NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Tourists were checking out by the hundreds Ash Wednesday, after experiencing a Carnival which many say was unlike anything else. Preliminary tourism numbers look good, and in spite of two fatalities, visitors said they felt safe.
“I enjoy the people, the food, and festivities, the coconuts, it’s really good,” said Elyshia Wilcox, a visitor from Nashville.
Mardi Gras visitors had smiles on their face as they bragged about surviving a party like they've never seen before.
"It was everything I thought it would be and more," said Marina Gentry, from Cleveland.
"It was great, it was unbelievable to see that many people treat each other so well, it's not the typical big city experience," said Roger Yeates of Oregon.
Yeates says he was impressed by the size of the crowds, and tourism officials say the early numbers look good, with hotel occupancy, hovering around 90%.
“Our initial projection was a week-and-a-half before Mardi Gras weekend, so my sense was there was going to be a lot of pickup, particularly the regional traffic from the I-10 corridor,” said Mark Romig, chief marketing officer for New Orleans and Company.
While the reviews were good some say there was room for improvement, especially on Bourbon St.
Then it got really bad, around 10 o’clock, and it was time to pull back a little bit," said Chicago visitor Maribel Biedzicki.
Many said they heard the news reports of two people, being killed after being struck by floats, but came anyway.
"It didn't affect our decision to come, we had already committed," said Yeates.
All of the visitors we spoke with said they heard about the fatalities, before they got here, and they had some definite thoughts on how to make Carnival safer.
Some thought closing off spaces between tandem floats, or more barricades, would work.
“The closeness to the parades is not what we experience in Chicago,” said Biedzicki.
Many said they would be back.
"I don't know how they call Las Vegas sin city, this is the real sin city," said Biedzicki.
Tourism leaders say they will have better hotel occupancy numbers by the end of the week. A recent Forbes magazine study found that hotel occupancies have dropped by more than one percent in many major American cities due to Airbnb.