You’re not taking your kids are you? Is it safe? What about all the Mardi Gras madness? And the lasciviousness on Bourbon Street (insert very southern gasps)? These were just a few of the questions we heard from well-intentioned friends and family when we announced we were making our first family trip to New Orleans.
Luckily, we had comebacks to their questions and concerns, as we have several friends who are “expats” from New Orleans who assured us it was a great idea to take a family vacation to their hometown. And I can only say that they were so right. We loved New Orleans so much that we’ve been back several times now and our kids absolutely love spending time there too.
However, family trips to the Big Easy require a little more planning, especially when it comes to the calendar. Here are our family’s recommendations for what to do in New Orleans with kids.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT NEW ORLEANS WITH KIDS
For our family, visiting New Orleans in the early spring is the perfect time. As adults, any time we get to sneak off and visit the Big Easy is the perfect time, but when visiting the city as a family of five, with all three of our kids being 8-years old and under, we prefer the early spring.
Here’s why: on our latest trip to New Orleans, we visited three weeks before Mardi Gras when everything was festively decorated for the upcoming parades and parties. While New Orleans seems to be decorated year-round, the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras offer especially festive, bright, and exclusive balcony, street, and building decorations that are proudly set out for the city’s biggest celebration. These decorations somehow change the spirit of the city and much like the Christmas window displays in NYC in December, New Orleans transforms into a ball of excitement and anticipation.
In addition to the magnificently draped, flocked, and feathered decor, another reason we love to visit New Orleans in the early spring is the weather. The weather is pleasantly cool without the sweat-inducing heat and humidity of summer. While the locals say it’s cold, the prospect of 60° weather is always welcome by our Krewe.
And lastly, the early spring is a great time to visit the Crescent City with kids because the crowds from New Year’s Eve are long gone, and they have not yet returned for the larger Fat Tuesday celebrations or Mardi Gras festivities. Plus, there aren’t any college or pro football games bringing in tens of thousands of fans to the Superdome.
The only thing to look out for (or plan around) is the thousands of runners that flock to the streets of New Orleans at the beginning of February each year to participate in the New Orleans Marathon. If you’re a running family like ours, you might even consider entering the race and sightseeing much of the city on foot!
WHAT TO DO IN NEW ORLEANS WITH KIDS
AUDUBON AQUARIUM OF THE AMERICAS
The first attraction we ever visited in New Orleans was the Audubon Aquarium of the Americaslocated in the far southeastern corner of the French Quarter. This is a world-class aquarium with two stories of exhibits. Highlights include penguins, sea otters, a kids’ play area, jellyfish and a 400,000 gallon display showcasing Gulf of Mexico sea creatures like sharks, schools of fish, sting rays, and sea turtles.
There is also an indoor Amazon rainforest and an area to touch live sting rays. This is a great attraction that easily occupies four hours or more and is perfect for hot or rainy days. Two streetcar lines converge here making it easily accessible, and your kids will love riding the streetcars (just don’t call them trolleys!). And yes, there is one out in the streets named, “Desire.”
NEW ORLEANS AUDUBON ZOO
The New Orleans Audubon Zoo is a sister attraction to the aquarium and is always a place we visit when in town. The zoo is easily walkable and broken up into distinct areas highlighting the African Savannah, the Louisiana Swamp, Asian Domain, Primates, Dinosaur Adventure, Reptile house and a petting zoo. There are also non-animal attractions like a train, a carousel and a small water park; the water park requires a separate ticket but is well worth it in hot temperatures.
The zoo is a five-mile drive from downtown New Orleans and has free parking. I recommend driving along St. Charles Avenue and marveling at the beautiful old houses in the Garden District and other quaint neighborhoods that seduce you with their intoxicating charm. And be on the look out for live movie sets. Every time we visit, we seem to come across on-location shoots tucked around neighborhoods all over the city.
LOUISIANA CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
The Louisiana Children’s Museum is always a great source of entertainment for our girls, especially on rainy afternoons. This two-story science center has plenty of things to educate and entertain our daughters. There are art stations for kids to be creative but also some active Body Works exhibits that help them burn off energy. The Louisiana Children’s Museum also has a large, separate play area designated specifically for toddlers.
For planning purposes, they do offer reciprocity through the ASTC Travel Passport Program but please realize the museum is closed on Mondays. This is always the place we come visit after binging out at lunch over at Couchon Butcher around the corner. For our family, these two places go hand in hand when in New Orleans.
THE FRENCH QUARTER WITH KIDS
We have no regrets about taking our kids into the French Quarter, but we are also very specific about the timing. We only go and walk around from mid-morning until mid-afternoon, when any mess from the previous evening has already been cleaned up and the partying for the current night has not yet started.
We walk around with our stroller to most places, but I also recommend grabbing a carriage ride from Jackson Square. Kids love riding in a horse-drawn carriage, and parents can enjoy the brief history lesson, anecdotes, and fun Jeopardy-esque factoids along the tour route.
The line of carriages that sit on Decatur Street along Jackson Square is quite long, and each driver offers their own version of the tour, complete with personal ad-libs. Because New Orleans isn’t known for its kid-friendliness, this sentiment also extends to the language and content of the tours. I didn’t realize this until I spoke with a very kind driver while on my quest to find the best price for our family of five.
So I pass her wisdom on to you: always ask the driver if their tour is kid-appropriate or not. Some talk more about ghosts and haunted New Orleans; some curse like sailors and tell adult jokes throughout the entire ride; and some even emphasize and accentuate New Orleans’ debauchery. But there are also many that offer “cleaner” PG-rated versions that are just as fun, entertaining, and enlightening as the explicit ones.
On our tour, our driver was great about not pointing out any obvious inappropriate or lascivious behavior we encountered on Bourbon Street. While we adults saw things and laughed or smiled, our kids were so enthralled by our driver’s stories that they never even noticed as we passed them by.
On a side note, there are several companies that operate the carriage rides, so some drivers only allow fixed pricing, but we scored our carriage ride at a bundled discount because our kids are young and small. You just have to ask!
After you return to Jackson Square, make sure you grab a few bags of beignets from Café du Mondeand also give the chicory coffee a try if you need a little caffeine kick. Also remember that New Orleans has very lenient liquor law, so if you want to enjoy an adult beverage while walking around the French Quarter or riding in the carriage, I highly recommend the Bloody Mary from the Original Pierre Maspero’s.
If the confinement and cobblestones of the French Quarter have you begging for cushioned grass, fresh air, and beautiful oak trees head over to City Park. One of the country’s oldest parks, City Park has over 1,300 acres of greenspace and something fun for everyone to enjoy.
From the giant bedtime story sculptures in Storyland and the antique handcrafted wooden carousel in the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park to the New Orleans Museum of Art and the multiple playgrounds with lawns, our girls love this change of pace and outdoor play time.
If you find you need a pick-me-up while at the park and want a super kid-friendly place to grab a snack, visit Morning Call, a café inside City Park that offers beignets, café-au-laits, hot chocolate, and even ice cream. Morning Call’s beignets rival those of Café du Monde, really. The only thing is that they are not served doused with powdered sugar. Instead, they arrive naked (that’s what our daughter called them), and you put the powdered sugar on them at the table. For this sole purpose, I recommend eating their warm beignets there at a sunny table and not to go. They just aren’t the same. However, I won’t hate you if you get some and walk with them down to the playground that’s only yards away — it’s so close it doesn’t count as being to-go. Because they are open 24-hours a day, they do offer heartier fare like jambalaya, too, but we’ve only had their beignets and chicory coffee. Just note they only take cash.
DISCOUNTS ON NEW ORLEANS ATTRACTIONS
On our latest trip to New Orleans, we took advantage of a few discount ticket and price options while visiting the Big Easy. First off, we bought a family membership to the Audubon Institute which covers our admission to the aquarium, zoo and insectarium for a full year. For a family of five, it was a significant discount compared to buying individual tickets. It was a great investment, as we stopped by the aquarium and insectarium several times just to feed the parakeets or play with the butterflies because we could. I would recommend checking out Big Easy Deals for 50% discounted Family 4-pack tickets to the zoo or aquarium if you only want to visit one attraction.
Riding the New Orleans streetcars is not only fun, but it’s also a low cost way of seeing the city. You can buy a $3, one-day Jazzy Pass from the streetcar conductor or RTA outlet, and you start saving money on your 3rd ride that day.
NEW ORLEANS HOTEL
While visiting New Orleans this past spring, we were treated to perfect weather, minimal crowds, insanely amazing food, and to top it off, we managed to pick the perfect hotel. Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue was an excellent home-away-from-home.
Our kids had fun playing in the pool each evening, and I spent each morning dark and early in the fitness center on the 6th floor. We liked the updated features, including the new executive lounge, but also appreciated how they kept many of the historic, art deco style details of the old building.
The location was also outstanding. This New Orleans hotel sits on the edge of the business district so it is quiet in the evenings but only a short, safe, five-minute walk to all the restaurants and attractions of the French Quarter.
This article was originally published by Hilton Mom Voyage.