our usual stomping grounds. We just happened to stop at a restaurant on the corner of Jefferson Highway called The Blue Tomato, off Central Avenue — great Mexican food! The restaurant's original location bit the dust during the hurricane, so the owners re-grouped and moved outside of the city. The owners are a very nice couple running a very small and busy place. They serve just about anything, but in the week we've been here, we've gone back twice for their pork and steak tacos. It's best in the area by far — and we are based out of Dallas, where good Mexican restaurants are abundant!

The city has gone all out for this year's Mardi Gras. There are streamers lining the walkways of City Hall and the stadium risers are all out along the parade route, wrapped in streamers of purple, gold and green — the official colors of Mardi Gras. Everywhere you look, people are wearing long strands of beads — as many as they can get around their necks. While riding in the Rex Parade last year, our hosts told us they spend about $2000 each buying the beads and trinkets they throw out to the crowds. The beads with the biggest medallions are most valuable. Last year, we took a whole bag of beads back to our bureau to beautify our workspace. We still have them and are looking to add more!

Kim McIntyre joined FOX News Channel (FNC) as a Dallas-based correspondent in 2006. She previously worked as a freelance producer in FNC’s Washington, DC, bureau. You can read the rest of her bio here.