I recently visited New Orleans with my 9 year old son. My Mother who was attending a conference there invited us to join her and we gladly accepted. We were three generations, each viewing this landmark city from a different perspective. My mother, who grew up in rural Mississippi has memories of a post war era boom when the Fairmont Hotel was host to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. For her, a trip to New Orleans represented glamour and glitz, shopping at the big department stores on Canal Street and shows at the Saengar Theater. We stayed in the newly renovated Roosevelt Hotel, formerly the Fairmont Hotel. After an extensive renovation, the hotel re-opened last year. The ubiquitous Sazerac Bar, restored to its former grandeur still boasts the bullet hole from a failed assassination attempt on famed Louisiana Politician, Huey P. Long.
My memories of this great city are somewhat different. As a young woman, I remember the 1984 World’s fair and the revitalization that came with it. New luxury hotels were constructed alongside the former Grand Dames and the Riverwalk became a new center for tourism. Of course the famous Vieux Carre remains constant, with its mysterious courtyards and secret alleyways, world-class restaurants and street performers; it remains an ever-changing panorama. Having lived for several years, later in my life, in the Riverbend district of New Orleans, I wanted to share my memories of walks in Audubon Park, rides on the St. Charles Streetcar and breakfast at the Camellia Grill with my son.
He had opposing ideas. New Orleans from a child’s perspective is a little different. As a product of the technology era, he sulked the entire streetcar ride from Canal Street to Audubon Park because I wouldn’t let him bring his Nintendo DS. Even though the Spring weather was as perfect as it gets in sultry New Orleans, he complained about the noise and having the windows down. “Why we can’t we have air conditioning?” he lamented.We persevered to the Audubon Zoo and Botanical Gardens which, despite a few of the exhibits being closed for renovation, seems to have rebounded quite nicely post-Katrina.
Later as we enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the French Quarter the allure of the Big Easy began to gradually creep in. As the noise and inconvenience of public transportation receded, the ambiance of New Orleans began to take over. From the freshly baked French bread to the alligator sausage gumbo, to the jazz music humming in the background, my son began to feel the unmistakable magic. Although, the secret alleyways sometimes seemed more frightening than mysterious, and he had to avert his gaze from some of the more risqué establishments on Bourbon Street, a new generation discovered the overwhelming allure of the Big Easy. On our last day he pleaded for just one more night, and another chance to ride the St. Charles Streetcar!
Here are some tips for traveling with children. It you are on a budget there are affordable options for lodging. Be sure to include a streetcar ride, you can take the Greenline down St. Charles Avenue to Audubon Park and catch the free Zoo Shuttle to the Zoo. Also, not to be missed are the Aquarium of the Americas and the IMAX theatre located near the Riverwalk. There is a new Insectarium in this complex as well. Tickets are available which cover all four attractions. Just a few blocks from Canal Street, accessible from the Greenline, is the new Children’s Museum which provides hands on exploration and interesting exhibits for the kids. Dining out need not be difficult, there are so many options in all price ranges and I found most restaurants offer children’s menus to please even the pickiest eaters. Don’t miss the Cafe DuMonde for beignets, a delicious fried doughnut drenched in powdered sugar. With all this activity remember to include plenty of down time for swimming and relaxing by the pool.