Think New Orleans is just for spring break and bachelor parties? Well put down your Hurricane, there is a whole ‘nother New Orleans that is fantastic for families. With a 300-year-old history and unique culture, New Orleans is about as close as you can get to visiting another country without leaving the US. While you can’t see it all in a weekend, here’s your blueprint for 48 family-friendly New Orleans hours.
Arrive and check in. Location is key, as NOLA can be treated largely as a walking city (and parking is not always so easy around here). We selected the Sheraton on Canal, a large bustling hotel with easy access to the river, the French Quarter and the St. Charles Streetcar. If your budget allows, spring for a Club Room and robust breakfast (eggs, grits, pastries, coffee, cereal) will greet you each morning and evening cocktail hour will help you transition to evening.
Drop your bags and head down Canal to jump aboard the Steamboat Natchez for an evening river cruise. Yup, it will be crowded with tourists and the food is just okay, but the view of the city and the experience of cruising aboard the Mississippi River’s last authentic steamboat is not to be missed.
If your morning workout is a key part of your day, put on your sneakers and head up Magazine Street, take a right on Julia and discover Prime Fitness RX a fabulous, spotless, rocking gym (best to call in advance 504.402.1996). Or head down Canal and take a run along the River as New Orleans awakens.
Gather the family and head right to Cafe Du Monde for coffee for you, hot cocoa for them and beignets for all. The lines build quickly at this 150-year-old coffee stand, so arrive early or be prepared for a bit of a wait.
Bellies full, explore Jackson Square to see the iconic Andrew Jackson statue and the St. Louis Cathedral, the oldest cathedral still in use in North America. Take time to check out the artists who have set their wares along the iron fence around the square and perhaps let a Tarot card reader peek into your future.
Weather permitting, head to City Park for the afternoon. Grab lunch at Parkway Poorboys and dine on the banks of Bayou St. John. Then, explore City Park on wheels or water with bike and boat rentals available from Wheel Fun Rentals or load up the family for a gondola ride with NOLA Gondola.
Head back to the hotel for a swim or a little R&R before dinner. Among its many attributes NOLA is a food town and there are many, many, many great restaurants to choose from. We strolled into the French Quarter for casual seafood from Red Fish Grill where you will find a variety of fish cooked to order -- I suggest you put the lemon vinaigrette on just about anything and finish your meal with the double chocolate bread pudding. A kid’s menu will answer the needs of your less-adventurous eaters.
Sunday Brunch and Beyond
Grab the St. Charles Avenue streetcar from the corner of Canal and Carondelet and head uptown to the Garden District. Get off at Washington and walk just a couple of blocks for Jazz brunch at the iconic Commander's Palace (be sure you’ve booked this well in advance and be mindful of the dress code -- at Commander’s Palace jackets for gentlemen are “preferred” and jeans are “discouraged”).
After brunch, meet Historic Tours of New Orleans for a walking tour of the Garden District. I know, I know, kids and a walking tour of the French Quarter … but this tour is 20% architectural and 80% history, stories and celebrities. Reserve in advance and request Nita to be your guide if she’s available.
Head to Mardi Gras World where the majority of New Orleans’ world-famous Mardi Gras floats are constructed each year. The one-hour tour includes a short video describing the history of Mardi Gras, the chance to dress up in Mardi Gras costumes, a piece of King Cake (pretty much the only place you can get King Cake outside of Mardi Gras season), and a tour of the working warehouse and shop where the ornate Mardi Gras floats are built.
Sunday afternoons are the perfect time for family exploration of the French Quarter and you can’t leave New Orleans without pralines. So after Mardi Gras World, head back to the Quarter for a stop at the Royal Praline Company on Royal Street where your kids will be able to taste test a variety of pralines so you can load up your favorite for the journey home.
The writer was a guest of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. Hotel and most meals and activities were provided to facilitate this review. No other compensation was received and all opinions are the writer's own.