We have some history in New Orleans. Daniel grew up there and I think that’s where he picked up his appreciation for good food–something I’m really glad he brought into our family culture.
NOLA’s also about halfway between Waco, TX (where I went to college) and our hometown, Tallahassee, FL. Daniel and I met in New Orleans one weekend when I was a freshman and we were “just friends” before officially getting back together.
I stayed with a friend’s cousin in her dorm room at Loyola. He stayed with a high school friend at Tulane. And we wandered around finding bookshops and eating crepes and turtle soup and happening upon wedding parades. We sat in Preservation Hall and listened to musicians play in the very spot where Jazz was born. We rode streetcars and walked the city that February weekend. And luckily for me, it was chilly enough that I could insist that he put his arm around me “just to keep me warm.” Because I tend to be
completely head over heels in love with him cold natured. We ate beignets and stayed up late drinking coffee with chicory and ever since New Orleans has been a magical place to me.
Since getting married, we’ve visited several times, but we’ve never taken the kids. Traveling with a preschooler, a toddler, and a baby is an overwhelming prospect, but since we had a wedding in Texas to attend, we decided to give it a shot and introduce the kids to New Orleans. And I have to admit that the whole experience was pretty magical.
So here’s my tips for having an enjoyable trip to NOLA with tiny little humans in your care:
1. Make the drive part of the vacation. Audiobooks (we had Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone, and Little House in the Big Woods), sticker books, and SO MANY SNACKS. I said yes to all the things they always want at the grocery store that Mean Ol’ Mom (that’s me) usually says no to: trail mix, granola bars, juice packs, cookies, and veggie sticks (AKA champion of keeping an 11-month-old baby happily chomping away in a car seat for 7 hours).
2. Choose a hotel close to the streetcar line. We stayed in a lovely hotel right on the streetcar line in the Garden District, the Maison St. Charles. There were restaurants galore in walking distance and we just had to hop on a streetcar to go anywhere we wanted. Our kids were so thrilled to be riding a streetcar, they didn’t even care where we were going. Fun was already being had! And we avoided having to navigate unfamiliar streets with a baby who has no fond feelings for her car seat. One ride on a street car is $1.25 and you can just pay when you hop on. We got an all day pass for $3 each (these can be purchased when you get on as well) and made good use of them.
Hooray for streetcars!, Baby Gwen seemed to say.
The Maison St. Charles was charming and beautiful, too.
3. Get a good night’s sleep. Because of the set up on our room (one master bedroom with a large bathroom and a pull-out bed in the living area) all five of us could fit comfortably. And we used the brilliant trick of putting the baby’s pack n’play in the bathroom (she has her own room, hurrah!). We left plenty of time for winding down and snuggles to help the kids fall asleep in a new place so that they would be well-rested to explore the city.
4. Take advantage of a good hotel breakfast before exploring the city. A significant portion of parenting small children is tweaking circumstances to avoid having tired, hungry, or thirsty children who are more prone to major meltdowns. And nothing makes kiddos more volatile than hunger. Blood sugar drops and all hell breaks loose. So…don’t just throw a granola bar at them and rush out to see the sights. Have some eggs at your hotel. Jam on a cup of yogurt. Eat ALL THE BACON. And what’s more exciting to a preschooler than pushing a button on a machine resulting in an infinite supply of juice?! So much fun, and you haven’t even seen anything yet!
5. Forget the stroller. Maybe if you’re a super expert stroller pusher, having a stroller would work in the city. We saw plenty of families using strollers. I just prefer using the ERGO for the baby and holding hands with the little ones. That way it’s easy to navigate the cobblestone streets in the historic districts and jump onto a streetcar without maneuvering a big stroller. And if you make the big kids walk, then they’re much more likely to nap which is a huge win in my opinion.
6. Find kid-friendly restaurants. By this, I do not mean go grab chicken nuggets. Part of introducing a kids to a new city is introducing them to the regional food culture, right? We tried to strike a balance of eating really amazing New Orleans food, but not attempting a quiet restaurant environment where we (and others) would be stressed out by the squawks of small children. The first night we ate at Deanie’s Seafood and OH MY HEAVENS. Best shrimp I’ve ever tasted. And Crawfish Etouffee! And my five-year-old’s brand new white t-shirt was covered in red sauce and it was completely worth it. The second night we walked from our hotel to Copeland’s. The entrees were delicious, but it was the Daquiri and cheesecake that will be etched in my mind forever. We didn’t let the kids sample the Daquiris, despite our preschooler’s insistence that they were “caffeine free” and therefore fair game. Sorry kid, enjoy your cheesecake. (And he did.)
7. Visit the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. This was the perfect afternoon adventure. We got the kids out of the sun and they explored to their hearts desire.
Penguins? Yes, please.
I kept an eye on the preschooler (the hare) while Daniel minded the toddler (the tortoise).
8. Visit the Audubon Zoo. I love this zoo. It is huge and you could definitely spent an entire day there. We spent a whole morning and Benjamin acted as navigator:
This was the one time it was nice to have a stroller (we just rented one at the zoo). The kids got worn out and Lucy fell asleep right before we got to the elephants which was what she had been excited about seeing all morning.
But we were able to tickle her until she perked up and found the elephants THRILLING. And…they are really cool. If you had to pick between the Aquarium and the Zoo, I would recommend the Zoo, but Daniel prefers the Aquarium.
9. Visit the French Quarter. Morning in the French Quarter is perfectly family-friendly (if you stay away from Bourbon Street). While New Orleans nightlife can be wild, I’ve always been surprised at how low-key the city is. It really is the Big Easy. People stop to chat. It’s southern culture at it’s finest. When I went to Mardi Gras with Daniel’s family a few years back, I was surprised to see that many of the parades are family events. Definitely not the wild and craziness I had anticipated (although those do exist.) But, I recommend caution and staying out of the French Quarter 5pm and later if you have children in tow.
10. Go to Mass at the Cathedral. Even before we converted to Catholicism, we loved visiting the St. Louis Cathedral (OK, maybe part of the draw is the Cafe du Monde is right across the street). It was a treat to attend morning Mass there with blogging friend Julie and her family. And the word on the street is that St. Patrick’s and St. Mary’s Assumption are also absolutely gorgeous churches with great liturgy.
11. Don’t forget Cafe du Monde. Really. DON’T. A Cafe au Lait and plate of beignets…..it really doesn’t get any better than that. Although, you might want an outdoor adventure planned after little ones consume that much powdered sugar…(we immediately followed up our visit to Cafe du Monde with walking the city and wearing them out at the zoo!)
I think my favorite moments of the trip were just walking around and exploring the city. Being on an adventure together. The whole experience made me want to attempt other trips with the kids when the budget allows. It’s definitely a little different experience to travel with small children, but I’m thrilled with how it turned out and how much fun we had together!
A few places to eat that we didn’t make it to this trip, but that we LOVE are Camellia Grill (best pecan pie of your life!), Mandina’s, and Mother’s. And next time we really want to visit the Shrine of Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos.
Have you ever visited New Orleans? What are some of your favorite places in the city?
A big thanks to New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau for helping us set up this trip.
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