New Orleans for Families

I headed down to New Orleans last week for ALA Annual, and I took my family with me on the trip. I’d never been to the city before (never been to anywhere in the South other than Florida, really. Well, Texas, but that’s got a feel all its own.) Ahead of time, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I spoke to a lot of friends who had been, and they had mixed things to say about it, ranging from their favorite city ever to a place they were glad they’d only spent a day or two in.

We had eight days slated, and three kids (ages 14, 10, and 5) who had to be entertained. I would have been less worried, but the hotel I booked didn’t have a pool. My kids all love swimming, so if there’d been a pool, I would have known there always would have been something they’d enjoy to do, even if they swam for 8 days straight.

I’m back now, and I’m pleased to say we had a grand time. There were loads of great family activities to do, and my kids all enjoyed the trip, as did Denisa and I. Here’s a rundown of some of the highlights:

  • Plantation tour. We rented a car for two of the days, heading out of the city to Oak Alley Plantation, where we toured the grounds, the house, and the slaves’ quarters. I’d heard better things about Whitney Plantation, but I’d also heard it was a really heavy tour focused on the slave experience. I wasn’t really up for putting my 5 year old daughter through that, hence Oak Alley. It was beautiful and somber, and I thought it was a great mix and just what I had been looking for.
  • Swamp tour. I’ve never been to a real swamp. We got on a 2 hour boat ride that took us into the Honey Island Swamp, right on the border of Mississippi. Gators, turtles, raccoons, boars, and awesome vegetation. Let’s just say I’m very glad I’ve never met an alligator in the wild, while I’m in the water. They look like snakes as they slither up to their prey. Snakes with big mouths and teeth and claws and they’re huge. Yikes. Though really, the scariest part for me was when we went to a dead end and we had a pack of raccoons come right up to the boat for food. I’ve seen raccoons at work and read all about just how rabid they can get, and the whole time I was wondering what I’d do if one of them jumped in the boat.
  • The National World War II Museum. Ranked the number 2 museum in the world on Trip Advisor. I’m not sure of that ranking. I think it’s overselling it a fair bit, but it really was a great museum. Tons of displays and information all about the war. We all enjoyed it, though my 5 year old got a bit bored.
  • The Zoo, Aquarium, and Insectarium. Two of the days I was at my conference, Denisa took the kids to the Audobon properties. There was a water park at the zoo that everyone loved, and the insectarium had a butterfly garden my girls thought was awesome. A great way to spend a few hot days in the southern climate.
  • French Quarter. After we figured out which street was Bourbon Street (naturally the first street we picked to walk down), the French Quarter was lovely. Tons of great shops and restaurants, live music, people watching, churches, and more. I loved the architecture. It was so different from anywhere else I’ve been.
  • Jazz. Denisa and I left the kids at the hotel one evening and headed to Preservation Hall, where you pay $20 a person for a 45 minute concert they have four or five times a night. Live jazz. Incredibly talented musicians in a teeny tiny room that looks like it might fall apart any moment. We loved it.
  • Food. Beignets, po’ boys, muffalettas, jambalaya, gelato, eclairs, croissants, and more. I gained 6 pounds. (Sigh.) Need I say more?
  • Alabama and Mississippi. As long as we were all the way down there, I figured we might as well knock a few more states off my To Visit list. We went to the USS Alabama in Mobile, which was a hit with the whole fam. (And made me appreciate even more what sailors went through in WWII. I have no idea how anyone can navigate that maze. We went on a submarine, as well. I could barely fit through the doors. After that, we headed to Gulf Port, Mississippi to go to the beach. It was rainy off and on, so we didn’t do more than wade, but it was a fun time.
  • Museum of Art. We’ve spoiled our kids, perhaps, by starting them out with Parisian art galleries, but they still had a good time at this one. I was at the conference, so I can’t say much more than that.

The conference itself was also a great experience for me. I went to a ton of fantastic panels and came home with new ideas for the library. Always a plus.

Anyway. If you’re thinking about heading to New Orleans and you’re not sure if your family would have a good time, don’t worry about it. We took public transportation to most places, and it was a fairly easy to navigate city. I will say it wasn’t particular kid-friendly after about 8 o’clock. Lots of public drinking, smoking, and even some nudity on the streets, so I was glad Nickelodeon was playing Double Dare each night. (My kids loved that.) It’s definitely a city where many of the visitors go to get plastered. Not really my scene. But there’s a wealth of things to see beyond that. I was really glad we had the chance to go.

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