15 Aug Take Me Back to New Orleans!
By: Laura Nell Burton
“New Orleans makes it possible to go to Europe
without ever leaving the United States.”
—Franklin D. Roosevelt
When my youngest turned 4, we made summer trips to our favorite U.S. cities a new family tradition. Trip #1 was New York. This summer we traveled to New Orleans. Planning is an undertaking. I never find a one-stop guide to the perfect lineup of sights and activities that bridge the age gaps and related likes and dislikes of our kids (ages 12, 8 and 6). So, I thought I’d share our itinerary, because NOLA is a great family destination (especially during its tricentennial this year)!
We stayed at Windsor Court Hotel near the French Quarter, with room rates starting at $225/night. It’s fantastic for a families, especially the affordable and spacious suites! There’s a rooftop pool with its own restaurant where everyone can relax after a long day. We booked a deluxe suite and adjacent room for the kids connected by a private foyer. The extra space was worth it—especially because we indulged in large lunches so opted for lighter room service dinners two of our four nights. Sign up for Windsor Court email offers or check out rates and special packages here, we booked immediately when their Amex special hit my inbox offering a free fourth night.
After checking in on Day 1 we headed to Jackson Square, a historic park in the heart of the French Quarter. Our flight was late, so we missed experiencing The Calbildo. Generally I’ve found the best way to keep kids engaged is not to push seeing an entire museum in one outing. Let them pick two or three exhibits and limit the visit to two hours. Someday they will return, to finish the experience, with happy childhood memories as their compass. After the Calbildo, don’t miss a fabulous old world bookstore around the corner called Faulkner House Books. Each of my kids selected a book (which we personalized inside the cover after returning home) as a memento of our trip that will someday mean more to them than t-shirts or cheap souvenirs. We ended the afternoon with beignets at the original Cafe Du Monde coffee stand (established in 1862) and that evening enjoyed a jazz buffet dinner on the Steamboat Natchez. While the food is average, my 8-year-old daughter said this was her favorite activity of the trip. There are two seating times, 6:00 – 7:15 and 7:45 – 9:00 p.m. (both on the same cruise trip). The earlier time may work better for hungry kids, but once we finished and headed to the deck most of the seats were taken so you may want to opt for the later seating.
We began Day 2 with brunch at Brennan’s, established in 1946, where Bananas Foster was invented. While you’re there, be sure to pick up the darling book they just published celebrating the tricentennial: A Topsy, Turvy History of New Orleans & Ten Tiny Turtles.
I’m a big believer in exposing children of all ages to fine dining experiences. We enjoy including ours at our table and involving them in adult conversations. It took some work on my part keeping them at bay and emphasizing manners when they were little, but I’m so glad I persisted. Others often comment about their behavior and willingness to explore new culinary experiences. Many old school NOLA restaurants have dress codes, some require jackets even at brunch, so I packed sundresses with comfortable flats for the girls (or TOMS), and seersucker pants with loafers (my favorites for boys are Elephantito). At home I wear lots of color, but when I travel I pack all black so I can make several outfits out of just a few pieces and I add color with pretty scarfs. When we left the hotel in the mornings we were dressed for all occasions that day which cut down on how much I had to pack. In our family we travel light, it really does make for a less complicated trip.
After Brennan’s we spent three hours (all my kids could handle) at the National WWII Museum, open daily, 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. but closed on Mardi Gras day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Buy your tickets here and skip the lines (WWII veterans are free). You’ll notice two separate $7 add-ons when you purchase online. We reluctantly skipped the 4D Tom Hanks-narrated cinematic experience: Beyond All Boundaries (only because I thought the 45 extra minutes might tip our kids over the edge). We did experience the shorter heroic story of the USS Tang, the most successful submarine of World War II.
We ended our day with a casual, affordable dinner at Felix’s Restaurant & Oyster Bar established in the 1940s.
On Day 3 we started our day with an hour and a half French Quarter Kids Tour. My oldest and I split up from my husband and younger two (simultaneous tours are geared toward different ages).
Be sure to ask your tour guide to wait a few minutes while you peek inside the St. Louis Cathedral, established in 1727, which is the oldest operating cathedral in U.S.
Later that day we relished a rowdy lunch at famous Galatoire’s on Bourbon Street, established in 1905. The restaurant’s culinary customs and reservation statutes have been preserved with little change throughout the decades and Friday lunch is an experience to behold. It’s worth waiting on a table downstairs. Some concierges can hire individuals to stand in line for you at a steep price. We put our name down and headed to the hotel for a snack while we waited for a text that our table was finally ready. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel pool recovering and ordered room service that night.
On Day 4, our last day, we spent the morning at the Audubon Nature Institute’s Aquarium of the Americas, a highlight for my shark-obsessed 5-year-old. There is also a NOLA Audubon Zoo (with a splash park and carousel) and an Insectarium. We all loved the new exhibit Washed Ashore: Art To Save The Sea featuring larger-than-life aquatic animal sculptures crafted from plastic trash collected from Pacific Coast beaches displayed throughout the aquarium.
Afterwards we headed over to Commander’s Palace for a three-course jazz lunch.
The plan that afternoon was the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) but my kids were running on fumes and begged us for an alternative. We ended up at one of the Mardis Gras Museums. Visit the larger Mardi Gras World for a true behind the scenes look at floats, or we opted to visit the more quaint Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes & Cultures open Monday – Saturday 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. where you can play dress up with rooms full of extraordinary costumes. There are guided tours, but a tour isn’t necessary. When I walked in I was a bit skeptical, but each of my kids voted it a favorite NOLA experience. It was an absolute joy for us to watch them having so much fun.
Afterwards we retreated to the hotel pool followed by a kids movie and room service supervised by my 12-year-old while we enjoyed a delicious three-course meal downstairs in The Grill Room, Windsor Court’s four-star restaurant.
Other restaurants I would recommend from previous NOLA experiences are Antoine’s and The Maison, which is kid-friendly if you go for the live jazz music starting at 4:00 p.m. In cooler weather we would have taken an open air ride on the St. Charles Streetcar (the oldest operating streetcar in the world) through the Garden District. There are swamp and plantation tours but my advice is skip these with kids in tow. They are several hours long, far away from the heart of the city (and once you’re there you’re committed until your tour is over).
“…and all at once,
summer collapsed into fall.”