New Orleans Family Attractions

Genie Davis November 15, 2010 1 Comment

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New Orleans might not be the first spot you think of for a family vacation – but think of it now. What child won’t enjoy hot sweet beignets for breakfast and watching boats drift down the river on a lazy afternoon? And let’s not forget street cars and flaming bananas.

New Orleans French Quarter

Everyone loved the look and feel of the story book perfect New Orleans French Quarter.

Best of all, central New Orleans is truly a walking city – or if you can’t walk, you can take the street car. There are a variety of really charming hotels in and around the French Quarter.  We picked the Iberville Suites, partnered with but poorer cousin to, the Four Seasons. What the Iberville lacks in five-star dining, it more than makes up for in large rooms with separate living areas that feature sofa beds, mini-fridge and wet bar. We loved the art and chandeliers in the lobby and the old fashioned flocked wall paper and patterned carpets. Not a chain hotel by any means, we had also considered the Olivier House, recommended by friends. This is another family friendly option containing an enjoyable series of courtyards within its walls, conveniently located in the French Quarter as well.

Yes, Bourbon Street gets rowdy as the hour gets later, but an afternoon shrimp etouffe at Antoine’s, just a five minute stroll from your hotel, will make you more than satisfied with your location. The Ilberville was quiet at all hours, and the staff friendly, even offering us cold bottled water when we returned from touring the town on a warm summer afternoon. There’s plenty to see and do in this lovely city, which our kids termed the “real life Pirates of the Carribean.”

Let’s start with a look at some art at the completely child friendly Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. This grassy open air home to over fifty beautiful sculptural pieces is the perfect place for kids to see and touch art under shady trees. From Henry Moore to Joel Shapiro, these sculptor’s master works range from the modern to classic, and are laid out around looping pathways just meant for children to run and play on. With five acres of Spanish moss dripping oaks, curving bridges, and flower lined lagoons this is a literal art playground, frequented by local and touring families alike. The museum itself features wonderful art, photography and glass collections inside.

For tiny travelers, there’s the sweet Louisiana Children’s Museum, named by the US Family Travel Guide the top-rated children’s museum in the US. Reopened and revamped after Hurricane Katrina damage, this tot delighting spot includes a miniature grocery store, television studio, and a cafe. Where else can your child move from a shopping experience to anchoring a news desk? There’s also a replica tow boat to sail down the Mississippi.

So with that taste of the river life in mind, we headed to the real thing. Despite steamy weather, it was great fun watching the river boats ply the waters. While we didn’t take them, several river boats offer dinner and sunset cruises, too.

Nightfall found us in the heart of the French Quarter at Preservation Hall, New Orleans most historic jazz spot and welcoming for all ages. Dedicated to the preservation of classic New Orleans Jazz, the venue was built as a private home in 1750. With no smoking or drinking allowed, this is a wonderful spot to introduce your children to jazz. Dancing, clapping, and singing along is encouraged – and we would’ve been hard put not to join in on a rousing finale of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The walls are lined with photos of jazz musicians past and present. Doors open at eight p.m., but you can arrive mid-way through a set and still be welcomed.

Preservation Hall Jazz New Orleans

Family friendly jazz at Preservation Hall - a great evening.

We started our second day in the Crescent City – named for the curves in the Mississippi here – with those awesome beignets from world famous Cafe Du Monde. The Original Cafe Du Monde opened in 1862; today it’s open seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. The menu is limited to those awesome square French donuts coated with powdered sugar. You can have milk, coffee, or soda – that’s it for a beverage; we opted for lemonade from a street vendor in Jackson Square.

Jackson Square itself, beautifully dominated by St. Louis Cathedral, reminded our kids of another Disney attraction Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. Named for Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans, this landmark square is ringed by historic buildings: the cathedral, the Louisiana State Museums housed inside the old Presbytere and Cabildo buildings, and the oldest apartment buildings in the US, the Pontalba Apartments. All this beautiful architecture is supplemented by art: an open air art show runs daily in the square, with artists displaying their wares on the iron fences surrounding it and painting by it.

After spending some quiet time in the elegant old church, our kids were ready for a livelier pursuit, and lunch. A great lunch option on the go: po’boy sandwiches. Inexpensive and enormous, designed for kids to share, with options from shrimp to veggies, meat and cheese, the beauty of these sandwiches is the perfect melding of fresh French bread and local fillings. We got ours at Johnny’s on St. Louis street, and while this casual eatery has seating we chose al fresco dining on a shady bench in Jackson Square.

Massive sandwiches shared and devoured, we spent the rest of our afternoon exploring Blaine’s Mardi Gras World, which houses massive and impressive creations made by the artists who create Mardi Gras floats and costumes every year. Blaine Kern is the world’s leading maker of floats and large scale props, and the exhibits are enthralling. You and your kids will feel Liliputian in size compared to the massive and magical fantasy figures prepared for the Mardi Gras floats. Blaine’s is not located in the Quarter, but they offer free shuttles from most area hotels, or take a brisk and inexpensive cab ride. The tour is fascinating and the color and scale of the exhibits will put on a smile on everyone’s face.

In my next blog: we’ll get to those flaming bananas!

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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One Comments to “New Orleans Family Attractions”
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