Family-friendly Options Abound in The Big Easy
When most people think of New Orleans, they picture wild Mardi Gras parades on Bourbon Street and crazy parties in the French Quarter. But the Crescent City is so much more than these two popular locales, and families can enjoy it all.
Have an Animal Encounter
New Orleans is home to three kid-friendly Audubon attractions: Audubon Zoo (6500 Magazine St., New Orleans), Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (1 Canal St., New Orleans) and Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium (423 Canal St., New Orleans). All three expose families to a myriad of animals, including up close and personal encounters. Obviously, these are very popular family attractions, so avoid the crowds and visit on weekday afternoons. Tickets for individual attractions start at $22.95 for adults and $17.95 for children ages 2 to 12, and vary from there based on the various combination tickets available.
Both the aquarium and the Insectarium are on Canal Street near the French Quarter, so visitors staying in this area can walk. The zoo, however, is in Uptown New Orleans, so transportation is required. Guests are welcome to drive their own cars and take advantage of free parking. For an extra New Orleans adventure, hop on the St. Charles Avenue streetcar and take it to the Audubon Park stop, then enjoy a leisurely stroll through the park to the zoo. However, if you have small children or a lot to carry, plan to come in your own vehicle.
Cruise Along the Mississippi
Experience New Orleans as it was when cotton was the driving force of the city with an authentic riverboat cruise. These outings showcase a different side of The Big Easy, one that most visitors have never seen. The Steamboat Natchez (600 Decatur St., New Orleans) offers two-hour daytime jazz cruises, dinner cruises, brunch cruises and a variety of special event cruises. Tickets start at $32 for adults and $13 for children ages 6 to 12, and vary based on selected cruise. Combination tickets also are available for cruises and Grey Line tours.
The Creole Queen (1 Poydras, New Orleans) offers families a historical look at the city with a three-hour cruise that includes a one-hour stop at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Chalmette Battlefield. Tickets are $34 for adults and $14 for children ages 6 to 12. Meals are available onboard for an additional cost.
If you think your children aren’t up to an extended cruise but would still love a water adventure, take a ride on the Algiers Ferry (1 Canal St., New Orleans). Running between Canal Street and Algiers Point, this ferry carries cars and passengers across the Mississippi River every 30 minutes. The one-way fare is $2 per person ($4 roundtrip) and free for children age 2 and younger. One-way fares for seniors age 65 and older and disabled pedestrians is just $1 ($2 roundtrip). Note that all fares must be paid in cash with exact change.
Explore the French Quarter
Of course, you can’t visit New Orleans and not stroll through the French Quarter. Also known as the Vieux Carré, the French Quarter is the oldest section of New Orleans, and the architecture reflects this history. Take time to walk the Quarter, and check out the elaborate wrought-iron railings on the balconies, many with Mardi Gras beads caught among the intricate designs. View the various styles of art and antiques found along Royal Street. And, if mass is not taking place, step inside historic St. Louis Cathedral (615 Pere Antoine Alley, New Orleans), which overlooks Jackson Square (700 Decatur St., New Orleans).
Speaking of Jackson Square, families will find a variety of entertainment surrounding the square, everything from painters and caricaturists to musicians and mimes. There also are several restaurants around the square, where diners can eat while enjoying the view.
For a memorable keepsake, take the kids to the French Market (1008 N. Peters St., New Orleans), just a few blocks down from Jackson Square. Here, pick up everything from alligator heads and Creole spices to handmade jewelry and screen-printed t-shirts.
Unless purchasing meals or souvenirs, spending time in the French Quarter is completely free—something every family can fit in their budget.
New Orleans is a popular destination year-round, but some months are more crowded than others. For instance, Mardi Gras is always a busy time, so, unless you are going specifically for Mardi Gras events (yes, there are family-friendly Mardi Gras parades), avoid this time of year. Also, New Orleans is a perennial host for many popular sporting events like NCAA football bowl games, the NCAA Final Four basketball tournament, and, on occasion, the NFL Super Bowl. Therefore, check the city’s calendar of events for the time of your visit to plan around big crowds.
Weather in New Orleans usually is quite beautiful during the spring and fall, and can be nice even in the winter. During the summer, it does get hot, and high humidity levels make it feel hotter than the actual temperature, so plan accordingly if heat is an issue.
Karon Warren has covered travel for nearly 20 years with numerous print and online publications. Her byline has appeared in USA Today, USA Today’s 10 Best, WorkingMother.com, FamilyVacationCritic.com. and many others. She is a member of both the Society of American Travel Writers and the American Society of Journalists and Authors. In addition to her freelance work for other clients, she also writes for her own travel site, ThisGirlTravels.com