You’re going where with the kids?? When you think of New Orleans, images of semi-clad individuals, Mardi Gras beads and hurricane glasses come to mind. I have to admit, having visited as a university student myself, I thought I knew what to expect so I was a little apprehensive about what family-oriented activities we could find to fill four full days in “N’awlins”. And would they be appropriate? Sure there are the Dixie bands and the riverboats, but people don’t often associate New Orleans with family-friendly vacations– especially ones with three young kids in tow.
Surprisingly New Orleans is a perfect family destination. It is filled with endless attractions from museums and kid-friendly venues to historical sites offering mythical lore. There are incredible live music performances from every genre, world-class chefs and the best ‘home-cookin’ you’ll find anywhere in the world.
As if the old world charm weren’t enough, we found that there were way too many things to do in the limited time we had to spend. Our days were a mixed bag of fun and entertaining attractions as well as ample educational experiences that proved that kids of all ages (read: grownups) could learn a thing or two. But we also discovered that this was a city with not only a heart but a soul! You can feel the pulse of life on the streets, it’s contagious and it lasts all day and all night. Young and old, suits or sandals, tourist or otherwise, once you’re out, you can’t help but start grooving to the music whether you’re standing at a street crossing or you’re walking up to an impromptu street jam.
What brought us to New Orleans was actually my cousin’s wedding in Lafayette, Louisiana but flying into and out of New Orleans proved too much of a tease. How could we NOT visit New Orleans, especially when my husband had never been there before? But we soon discovered that planning a trip with a family of five is hard enough (since any family with more than four members is classified as a “large” family in travel circles which often requires completely different accommodation, travel and booking considerations and disproportionate costs) but imagine traveling with an entourage of 11 including my mother and my sister’s family of five!
The challenge was daunting but exciting. How could we see, do and taste all that New Orleans had to offer on a reasonable budget and what options did we have? With that in mind we were on the chase for the BEST of New Orleans. Here’s what you must see, must do and must eat (my favorite)…plus tips and tricks to help us “large” families find ways to make travel affordable, exciting and manageable! As you read through this list you can see that we tried to find free or low-cost ways to ‘do’ the city, such as a free ferry or nominal street car ride, and substituted those funds for the worth-every-penny Aquarium, Insectarium and Ghost tours.
- Audubon Aquarium & Insectarium: Definitely worth the time and doable in a day. We had two very rainy days and these were a life-saver. Completely fun, educational and interactive. Audubon Special Experience pass available that includes the Zoo and Imax3D.
- A Streetcar Named Desire : The inspiration behind the story! Tour around town in stylish and stylized trolleys/streetcars for $1.25 (only 40 cents for seniors) that travel through the main streets of New Orleans.
- The Algiers Ferry: Make it a sunset cruise on this free ferry that takes you to Algiers Island and back. The half hour round trip was enough for us to enjoy a view of the city from the water. You can take a bike or car onto the ferry as well to tour the island.
- Haunted or Voodoo Tour: Our awesome tour guide Karen was a real paranormal investigator with an in-depth knowledge of the history, architecture and genealogy of the city. Her personal stories and life-long experience with the city make this a fabulous two-for-one deal. http://www.tourneworleans.com/
- Café au Monde: Just because it’s the thing to do and the beignettes are so yummy, try three warm beignettes and all the icing sugar you can handle for $2.94.
- The French Market: This free open-air market has a bit of everything and everyone, you could hope to see and experience in “NOLA”.
- Picnic in the park: Not really in the tour books but there are beautiful parks and parkettes throughout. We lunched on a park bench and enjoyed the manicured beauty. Lunch Take-out from an expensive restaurant is a lot cheaper and saved our costs all around. Try K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen.
- Museums – too many to name but all with a vibrant energy that kept the kids engaged. Some free attractions include the St. Louis Cathedral. http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/city-guides/free-new-orleans-traveler/ & http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/arts/museums/
- Jackson Square – for impromptu Dixie bands, jazz, buskers and artists, along with horse and carriage rides. Enough to see and do as your shop and admire the architecture. Tarot card readers galore that will barter for a good deal if you want to have a reading for fun.
- Create your own scavenger hunt: With so much to see and do there are lots of travel itineraries available at: http://www.neworleansonline.com. We found that despite the heat (and with large water bottles in tow) the kids were awed by the buildings and architecture. In order to sustain their interest we would have them look for places or landmarks using “eye spy” or images from the many tourist books and brochures around.
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Stay tuned for next week’s segment of We+Three where Rania Walker, our travel writer discusses The Big Easy’s list of Must-Eats for Families!