Just a mini tutorial on New Orleans and the availability of public transportation.
First of all, there is no north, south, east, and west in New Orleans. Directions are based on the flow of the Mississippi River, which itself is confusing since the river bends 180 degrees near the French Quarter. So in downtown N.O., what may seem like "south" to you is actually "Upriver". To go from the Central Business District (CBD) into the French Quarter is going "Downriver". Then there's riverbound and lakebound, such as towards the Mississippi or towards Lake Ponchartrain.
By public transportation I don't think anyone will want or need to ride NORTA buses, but everyone will come into contact with at least one streetcar line.
Those of us staying at hotels in the (CBD) all appear to be within a block or two of the St. Charles streetcar line. This is the most historic of the lines. Something to keep in mind is that between Lee Circle and the end of the line at Canal Street on the edge of the French Quarter, the St. Charles line runs on a couplet of one way streets. St. Charles is one way outbound (away from Canal), and the streetcars run in only that direction on that street. At Lee Circle, inbound St. Charles streetcars turn one block north on Howard Avenue, and then turn east on Carondelet Street. It then runs one block on Canal back to St. Charles to begin its outbound trip. So all inbound stops are one block north of St. Charles on Carondelet. The "main" endpoint stop for St. Charles streetcars, even for passengers going outbound, is on the near corner of Carondelet and Canal.
It appears that the Renaissance Pere Marquette, Hilton Garden Inn, and Intercontinental Hotels are along either St. Charles or Carondelet. Those in the HGI and Renaissance will have to walk 1 block from Carondelet to St. Charles to board an outbound streetcar, but upon their return they will be closer to their hotel. The Intercontinental will be less of a walk for the outbound streetcar trip and more when we return. Those at the Comfort Inn will be one block from Carondelet, and 2 blocks from St. Charles. The Wyndham Whitney conversely, is one block from St. Charles and 2 blocks from Carondelet.
The Canal Streetcar runs mostly along its namesake street. It appears to be roughly 3 or 4 blocks Downriver from most of our hotels. Half of the Riverbound cars terminate at the foot of Canal at the river, and turn around to head Lakebound. The other half run along the Riverfront Line tracks the length of the French Quarter to the Esplanade station near the French Market. In the Lakebound direction, half the cars run straight out Canal to the Cemeteries, while the others turn right onto a branch along Carrollton Avenue. Edit: Not running over the summer; see below.
Riverfront streetcars also have Esplanade as a terminus. The only part of Riverfront not covered by Canal cars is one or two stops beyond Canal. It's probably the least important segment to get, as we can walk most of the way back through a shopping mall or take the next car back one stop.
Our streetcar rides are not "official", since we're stressing California on this trip. We can blitz all the steetcar lines if we hopefully get back there in 2012 (along with visiting Atlanta and Memphis). By the feedback I got, it appears that most would prefer we do the St. Charles line on Tuesday evening, after we check-in at our respective hotels and assuming that time allows. Then on Wednesday morning, we don't want to go too far given we have to catch the Sunset Limited. Most likely the best trip is to ride out to the Esplanade Station along the Riverfront line, which can be achieved once more by walking several blocks to Canal (or by taking a St. Charles streetcar to Canal and transferring) and taking a car that runs through.
What is the closest streetcar station to New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal (NOUPT)? None are close. It appears to be about 10 blocks between Canal Street and NOUPT. But a little closer is the St. Charles line. At Lee Circle, as I've mentioned before, outbound streetcars remain along St. Charles Avenue. Inbound cars run one block on Howard to Carondelet. From the corner of Howard & Cardondelet, you can see NOUPT lakebound on Howard. It is about a 3 or 4 long block walk from there. From outbound St. Charles cars, add one more block since you're walking from Lee Circle.