Next stop in our Summer Fun Series: New Orleans! A short drive from many places in Mississippi is great fun for the whole family, and with a little planning, you’ll find there’s much more to New Orleans than just the French Quarter, though no visit to NOLA is complete without a stroll there. Before you take the family, however, there are a few things to consider. First, accommodations fill up fast so try to plan ahead. Also, be careful when choosing hotels, considering the surrounding area (and how family-friendly it might be), as well as its distance to major attractions or streetcar lines.
Next, you need to know that some restaurants in New Orleans aren’t exactly kid-friendly and don’t offer kids’ menu items so you might want to do a little investigation before you make dining decisions, especially if you’re interested in venturing out beyond tourist traps and chains.
Finally, if you’re going to New Orleans before October or November, be prepared to be hot! Especially when traveling with children, try to plan your days with a siesta of sorts in the afternoon. Whether you return to your hotel for a rest or reserve indoor attractions for the heat of the day, you and your kids will welcome the relief from the heat.
Having said all of that, we’ll start our tour of New Orleans where almost any trek to the city begins if you’re bringing kids: The Audubon Zoo.
When you purchase your tickets to the Zoo (and you can do so online), remember that it’s much cheaper to buy tickets to all the Audubon attractions at one time. (If you have a large family or can visit more than once, you should definitely consider getting a membership to the Audubon Institute.) You will have to choose a date and time for your I-Max tickets, but we missed ours and were able to attend a later one that was not sold out. Be realistic about how much you can get done in a day and plan accordingly. Get to the zoo early to avoid the worst heat and plan to spend at least 4 hours there (you’ll be surprised how quickly time passes). The Aquarium and Insectarium don’t require as much time and are indoors so they are great places to visit in the afternoon. Also, unless the idea of eating hot, greasy food when you are hot and sweaty appeals to you, pack a lunch! It will save you money and offer you an alternative to fast food while you’re at the zoo. Finally, remember that all Audubon attractions are usually closed on Mondays so if you’re visiting during the week, use that day to see other sights.
On to the zoo….The last time we visited was in 2007, and many of the exhibits were still closed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They are back in business now, and plans for expansion are well under way.
When you arrive, get a map and check for feeding times. If you plan your route according to the feeding schedule, you might be able to make them all. We were disappointed to miss the spider monkey feeding (it got off to a late start), but the giraffe and alligator feedings more than made up for it. At Twiga Terrace, visitors are given food for the giraffes, who come up to the fence to greet and eat. An old game driver in Kenya once told me that “Giraffes are very curious animals,” and he must be right because when the gate opens for feeding time, the giraffes at the Audubon Zoo come looking for more than just food. Expect to have them in your space and in your face! We loved it.
The alligator feeding was another highlight of the day for us. Thankfully, unlike the giraffes, the alligators only got up close and personal with the zoo’s employees. It was fascinating to see how the gators would strike at the food and terrifying to think that nothing stood between the hungry alligators and the men feeding them.
As you’re walking around the zoo, you’ll notice that there are often “cooling stations” which use fans to blow cool mists on people as they pass by. It’s a great way to cool down quickly. Monkey Hill and its “waterfall” also offer an opportunity to cool off, and kids enjoy sliding down the slippery slope. Tired little legs will find plenty of energy to run up and down it for a while. Keep it in mind when you choose your kids’ clothes for the day because they’ll definitely want to be able to play here. Many of the kids who were there that day were wearing bathing suits and having a blast.
There is quite a bit of construction going on, especially over near the area for reptiles, and on first glance, the sea lion exhibit appeared to be closed. The sea lions were actually living in a habitat behind the main (and most visible) area. Good thing we kept looking…watching the sea lions play from the cool of a “cave” with windows to their underwater world is one of my favorite memories of the day, which ended with a happy yet exhausted little girl and one of her favorite aunts walking hand in hand toward the exit.
Next up…The Insectarium….yes, it’s all about bugs.