|New Orleans may have an adult-oriented reputation, but it offers plenty of fun activities for children too|
|By Patrick Martin
The scent of magnolias, the buzz of mosquitoes and the call of the wild surrounded us. Twenty brave souls were face-to-face with Mother Nature, and we weren't sure of her mood.
The outboard motor operator peered into the steamy but sunless bayou, his vision challenged by the eternal ceiling of Spanish moss and shadows that concealed the features and creatures of the swamp. Danger could be lurking anywhere.
But just in case it wasn't, he grabbed a handful of entrails and started calling like a hog farmer.
Come here, Big Boy! Come on!
Almost on cue, Big Boy heard him and made a beeline for the boat. The alligator glided alongside and patiently awaited his reward of chicken parts. When they were tossed overboard, he opened up and scarfed them down in one gulp, using none of the 9,000 teeth he showed to an impressed audience.
Welcome to the Cajun Pride Swamp Tour.
The tour was one of several attractions our family of six attempted to take in on a three-day whirlwind visit to New Orleans. Our mission, which we eagerly chose to accept, was to determine whether a city with an adult-oriented reputation could provide suitable entertainment for a family with children ranging in age from 6 to 20.
The answer was a resounding yes that was bigger than Big Boy. New Orleans has a stupendous offering of culture, cuisine and entertainment suitable for eyes and ears of all ages.
From crabcakes to cemeteries
We stayed in the French Quarter, the historic riverside district with ancient buildings, narrow streets and a reputation for oo-la-la sightings on every corner. With a pair of grammar schoolers in tow, we did most of our touring during daylight hours and had no embarrassing or inappropriate encounters.
Like it was 300 years ago, the French Quarter is meant to be walked, and anyone with a reasonably sturdy constitution can do this. The district is six blocks deep coming off the Mississippi River and about 14 blocks wide. Driving is difficult and parking virtually impossible.
We stayed at the Omni Royal Orleans, a AAA Four-Diamond hotel in the heart of the French Quarter which is larger than the average hostelry in that district. There are dozens of small hotels and bed-and-breakfast inns in the district that would take even a regular visitor decades to sample.
Ditto for the restaurants. Hundreds of volumes have been written on the cuisine of New Orleans. In a three-day tour, we sampled breakfast tea rooms, marketplace cafés and mid-price restaurants. We didn't have a disappointment in the bunch.
Our favorite was the Royal Café, a walk-up restaurant near the hotel. Guests enter through a ground-floor bar, then ascend a narrow staircase to a surprisingly elegant second-story dining room. A substantial amount of the seating was on an outdoor balcony overlooking Royal Street.
My philosophy on regional dining is when in Rome, try the crab cakes. Those at the Royal Café were a heavenly hint of what was to follow. The meal was glorious.
We did venture a couple of nighttime outings. My college-age daughters were more than eager to try one of the haunted walking tours offered in the French Quarter, so we paid our $18 each and hooked up with about 30 ghost-seekers and our hostess, who wore black.
She did a great job, guiding us from one grisly murder scene to the next, telling the chilling details as she confidently walked backward over uneven streets. We saw a haunted house, haunted firehouse and haunted street. Halfway through the tour, we stopped for refreshments at a haunted bar.
The climax of the tour was a stop outside the infamous residence of Delphine Lalaurie, whose early-19th-century deeds were so abominable, our guide told us breathlessly, that previous tour listeners have fainted right on the sidewalk.
Lalaurie was alleged to be a New Orleans society matron who, with her physician husband, conducted Frankenstein-like medical experiments on her slaves. This led to screams in the night, her hasty retreat into the bayou when the authorities got wise to her and the subsequent discovery of ghastly evidence when her house caught fire in 1834.
It was a gory story, but all of us lived to tell the tale.
The tour was lots of fun without resorting to funhouse theatrics. Madame Lalaurie did not leap out at us from the next alley. The entire story was transferred from the guides lips to our imaginations without a single special effect beyond the atmosphere of a late-night French Quarter side street.
Cemetery tours also are big in New Orleans. Because the city is six feet below sea level, conventional cemeteries do not work. As a result, the cemeteries or cities of the dead are architectural showcases of mausoleums and above-ground crypts not found in most graveyards.
We were cautioned that the cemeteries are best visited in groups because all the above-ground structures provide many spooky hiding places for flesh and blood neer-do-wells.
Museums and music
It almost seems sinful to write about New Orleans, the Birthplace of Jazz, without at least mentioning its musical heritage and arts district. There are galleries to see, museums to tour, cooking schools to attend.
The visitor has the contradictory challenge of trying to get into the cadence of the Big Easy, where no one is in a hurry, while trying to cram in as many sights as possible in a short stay. The result? We ran around like crazy people and soaked up as much as we could. It was exhilarating, if not easy, and we loved every experience.
That included our kids of all ages. The older ones loved the street life and vibrancy of the city, plus the beignets at Café du Monde in the French Market. The younger ones of any family would be entranced by the Musee Conti Wax Museum, the Louisiana Childrens Museum, the Aquarium of the Americas or riding the streetcar to Audubon Park. Dont miss the Audubon Zoo, ranked among the best in the world. Six Flags New Orleans (formerly Jazzland) has 140 acres of spine-tingling rides and other entertainment.
All thisand moreis available to families visiting New Orleans.
|Patrick Martin is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.|