New Orleans, the Big Easy
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what to expect of New Orleans, or the United States, for that matter upon our arrival in the “Big Easy” Being our first time in the United States we were not sure how we would be perceived as outsiders and whether we would be welcomed as we were in South America.
Perhaps, given our apprehensions, New Orleans then was the perfect place to begin our North American adventure. Being such a tourist hot spot, people here are used to outsiders and are very welcoming. And we realised that almost from the minute we got off the aeroplane at Louis Armstrong International Airport. We called an Uber to take us to our new home and had a delightful driver whom we chatted to for the duration of the drive, he was so helpful and recommended many things for us to do while we were here in the city. Many of which we ended up doing, and were delighted we did.
The friendliness and welcoming nature of the people of New Orleans continued as we arrived at our new home and met our new hosts, who had so graciously opened their home to us. It was so good living in a suburban neighbourhood again and Mark, our Airbnb host, made us feel so welcome and was so helpful, we felt right at home immediately.
So, my initial fears had been dispelled very quickly. But I did still have other fears about visiting New Orleans. Is it really a good city to come and visit with children? I mean after all New Orleans is known for its round-the-clock nightlife, vibrant live-music scene and its famed street parties and parades, most notably Mardi Gras.
Lauren and I had both always wanted to visit the city, known as the “Big Easy” and we felt that we couldn’t complete a visit to the USA without stopping in New Orleans. So, we had put our reservations aside and come to this party city with our three-year-old son. Very quickly after arriving was my second fear dispelled too, and we realised that there is so much more to this city that just a massive party scene. In fact, a lot of what is on offer is geared up for families and children. After spending the better part of a week and a half in the city not only can I say it is a city you can very easily visit with your family, but I can say it is a city you absolutely must visit with your family.
There is just so much on offer that we went flat out the entire time we were here, and for the first time our philosophy of slow, relaxed travel went a little bit out the window. Instead of just living normal lives in this city, we quickly got wrapped up in the hustle and bustle tourist mentality. Not that I regret it, I am very glad we did everything that we did. And to be honest, after travelling for a little over three months, it was nice to finally feel like a tourist for a while.
So, what did keep us busy? One blog post really cannot do justice to everything we did and experienced during our time here in New Orleans, but our major highlights of the week included.
A trip to the National World War II museum.
The museum is rated the 4th best museum in the USA and the 14th best in the world, and without a doubt is a must visit if you come to New Orleans. Lauren and I both love history so it was a natural choice for us to visit, but even non-history buffs will enjoy visiting here. There is just so much on offer, you can spend hour upon hour pouring over the informative and interactive displays.
Obviously travelling with a three-year-old meant we were on the “fast track” visit and sped through the museum at a brisk pace. But non-the less, it was well worth the visit and truly interesting. The museum gives you a real sense of what it must have been like to be involved in the war but also gives great insight and background into some of the men and women who fought in the war, thus really bringing the history to life.
Without a doubt one of the highlights for all of us, was the Boeing Center, which houses an impressive collection of aeroplanes from the war, including a B-17E Flying Fortress bomber, a B-25J Mitchell bomber, an SBD-3 Dauntless, a TBF Avenger, a P-51C Mustang and a Corsair F4U-4.
A visit to the Audobon Zoo
The Audobon Nature institute manages three great facilities here in New Orleans, the Insectarium, the Aquarium of the Americas and the Audobon Zoo. Chatting with locals all are very impressive and should be visited if possible. We unfortunately only had time to visit the zoo. We chose the zoo over the aquarium as we have our very own award winning aquarium back home in Cape Town.
We were a little sceptical about visiting the zoo, as we are not entirely sure how we feel about animals in captivity. But we knew it would be a good outing for Aiden and something he would enjoy. We had also heard that this zoo is good and the animals are treated well, so if we were to visit a zoo, this would be it.
And we were not disappointed. The zoo enclosures are amazing, they all felt very natural and looked very comfortable for the animals, all of whom seemed very well looked after and in good health.
It was a really fun day out, especially for Aiden. For Lauren and I it was an enjoyable experience but of course does not come close to seeing animals in the wild, as we have been privileged enough to have seen while on safari back in South Africa. But I must say, after our visit, I do have a far greater appreciation now for high quality zoos and the importance they play in conservation and education. Seeing the joy and amazement on some of the other visitors faces seeing animals they would never have otherwise seen was a treat in itself, and hopefully those people will go away from their visit with a much greater appreciation for our wild animals and the habitats in which they live.
So, prior to visiting the zoo, I was unconvinced by the merits of zoos, but now having visited I can see the value a zoo can play in society and the important roles they have, provided they are managed properly and the animals are treated and cared for with the respect they deserve.
A delightful visit to the Louisiana children’s Museum
As we learnt, New Orleans is a playful and fun city for the entire family, but the most playful and educational place of all must be the Louisiana Childrens Museum. With so many interactive displays to explore and learn from, the morning we spent there was an absolute blast. Aiden was completely in his element, and Lauren and I just delighted in watching our little man play and learn.
The day of our visit, the museum was overrun with school children on field trips, but I think that made the experience just that little more fun, and defiantly a little more manic. And it allowed Aiden to interact with other kids, which was great. Albeit that they were a little older than he. What has always amazed us is how he can handle himself among bigger and older kids, he has very little fear and doesn’t back down from any situation.
The museum has so much to offer and is well worth a visit, make sure you take the kids and schedule at least half a day to spend learning and playing.
And what else….
We did and experienced so much in our time here in New Orleans and putting pen to paper makes me realise just how much we did do.
Other than the above, we managed to sneak in a trip down the Mississippi river on the Paddlewheeler Creole Queen. Enjoy a ghost and vampire tour of the French quarter with French Quarter Phantoms. And even managed to spend a day relaxing in city park, which included a visit to storyland, an imaginative outdoor spot with colorful sculptures & playscapes in the shape of storybook characters.
And yes, we did get a small taste of the famous party scene of the city.
Yes, New Orleans is a great city for families and for kids and it has far more to offer than just night-life and Mardi Gras. But let’s be honest, its famous for its party scene for a reason and no trip to New Orleans would be complete without at least getting a small taste of what is on offer.
New Orleans is a festival town, and according to locals there is a festival nearly every month. And we were very fortunate that our trip to the “Big Easy” coincided with the French Quarter Festival. The Festival consists of 23 stages throughout the French Quarter, representing every genre of music from traditional and contemporary jazz to R&B, New Orleans funk, brass bands, folk, gospel, Latin, Zydeco, classical, cabaret, and international. And the best part is, it’s all free. In 2016, over 760,000 people visited the festival and we were fortunate enough to spend an afternoon down by the river enjoying and experiencing the 2017 edition. It was an amazing experience, and for us what was even more amazing was that the festival attracted all types, the young and the old.
We started our New Orleans experience with a taste of the party scene at the French Quarter Fest, and we ended our trip with another little taste by taking a walk down the famed Bourbon Street on our final night in the city. Yes, it is full of tourists and comes with all the tourist clichés, but it is still one heck of an experience and something you must do. Again, what amazed us most was that all sorts were out and about experiencing the vibe on offer, from the old, to the very young.
So, without a doubt New Orleans is a family city and caters for the whole family. Even the party scene can be enjoyed, within reason obviously, with the kids. My advice, when you do visit New Orleans, bring the kids and the grandparents. Then after a little bit of family fun on the town, let the grandparents take the children home, and let mom and dad really enjoy the party in the “Big Easy”.
Until next week