I spent the weekend at the most fabulous event called FestiGals in New Orleans, LA, USA! It is an annual event that is known as the Women’s Weekend Experience – and that it was! But was it a “Vacation” or a “StayCation”? It was both!!!

There were a lot of women there from other parts of the country, but there were also a lot of local women. Most stayed at the hotel, the lovely J W Marriott Hotel on Canal Street and used it as their weekend base of operations. The hotel management and staff treated us like the royalty we are.

Little did I know how much fun I would have, how many fabulous women I would meet, and how I would learn to appreciate things about my own city that I didn’t know existed. I also had no idea how much money was raised for our community organizations, Cancer Association of Greater New Orleans and Breastoration, and the New Orleans Family Justice Center. In total, approximately $ 46,000 was raised for these great causes.

Each year, there is a Grand Diva, and this year, it was the lovely Robin Barnes, known as the Songbird of New Orleans. The honor is not one to be taken lightly, and Robin was up for the challenge.  Her “coronation” was held in a ceremony at the J W Marriott and was the kick-off to a fabulous few days.  Her mother was in attendance and you could see the beauty and talent in both of these lovely women.

One of the ticket packages is know as the “Ultimate Diva” package and it covers the events for the entire weekend. It was a bargain at $ 399 for all events.  This was my second year as an Ultimate Diva and it did not disappoint. There was a special reception for only those who had purchased the weekend package at the famous Presbytere at Louisiana State Museum. Catered food service and signature mint juleps served in souvenir copper cups was the order of the night. Music helped set the mood.  We were also allowed to view the museum exhibits, which included a fabulous Mardi Gras display with costumes, video, vintage invitations and throws and a Hurricane Katrina exhibit. Again, we were treated like Diva royalty!

Friday was the New Orleans Women’s Leadership Conference with speakers and panels espousing women’s empowerment and professional development, but of course, that was mixed with a great deal of fun as well.  Some of the other sessions included Burlesque, Culinary Arts, Beer Brewing, Restauranteur, Coffee, and Baking. Here is a link to the schedule to show you how jam-packed it was with information and talented women speakers.

The luncheon that day was highlighted by the fabulous keynote speaker, Linda Alvarado, whose speech was titled “Hitting a Home Run in Business and Baseball”. Not only was she successful in a normally male-dominated industry – heavy construction, but she is also a co-owner of the Colorado Rockies.  She spoke about the challenges of both industries and how she navigated her career and business through all of it.  She was both inspirational and funny. She also challenged us to think about how we need to work on our businesses and career all the time. Even with her baseball team, the areas of focus not only involve sports, but sports medicine, recruiting the right baseball players, and the support team that makes it all work. Professional and personal development are also at the top of her list.

The afternoon sessions moved into a fast-paced, informative session called FestiTalks. Each presenter had 5 minutes to present her topic and engage the audience. There was a wide range of topics that captivated those attending. It was a great way to end the New Orleans Women’s Leadership Conference at FestiGals.

There was even a Vendor Showcase the whole day and a Sip ‘n Shop highlighting the local vendors with everything from handmade clothing and jewelry to books, sugary confections, shoes, makeup, artwork, and other specialty items.

I had the most fabulous meal on Friday night at Sac-A-Lait Restaurant. Executive Chef Samantha Carroll and her husband and business partner, Cody Carroll,  allowed us to have their entire restaurant that evening for not only a fantastic meal, but a signature cocktail and cooking demonstration. We were greeted with hand-shaken “Damn Thistle” cocktails made with edible hibiscus flowers and hibiscus syrup. We even had a demo from the bartender so we can make these at home!

The dinner began with a Deviled Crab appetizer with an unforgettable mix of flavors. It was followed by Cornmeal Beignets with Harvest Preserves, tomm cheese and spiced pecans. Then we had a demo from Chef Samantha herself making Crawfish Gnudi. The best cream sauce, sweet peas, and local mushrooms I have ever tasted along with what I so humbly describe as ricotta cheese dumplings (OH, they are so much more!!!). She demonstrated how she puts together only the best farm to table ingredients along with only the freshest Louisiana seafood to create a culinary masterpiece. The night ended with Chocolate Pate with shortbread, candied citrus curls and strawberry coulis. I have never enjoyed a meal this much! That is, me and approximately 60 other FestiGals guests!

Saturday was the infamous Bodacious Bras for a Cause Brunch, Fashion Show, and Auction. The featured guest speaker was Zoe McLellan, Heart Screams, speaker, mom, writer, and actress (NCIS: New Orleans, Suits, Dirty Sexy Money, and Jag). She engaged the audience with a fantastic exercise to release what is holding you back and replace it with something you truly want.

This brunch event raised money for both Breastoration and the Cancer Association of Greater New Orleans. A fantastic brunch, free-flowing wine, camaraderie, laughs, tears, hugs, new friends, old friends, promises to see each other again – this event had it all, but there’s more:

The hats!

The fashions!

The cancer survivors taking the runway in the “Thriver Fashion Show”!

The auction of the top fund-raising decorated bras!

The auction of original artwork!

The music! 

Dancing Elvis Impersonators who performed before and after the fashion show.

And the events continued. Post-brunch, there was a tour of several homes in New Orleans. We got an inside peek into a bit of New Orleans history, architecture, and lifestyle.

The other signature event for Saturday was the Stiletto Stroll. Stilettos were not necessary (even discouraged), but flat heels, walking shoes, and boots were the order of the night along with tutus, pink hair, feather boas, face paint, blinking headdress, and glow sticks! Marching krewes participated and raised money to add to the fund-raising for the New Orleans Family Justice Center. The walking parade was led by the convertible which carried our Grand Diva, Robin Barnes, along with some past Grand Divas – one, the always fabulous Margarita Bergen – lovingly referred to as the “Has Been Divas”……

The event began at Carl Mack’s Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture on Conti Street. Carl has been a good friend and supporter of FestiGals since the beginning. This was the gathering place and the beginning of the parade.  We strolled through the French Quarter, crossed the famous Canal Street, and turned down Poydras Street to end at the theatre at Harrah’s Casino. There we were met with music by Groovy 7 and food all around the back of the room – a little something for everyone’s taste.

The After-Party at Harrah’s was so much fun!  We enjoyed great music that got everyone up on their feet or dancing in place! The top fund-raising Krewe got to perform for the crowd, the Grand Diva made an appearance, and the crowd’s energy was contagious.

Where else can you find this much entertainment for a $ 399 ticket price? All while being mesmerized and transported from event to event by the ACCENT-DMC’s expert team of event planners and production crew. All working behind the scenes to amplify our fun and elevate our experience.

Whether you are local here in New Orleans or need to travel here to participate, it is SO WORTH IT! There were mother/daughter attendees, groups of women who worked at the same office, women who have been friends since childhood, women who belong to professional organizations, and those who simply showed up to see what would happen! And boy, the FestiGals event did not let them down!

Please consider setting aside some time for your own Festigals “Vacation” or “Stay-Cation” and come enjoy our fabulous city through the eyes of an expert visionary event planner and philanthropist Diane Lyons, and her visionary sidekick, Sandra Dartus. (You can learn more about them and Accent’s team here) These women, along with the scores of volunteers who serve on both the Bodacious Bras for a Cause and Dynamic Diva committees, and the event volunteers are to be applauded for the success of the 7th Annual FestiGals Women’s Weekend Experience.

You can view this video from last year to see what it’s all about, but I can tell you, this video doesn’t do it justice!

I don’t often write about my fun personal experiences, but this was an exception.  I saw the realization of a friend’s vision come to reality in a big way.  This event gives back to the community while allowing those who attend to have a wonderful experience.

I hope you will consider joining me next year!  Tina

P.S., if you attended the event or are thinking about attending next year, you are my kind of woman and I would love to have you as a part of my tribe! Come join my Facebook community of Worthy and Wise Women.  We’re having lots of fun and open discussion about topics we are all dying to talk about.

Come Join In the Conversation with other Worthy & Wise Women!

Tina Meilleur is a Leadership and Business Mentor, author and speaker. She is also the founder of Design Your Success and the Academy for Business Success. Her mission is helping high achievers match their desires, skills and experiences with success on their terms. Her “Next Chapter” program and CRAVE™ process are systematic approaches for making simple “tweaks” or orchestrating a total reinvention. Tina is the author of Your Next Chapter: Five Steps to Creating the Life of Your Dreams to help others build anything they want into their life. Tina has a CPA designation in the State of Louisiana and received her MBA from Tulane University in their Executive MBA program. Tina is a highly sought-after mentor, coach, facilitator, and speaker. She can be reached at Tina@DesignYourSuccess.com.