Family Friendly New Orleans
Heading east brought us to New Orleans two weeks prior to Mardi Gras, which is celebrated on February 25th this year. Stopping in New Orleans was always on the list, but the timing was coincidental. All I know about Mardi Gras is that it's one big "party", and supposedly not a kid friendly party. After a google search and some homeschool work for Lila, I found Mardi Gras translates to Fat Tuesday, which as someone told us, is the last night to party, eat, drink, and do all the things you shouldn't do prior to lent starting, which is the next day, also known as Ash Wednesday. We had no idea how much celebrating occurs prior to Fat Tuesday. There are many Mardi Gras events and parades leading up to the big day.
So, what do you do in New Orleans if Mardi Gras activities may not be kid appropriate? You search out, explore, and find ones that are.
We are staying conveniently close to the heart of New Orleans, at Bayou Segnette State Park, about a 20 minute drive from town. The campground is very walkable, has a large picnic area, two playgrounds, and free laundry (pretty darn cool!).
Our first full day in New Orleans was spent going to the Krewe of Little Rascals Parade. (Krewe is an organization that puts on a parade or ball for the Carnival season, most commonly associated with Mardi Gras). The Krewe of Little Rascals started back in 1983 and is the longest running children's Mardi Gras Krewe, with a motto of “Today’s Little Rascals are Tomorrow’s Leaders and Our Hope for the Future”. It was a warm, but very windy day, we caught a few beads, some candy, and a frisbee. Stuffed animals, cups, and all sorts of other souvenirs were being thrown as well.
After the parade we headed into the heart of New Orleans, the French Quarter. We walked Bourbon, Royal, Dauphine, and Chartres Streets, saw horse drawn carriages, viewed balconies and houses decorated in full Mardi Gras decor, and ate a delicious Muffuletta sandwich at Petite Amelie, sister-cafe to Cafe Amelie. Afterwards, we headed to another parade, the 'Tit Rex. This parade is a spin off to the traditional Mardi Gras parades that have grown tremendously over the years, with grande floats, decorations, and bigger and bigger throws. The 'Tit Rex is pe'tit'e in every sense including the floats, the handouts, and the bands. We thoroughly enjoyed this parade and collected miniaturized water bottles, poached eggs, and books.
A few days later we headed back into town, it's a Tuesday morning, and we're hoping the famous Café Du Monde will be a bit less busy than it was Saturday when we were in town. Thankfully, it was, we were able to walk right in and grab a seat. We enjoyed two orders of the beignets, café au laits, and a hot chocolate for the red head in the family. The beignets were delicious and would have been worth the wait any day. (Steve here - I would take Portuguese donuts over the French beignets any day) The amount of powdered sugar on top, may have been a bit excessive, but then again, you're in New Orleans, enjoy the moment.
After breakfast we walked the French Quarter for a bit, being that it was only 9 am at this point, it was still pretty quiet out. It was like the calm before the storm, almost eerie in a sense. By 10 am though, tourists were out and about and it was getting busier by the second.
It's 10:30 now, and we're hungry, again. New Orleans is home to the Muffuletta, a cold sandwich served with olive salad and cold cuts such as salami and ham. It's also a new favorite of mine. It's time to go visit the roots of this sandwich and order one for ourselves at Central Grocery & Deli, right across the street from Café Du Monde. The store was founded in 1906 by Salvatore Lupo, a Sicilian immigrant who is famous for creating the muffuletta. The pictures aren't nearly as good as the sandwich, sorry about that.
It's now time to work off the food and explore nature. We are off to the Jean Lafitte National Historic Barataria Preserve. Who's Jean Lafitte you wonder? We first heard about him a few weeks back at one of the plantations we visited. He was briefly mentioned as a privateer and major slave importer/trader in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Why in the world would there be a National Historic Site named after him? We've since learned that he was very critical to the war of 1812 and defending New Orleans from the British. The British offered Jean Lafitte a very large amount of money for his cooperation in working with them to defeat the Americans, but he played them and went to General Andrew Jackson instead. Lafitte told Jackson of the British plans to capture New Orleans and with the help of Jean Lafitte and his men, the United States was able to successfully defend the port of New Orleans. The Barataria Preserve is named after the Barataria Islands where Jean Lafitte and his men spent a great deal of time running their "operations". The preserve is gorgeous, especially so on a sunny day! Our first visit was cut short by an alligator sunning herself on the path. We later found out she's known as Victoria, and it's quite common for Victoria to sun herself there.
Plantations are in abundance near New Orleans, there are several to visit along what is referred to as Old River Road, which is near the campground we stayed at. Steve surprised us with an early Valentine's day drive to Oak Alley Plantation for lunch and mint juleps. We passed on the plantation tour, we've done a few already and they are starting to add up, this one would have cost us $65 to go through. Instead, we enjoyed a short walk, a "Cajun Medley" of Red Beans with smoked sausage, Crawfish Étouffée, steamed white rice, and a cup of gumbo. I tried the Mint Julep sampler and was wowed by the Lemon Julep, while the traditional Julep was just a bit too strong for me. We all shared bread pudding for dessert, which is quickly becoming a new southern favorite of ours to try.
We went back to Barataria Preserve for a ranger-led tour of the area to learn more about Jean Lafitte and the lands he lived on for many years. The preserve is full of bald cypress trees, live oaks, resurrection ferns, wild chives, alligators, turtles, snakes, great egrets, and many more animals, and today there wasn't an alligator blocking our path. The ranger did a great job and we learned lots.
On our last trip to New Orleans, we planned to use our feet less and take advantage of the local transportation. The idea was to take the ferry from Algiers to Canal Street and then catch the streetcar and ride it through the garden district. Our plan was solid, except for the fact it was the week before Mardi Gras and New Orleans was busy! We caught the ferry, no problem, it's $2 per person each way and drops you off at Canal Street where you can catch the streetcar just a few blocks away.
We hopped off the ferry and headed towards the streetcar stop, and we waited, and waited and waited. According to the "live" schedule of the trolley, it had passed our stop at least twice, but we never saw it. We decided to start walking toward the Garden District. I had heard the homes there were gorgeous and thought it would be fun to ride the streetcar through the neighborhood. We walked a half-mile or so and found another streetcar stop, this one had less people standing in line, and even better, we saw the trolley coming! The trolley stopped, let on the first group of people, and then kindly told us they were full and we'd have to wait, again... So on we walked. By this point in time, two of us were getting a bit hangry, and I'm positive the 3rd (Steve) was close. Steve found an excellent restaurant, Gris-Gris, where we were refreshed with a cocktail, root beer, and a real beer. We also had shrimp and grits, chicken and dumplings, and a chicken sandwich for an early dinner. The shrimp and grits were my favorite so far, and I've had them a few times in the last month or so. Dumplings were also really good!
Now, with full bellies, it was time to turn around and get back to the ferry before our parking expires. So much for less walking today, we racked up 20,000 steps, which is equivalent to approx. 8 miles.
I definitely would love to visit New Orleans again, and would even bring Lila back, knowing what we know now. It wasn't as scary as some said it might be, but we also were smart about our travels and didn't go out at night.
Please reach out and let us know if you have any questions about New Orleans, we'd love to help you out!