It”s easy to find fun for kids in the Big Easy! New Orleans may have a reputation for its Mardi Gras parties, but the city is so much more than beads and Bourbon Street. Its French-Creole flare will make you feel as if you have arrived in a foreign city, as Jazz music oozes from open doors and outdoor musicians. There is plenty to fill a weekend in New Orleans with the family, and the following are suggestions for a kid-friendly tour of the city.
Written by Lissa Poirot
Day One: Glimpse of French History
Get acquainted with the Big Easy via a stroll around Jackson Square and the French Quarter (quietest in the morning) to kick off your weekend in New Orleans. As it wakes from its late night and stores begin to open doors, musicians and street performers will begin to entertain passersby. Pop into the iconic Saint Louis Cathedral, then visit Mardi Gras World to see past floats, masks and what goes into planning the opulent parades and parties every year.
While in the French Quarter during your weekend trip to New Orleans, visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, located right along the Mississippi River. Kids can learn about the Gulf of Mexico, and use a simulator to feel what it"s like to be in a hurricane with winds going from 0 to 78 miles per hour in 60 seconds. They will also get a close encounter with creatures from the Amazon, Mississippi, Caribbean and Artic (penguins!).
Climb aboard the Steamboat Natchez during your weekend getaway to New Orleans, one of five remaining 1800"s steamships, which used to travel up and down the Mississippi River. In the evening, dinner jazz cruises are offered to provide a unique glimpse of New Orleans while enjoying a hearty buffet and live music. Cruises board at 6 and travel from 7 to 9 p.m., and kids under 6 are free.
Day Two: Admire the Mansions
Hop on a streetcar for just $1.25 and ride along St. Charles Avenue to the Garden District. Travel beneath Oak tree-lined streets and explore the neighborhood to get a glimpse of gorgeous mansions and gardens. While you can only do indoor tours of some of the homes during the Holiday Tour of Homes, guides provide walking tours of the area and explain the history behind some of the biggest homes. Garden District Tours provide tours twice daily, at 11 a.m. and 1:45 p.m., at 2727 Prytania Street.
Now that you"re in the Garden District, continue uptown on the streetcar to the Audubon Zoo, where animals from around the world are on view. Kids will see animals from nearby swamps, as well as animals from jungles, the African Savanna and Asia, not to mention a few ancient animals at Dinosaur Adventure. On warm days, hit the zoo"s Cool Zoo splash park -- just be sure to bring a swimsuit and towel!
If your kids are a little older and not afraid of the dark, New Orleans is known for being the country"s most haunted city, so take a two-hour walking ghost tour of the French Quarter. Gray Line Tours provides nightly tours at 7:30, every day of the year. Daytime Cemetery Tours are also available if your kids can"t handle the dark.
Day Three: Tour the Swamps
Where To Stay With Kids: Budget New Orleans Hotel
Where To Stay With Kids: Mid-Range New Orleans Hotel
Where To Stay With Kids: Luxury New Orleans Hotel
Top 5 New Orleans Restaurants Not To Miss
Nobody, and we mean nobody, should miss the CafÃƒÂ© Du Monde, located on Decatur Street in Jackson Square. Beignets are a New Orleans staple, and CafÃƒÂ© Du Monde"s are world-famous. Plan to walk across a floor of powdered sugar, and then clean said sugar off of your kids after they"ve eaten this sugarcoated ball of fried dough in the midst of your weekend trip to New Orleans.
2. Ralph & Kacoo"s
For family-friendly seafood in the French Quarter, Ralph & Kacoo"s is it. Just steps from the steamship Natchez"s landing at Decatur Street, the restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner. Crawfish, catfish and shrimp are main highlights, and Creole-inspired meals include Po'Boys, steak Lafitte, and etouffee.
3. Acme Oyster House
Another must-visit restaurant in the Big Easy is the famed Acme Oyster House, which has been open for more than 100 years. Located on Iberville, the restaurant is known for its raw, chargrilled and fried oysters. If you"re up to the challenge, attempt to join the 15 Dozen Club! Seafood is big on this menu, especially in the form of platters, but Cajun dishes like gumbo and Po'Boys are also featured.
4. Pat O"s Courtyard Restaurant
Known for creating potent Hurricane drinks, adults will want to visit Pat O"Brien"s Bar in the French Quarter. However, visit the restaurant on Bourbon Street to sample one of the bar"s drinks, while being in an all-ages, kid-friendly restaurant, which opens for lunch at 11 a.m. Pat"s menu brings Creole to the table in the form of gumbo, alligator bites, shrimp remoulade, jambalaya, muffaletta and red beans and rice. A small kids" menu keeps the spice away from from fried shrimp, chicken fingers and burgers.
The Ã¢â‚¬Å“Bam!Ã¢â‚¬Â-spouting chef is from New Orleans, so if there is ever a time to try out what has now grown to be a chain of restaurants, it should be at his original location on Tchoupitoulas Street. Dishes combine Southern, Creole and Gulf-inspired meals, and dessert is not to be missed in a restaurant proud of featuring local and regional, seasonally inspired dishes.
Planning & Tips
When it comes to seasonal events, New Orleans" claim to fame is Mardi Gras. While a renowned party for adults, the event actually has kid-friendly activities and parades to make it a family event. To avoid those crowds, but get another taste of New Orleans" best, its annual Jazz Fest, held in May, is a great introduction to the city"s jazz and blues music. The holidays also make a nice time to visit the city, with the Garden District especially decked out for the season, and the city"s spooky past makes it a favorite during Halloween, if your kids love a good fright.
While New Orleans is a large city, most of its kid-friendly attractions are concentrated near the French Quarter and Garden District. You won"t need a car if you plan to stay in these areas, and you can utilize the streetcars here. Some tours outside of the city will even arrange for transportation from your hotel. The French Quarter also has a large share of pedicabs to get you around the area.
The streets of New Orleans are wide and manageable for driving, but parking is limited and expensive. If you drive in, leave your car at the hotel"s garage and walk and utilize public transportation.
One of the best ways to get from attraction to attraction in New Orleans is to board one of its iconic streetcars. St. Charles, Canal Street and Riverfront lines all originate downtown, but take you to the distinct areas of the city, all for just $1.25 per ride. Day passes are available.
Like streetcars, bus fares are $1.25 but with 30 routes across the city.
Taxis are safe and fast in New Orleans, and not too pricey, considering a cross-ride is about $20. Short trips will be reasonable. From the airport, a taxi will cost about $70 to take a family to the French Quarter. Pedicabs are plentiful in touristy areas, but be forwarned they are only allowed to hold two people and you may need more than one. Rates are set by the city at $5 for the first six blocks, and $1 per block, per person following.