By Dana Donovan
My love of New Orleans started when I was little, and to this day I can still remember meandering through the Quarter with my parents. Now, we head east on I-10 at least once a year, whether it’s for Mardi Gras, French Quarter Festival or just because, and my girls have developed their own love for the Crescent City.
Of course, New Orleans is known for being a party town, mainly because of the many tourists who converge on Bourbon Street every year. But it is so much more than just a place to hold a bachelor or bachelorette party. If you decide to walk down that infamous street at night with the kids, I’ll admit, you might have some explaining to do. But, during the day the area takes on a completely different vibe. The whole family will enjoy popping into shops like Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo, strolling through the French Market looking for trinkets and stopping off at Café Du Monde for their delicious beignets.
Planning your visit around the city’s many festivals is always a good idea. French Quarter Festival in April is nice because it’s easy to listen to some live music, but move on if the kids get bored. Since the festival is free, there’s no pressure and your family can move at its own pace.
There’s no way the kids will get bored during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. The crowds during the first weekend are manageable with kids, and they’ll have a blast at the parades. The Sheraton on Canal is a great place to stay during Mardi Gras, as many of the parades roll right down Canal. You are able to walk straight out the lobby doors and catch some beads. And the best part is, there is a bathroom just steps away for the little ones.
The number of family-friendly festivals in New Orleans is many; the number of amazing restaurants in New Orleans is immense! We like to end our trip with a visit to Stanley’s in Jackson Square (the creole potatoes are a must). It’s our favorite But from the time we get there to the time we leave, we literally eat our way through New Orleans. Just go with the attitude. You’ll diet when you get home.
Once you are sufficiently stuffed, you and your family can take one of the local tours. At the risk of sounding like Bubba from Forrest Gump, there are swamp tours, haunted tours, horse drawn carriage tours, cemetery tours, walking tours, riverboat tours, culinary tours, plantation tours, French Quarter tours, Garden District tours, voodoo tours, witches brew tours, arial tours, Hurricane Katrina tours, vampire tours, pirate tours… you get the picture.
My favorite part of any New Orleans weekend is Sunday morning. After our breakfast at Stanley’s, we like to stroll through Jackson Square, which, to me, feels like the heart of the city. The local artists displaying their work, street performers and palm readers make every day feel like a festival day.
There’s a French saying used in New Orleans, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” It means, “Let the good times roll.” Now you know they also roll-family style.
What to Do
Surrounded by vendors, artists, palm readers and street performers; Jackson Square is a must visit. It’s also a great place to have a picnic!
You will find the horse-drawn carriages on the Decatur side of Jackson Square. Take one of the tours or just a ride through the Quarter.
Tours leave from the riverfront area adjacent to Woldenberg Park on a regular basis, offering scenic views of the city from the water.
The National World War II Museum
This amazing museum is expanding in five phases. The original museum hosts the Normandy exhibit, while the first phase features Beyond All Boundaries, a 4-D cinematic experience movie produced by Tom Hanks (I recommend the movie for kids 12 and older). There are live performances at the Stage Door Canteen and a restaurant called the American Sector by Chef John Besh, which features boxed lunches for the kids. The US Freedom Pavilion opened last week and has planes suspended from the ceiling. There is also an interactive tribute to the USS Tang, where you are assigned a role on this award-winning submarine and learn of its tragic sinking. This museum is interactive and a great place for kids.
Audubon Nature Institute
Hosts the Zoo, Aquarium and Insectarium. Perfect for kids of all ages. The IMAX Theater showcases great educational films. The insectarium is the latest addition and features 900,000+ insects. It’s a very unique museum and fun for kids.
French Market District
The French Market is the oldest operating outdoor market in the country. And it’s more than just shopping for fresh produce and New Orleans trinkets. The French Market Corporation hosts concert series and family activities year-round. Check out their schedule for upcoming events.
Louisiana Children’s Museum
Great if you have toddlers along for the ride.
City Park New Orleans
City Park hosts paddle boat rides, Celebration in the Oaks at Christmas and Storyland.
French Quarter Fest
This free festival in the Quarter Fest hosts a special kids stage, too.
My suggestion is to go the first weekend of Mardi Gras when it’s not quite as crowded. Check the website for complete parade schedule.
Jazz and Heritage Festival
Jazz Fest, my favorite festival in New Orleans, is always the last weekend in April and the first weekend in May. The younger kids may not like being at the festival all day, but your teenagers will love it.
Where to Eat
Open daily from 7am until 10pm. Typically our last meal before leaving New Orleans and usually our favorite.
Their crawfish cakes will literally stop you in your tracks; they are amazing!
It’s a little outside the Quarter, but great food and a great atmosphere.
Red Fish Grill
Red Fish grill is a casual restaurant with a seafood-dominant menu on Bourbon Street one block off of Canal.
If you go to a Saints game, you can just follow the crowd to Deanie’s after the game.
Café Du Monde
If you have kids, you can’t go to New Orleans and not hit this famous spot.
Port of Call
Voted Best Burger in New Orleans by Gambit Weekly, this local hot spot is located on Esplanade Avenue.
Only the freshest ingredients and the menu changes daily. Great balcony seating when the weather permits.
Traditional Creole cuisine at the foot of the French Quarter.
Two locations, one on Poydras Street and one in Metairie, they are known for their Charbroiled Oysters
Where to Stay
Conveniently located on Canal St. It’s a great place to stay, especially during Mardi Gras, since many of the parades will roll right past the hotel.
The Hilton New Orleans Riverside has a great package here: http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/louisiana/hilton-new-orleans-riverside-MSYNHHH/offers/100029390.htm