Friday, June 14, 2013

Nola, Family Style: It Can Be Done.

Never in one million years did I think I would ever take my family on a family vacation to New Orleans. New Orleans was never a destination, in my mind, that screamed "bring your kids here!" After all, for most of us outsiders, New Orleans is synonymous with Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. If you had asked me what I thought we were going to do there with two boys under the age of three, I would have laughed, shrugged my shoulders and said, "well, there's a zoo?" 


And then we did it. We traveled there as a family of four to spend four days exploring the city and taking part in all that New Orleans has to offer families. You'll have to excuse me while I remove my foot from my mouth because from my lips to god's ears, it was one of the greatest,  most fun family vacations we've ever taken. 

I may have even fallen in love with the city and cannot wait to return. 

Our days there were packed with fun and although we tried our hardest to squeeze in the best that New Orleans had to offer, there were still some things I wish we had more time to see and do! Not to mention eat. Oh, the food. That should be a whole post unto itself. 

It would be remiss to write a vacation recap post and not include our accommodations. My hat is off to the staff of the JW Marriott as they made our stay feel just like home but with a much better view. Everything was perfect from our larger than large suite that allowed the boys to sleep in their own "room," to the staff who were so warm, welcoming and hospitable. Within minutes Carter was famous and every where we turned a staff member would stop what they were doing to say hi and scoop him up to let him see out a nearby window. 



We were greeted with a wonderful welcome bag full of so many fun and exciting New Orleans treats. I especially loved my new t-shirt signed by Drew Brees (Who dat!) and the bags of Zapp's potato chips. Within minutes of settling into our room, we had already polished off an entire bag of the Crawtators and having blown through the one and only bag we brought back to Maryland with us, I'm already trying to figure out ways to satiate our craving for the spiciest, most delicious chips ever.

After a quick snack and change of clothes, we hit the ground running. We knew we wanted to stretch our legs and let the toddler blow off some steam after being cooped up on the plane for so long so we walked the few short blocks to Jackson Square. That's another great thing about the JW. Located in the Business District of the French Quarter and just a block from Bourbon Street, we were within walking distance of so much of what makes New Orleans well, New Orleans. 

 

No matter the hour of day, the Square was a flurry of activity. From tarot card readers and fortune tellers to street artists selling their wares or making beautiful music, there was much to see and do. Our suggestions? Grab a couple beignets and frozen Cafe au Lait from Cafe Du Monde or, if it's after noon, a hurricane from any nearby street corner and head on over to relax in the park. 

Speaking of beignets,  they are an absolute must-have. I vowed to eat Maclane's weight in them prior to our arrival and I'm almost certain I did just that. Whether they are from Cafe Du Monde or Cafe Beignet, they are a New Orleans must-eat. Carter absolutely loved the sole fact that he was allowed "cake" for breakfast! Only in New Orleans, sir! 


While we're on the subject of must-eats, after many recommendations, we decided to indulge in the char-grilled oysters from Acme Oyster House as well as the same plate from Drago's. They are literally to die for. Lemon-y and parmesean-cheesy and just all around incredible. While at Drago's, we also enjoyed alligator "fingers" with a spicy creole aioli and spicy Cajun boiled shrimp. The shrimp poboys and seafood muffaletta from Johnny's were just as good as everyone said they would be and the dogs from Dat Dog on Magazine Street were the icing on the cake. Sriracha, sour cream and onions on a spicy sausage? I'm drooling once again just thinking about it. The boys loved the atmosphere of Dat Dog and even more, the pomme frites! 

My thoughts on dining in Nola with kids? You can do anything if you start early enough. If that means booking dinner reservations at 4:30pm to avoid meltdowns and crowded restaurants? So be it. We may have eaten early nearly every night but it was worth it. 

Our second day in Nola brought us to the Aquarium of the Americas as well as the Insectarium. Each of these adventures is a short walk from where we were staying and what's better is that it's a beautiful walk down along the banks of the Mississippi. The boys loved watching the steamboats sail by and we even caught the Steam Calliope playing atop the Natchez! 


The aquarium was nothing short of a blast! Both of the boys were absolutely enamored with the giant fish tank tunnel you can walk through immediately upon entering the aquarium doors. We must've spent twenty minutes watching the fish (and the divers!) swim around the tank. The divers were so much fun and really interacted with the kids! 

I loved seeing the infamous albino alligator and Carter was especially fond of the sharks! One of the must-do's at the aquarium is the Parakeet House where for a small fee you can purchase little feed sticks and enter into a sanctuary where hundreds of parakeets fly freely around, often landing on your bag, shoulders or even your head while you walk around offering them tasty birdie treats. 


Despite being a building that housed millions of creepy crawlies, our next stop was the Insectarium. A short walk down from the aquarium, I couldn't wait to take the boys here. By now you must know that this trip involved a lot of walking. Imagine the most walking you've ever done in four days and multiple it by a hundred thousand. 

If I had one word of advice for you, it's bring comfortable shoes. I walked the city in flip flops and TOMS and my feet still ache. 

The Insectarium was so neat. Word to the wise, shortly after entering the building there is an interactive exhibit that revolves around the world under the ground. Sounds great, right? Well, it's dark, for starters. So if your kids don't like the dark? Steer clear. If that doesn't scare them but a larger than life animatronic spider coming at them from a hole in the wall will? You'd best skip this exhibit. We didn't know any better and I've never seen my toddler run faster than the minute he saw that spider. 

Unfortunately, this kind of put a damper on his experience as he proceeded to run through nearly every exhibit afterwards. It did, however, provide hours of laughter for both the husband and myself. By the time we reached the zen Butterfly Garden our toddler was ready (and willing!) to see some bugs. 

There's even a big cafe on-site where they serve tasty critter treats! Cinnamon and sugar roundworms, anyone?


The following morning, after a delicious breakfast at the Camellia Grill, we boarded the St. Charles street car line for the Audubon Zoo. The Camellia Grill was such a wonderful experience. Old-fashioned diner-type setting with comparably delicious food and sweet company. Carter loved saddling up to the counter and ordering pancakes which were made  extra special with Mickey ears. Get there early though- it fills up quick! 

The street car was an attraction unto itself. Carter loved climbing the stairs, buying his day pass, choosing his seat and riding "the big red train" as he preferred to call it. Ridden through the Garden District proved to be chock full of beautiful sights including pristinely manicured gardens and beautiful mansions. 



I think that the zoo was by far one of my most favorite attractions. Although it was a bit hot and sticky this day, we had so much fun walking the grounds and checking out all of the animals. In addition to the animals one would typically see at the zoo, there was an entire exhibit full of dinosaurs that just blew Carter's little mind. 

Because it was so hot and sticky this day, we decided to take full advantage of "The Cool Zoo," a water park within the zoo that caters to children both young and old. Both Carter and Maclane had just the best time ever playing in the water. My mom-heart practically skipped a few beats as Carter climbed and slid with reckless abandon. I would recommend donning your own bathing suit so as to better chase your kids through the small water park or waiting until they're a little bit older than 3 to take advantage of it. At nearly 1, Maclane was the perfect age for the smaller activities but at nearly 3 and fearless, Carter wanted to run and jump and play with the "big kids" on the giant pirate ship and that about gave me a heart attack. 


After some shaved ice and a trip through the zoo gift shop, we were zoo'd out and ready for our next adventure. The following morning, Saturday, marked the first day of the Creole Tomato festival in the French Market, a festival that promised great food, even greater music and lot's of family fun. As we walked through the market, we were privy to brass band music, cooking demonstrations and free tomato samples! 

Once we had our fill of the festival, we piled into a taxi cab and headed out to Magazine Street where I knew I wanted to do a little shopping before we flew home the next day. After popping in and out of a few fantastic little boutiques, I found the perfect summer maxi dress at The Red Carpet boutique

One boutique that is certain not to be missed is OrientExpressed. I knew the minute we booked our trip that it wouldn't be complete without a visit to this one of a kind children's clothing and home goods boutique. I could have sworn I heard angels singing the minute I opened the door to the store and within minutes I had an arm's full of clothing for the boys. 
It was about the time that the toddler threw himself down to the ground in a napless fit that I knew it would be in our best interest to head back to the hotel. We had tickets to board the steamboat Natchez that afternoon and as much as I wanted to experience this, I didn't think spending two hours on a boat with two over-tired children was the best of ideas. 

After a restful nap back at the hotel, we decided to take another long stroll through the Quarter. Stopping in and out of the boutiques, sampling more local food and drink, picking up a couple of adorable appliqued t-shirts from Nola Kids and finally landing in the Little Toy Shop down by the river. I swear the boys' eyes were as wide as saucers the moment we stepped up into the store. We allowed them to pick out a few "treats" to remember their trip by. Maclane picked a puppy puppet and Carter, a taxi cab and fire truck. This shop was full of so many unique gifts- it's a must-stop for anyone with small children!

After three days of non-stop fun, I could tell the boys were exhausted. That's the thing about traveling with little kids. As much as you want to see and do it all, you have to keep in mind that it's such a shock to their systems- to be out of their element, away from their "normal," and trying their hardest to adapt to a new routine. I was so proud of how well the boys behaved. They were truly such troopers! Of course there were meltdowns here and there but nothing a beignet or virgin frozen daiquiri couldn't solve!

After a quick dip in the hotel pool followed by baths and fresh jammies, we settled in for a relaxing night of movie-watching and room service. It was fun to watch the city come alive from the beautiful view of our hotel room and after three very busy days, even more fun to watch it sitting comfortably with my feet up and with a Sazerac in hand. 

There's just something about New Orleans. I've been told either you love it or you hate it and I can say without a doubt that I absolutely loved it. I loved every minute of it- even the hottest, stickiest, sweatiest moments. The people are one of a kind and the energy throughout the city is like nothing I've ever felt in a city. 

Can you take your family to New Orleans and have a great time? Absolutely. Two weeks ago I wasn't a believer. I would have laughed at the thought but after spending four priceless days there with my husband and our two boys under the age of three, I am most definitely a believer. 

A believer who can't wait to return. If you're looking to take a family vacation, I strongly encourage you to #followyournola. I promise you'll thank me later. Visit Follow Your Nola to start planning.

Brand Disclosure: I am so grateful for the opportunity to take this vacation with my family, a vacation that likely wouldn't have happened otherwise. Priceless memories were made and for that, I will always be thankful for this sponsored opportunity. I received no financial compensation for this post but did received an all-expense paid trip to New Orleans through the New Orleans Travel and Tourism board.  

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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65 comments :

  1. I'd like to do one of the riverboat tours. Sounds like you had a fabulous time!

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  2. After reading this I want to go to New Orleans ASAP!! Sounds like you guys had a great trip!

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  3. You are making me really miss our annual trip. I'm so excited that you enjoyed NOLA so much. BTW I'm in TX so I can get those Zapp's chips (my favorite are the voodoo ones lol). Growing up going to NOLA alot I think I will always feel like it is a 2nd home for me.

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  4. Sounds like you guys had a great trip!!

    I would love to get my hands on some of those beignets!!

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  5. I'd love to visit the french quarters :)

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  6. i would love to go to the rock n' bowl! and also just check out the architecture and sights. thanks!

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  7. Come back soon!! And show me your TRex next time - ha ha!

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  8. After all those food pictures and descriptions- Im drooling! Looks like a fabulous time, and that includes the bug museum!

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  9. I'd love to run between two streetcar lines and pass some of Uptown’s most notable mansions along St. Charles Avenue in NOLA.

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  10. I'd love to run between two streetcar lines and pass some of Uptown’s most notable mansions on St. Charles Ave. in NOLA.

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  11. After reading this, I want to go ASAP! New Orleans has always been on my to visit with my husband list, but just my husband and me. I never thought of taking our {almost} two year old along with us, too. Definitely looking into it now.

    Those beignets? A must! YUM!

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  12. I loved hearing about your trip! Now I can't wait to go there this summer!!

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  13. Your trip looked awesome! I love all the picture, y'all are such a good looking family! I would lurve to go to New Orleans some day! And Savannah. You can drink on the streets there too :)

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  14. You made me miss my adopted hometown so much! We lived there for our first 2 years of marriage until a little storm (or big hurricane, what-ev) swam us back to Texas. But I still love to visit when I can! You did all the good stuff for sure - Dragos is not to be missed!

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  15. Looks like fun! That water park within the zoo looks great for little kids! I'd love to visit there!

    And do beignets taste like a funnel cake? They look delicious!

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  16. My husband went on a haunted tour one spring break that he still talks about.

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  17. i would love to see the architecture, the river and lots of cajun food!

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  18. That zoo looks to die for! I'd like to do that!

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  19. I am so thrilled that you loved your visit here. I hope you'll come back soon! We'd love you to come back!

    If you come in the fall, there is a ton of fun stuff for kids then, too. :) And the weather is way cooler.

    and I need to find out what the TRex thing is all about since I missed out on this convo! ;)

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  20. I love love loved following your vacation! I'ts on a list of places that me and hubs wanna go...we'll leave the kiddos home!

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  21. I absolutely loved NOLA when we went about 6 years ago. It was a year after Hurricane Katrina and we thought what better place to spend our tourism dollars than this great city that needed it? And I'm so glad that we did! We had the best time and I even got to meet John Stamos! (I may have mentioned this already. I tell EVERYONE.)

    Now that we have a 1 yr old, I see what a great place it is for families and will be sure to return for a family vacation some day!

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  22. Thanks for the giveaway! We went to NOLA a few years ago but only for a day. I would definitely love to go back and visit the zoo and aquarium with my kids.

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  23. I love Acme Oyster House so I want to eat there and also try Dat Dog! YUM!

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  24. I'm ALL about food on vacation! I want to try Gulf Seafood & BBQ!

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  25. I took 18 high schoolers to NOLA last summer for our church's national youth gathering. I was terrified- what do you do with teenagers in NOLA? But it turned out to be a great trip- NOLA really does have a lot to offer to everyone!

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  26. I would love a vacation in New Orleans. I want to try all the food you mentioned Everything sounds so delicious.

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  27. I would love a vacation in New Orleans. I want to try all the food you mentioned Everything sounds so delicious.

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  28. I'm a former New Orleanian, so I'd probably have to imbibe in a few adult beverages (at Cure), grab something tasty (Arnaud's or August), and enjoy a leisurely walk around Audubon Park.

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  29. would love to visit the insectarium as E is SO obsessed with bugs these days!

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  30. I'd love to eat some jambalaya! I love that stuff. :) And see the french quarter. I've been wanting to take a trip to New Orleans for a while... I've never been.

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  31. New Orleans has long been on my list of places to visit...first stop, Cafe du Monde.

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  32. I'd love for my family to make our way there as well. Can't wait for a beignet!

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  33. As a Louisiana girl who lives less than an hour away from NOLA, I'm so in love with this post and thrilled ya'll had such a marvelous time! I love reading and hearing about people who had positive experiences in NOLA, despite this disgusting heat and humidity!

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  34. Oh my goodness- sounds like a wonderful trip!! I would love to just eat my way through the city! :) Ha ha!

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  35. With a two-year-old and a baby I would say that the insectarium is a must!

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  36. We were just there, but when we go back (which I hope is really soon!), I can't wait to eat more beignets!! ;-) Also, I'd love to take my daughter to their aquarium. We didn't make it there last time.

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  37. I wanna go and eat everything!!!!!

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  38. My husband is from NOLA, and even though we visit on a regular basis, I have never been to the Zoo! That, and a visit to Butcher are a must for the next trip!

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  39. I haven't been to NO in five years or so, and I can't wait to go back. Besides the Garden District, we love to go to the children's museum!

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  40. I went to New Orleans for my senior class trip and would love to go back and take the kiddos to the museums!

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  41. I would love to stay at that hotel first of all! second that aquarium and the insects andres would go crazy for that

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  42. I want to go eat at Cafe du Monde!

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  43. So awesome!!! It looks like you guys had a BLAST! Seriously, an amazing opportunity!

    I've only been to NOLA once and I was pregnant! HA! so I definitely look forward to going back!

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  44. I live here but I still haven't done a riverboat tour! We will make it someday soon! So glad you enjoyed our city!

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  45. Looks like a fabulous trip! So glad you had fun w/ your family. I went when I was 22 and had a wild and fun time. It really is a great city to visit!

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  46. You got an all-expense paid trip to New Orleans? WOW! Lucky you! That's impressive! Sounds like you had and awesome time. (And I'm a little jelly!)

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  47. A riverboat tour! What a great way to see the sights.

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  48. I'd love to eat at the magasim vietmanese cafe

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  49. I have had beignets here in California that I've been told are almost as good as the ones in NOLA but I can't wait to go and have them at Cafe Du Monde!

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  50. I wanna try a Hurricane. And experience Bourbon street!

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  51. Also, come see me in Savannah. We can order the drink "Call a Cab" and legally drink it while walking around on River Street. Or, you can drink it and I can play with Mac :)

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  52. It sounds like you had a great time! Maybe I could convince my husband that this should be our next vacation - especially with the promise of hurricanes and beignets!

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  53. I would love to see the new and improved aquarium and zoo!

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  54. Whoa this is amazing and the photos are gorgeous!!!!!! You did New Orleans proper, I cannot wait to visit someday xo

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  55. Love NOLA, the food, the people, the sights, the FOOD!!! I would love to travel there again someday soon with my baby girls!

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  56. that trip looks so incredible i can barely keep the green monster down ;) LOVE THIS.

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  57. I am dreaming about the food...Palace Cafe is my favorite. Yum!

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  58. I'd love to eat beignets and ride the streetcar on st. charles.

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  59. I would like to see the aquarum.

    rounder9834 @yahoo.com

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  60. Id love to go to the BIg Lake at City Park! New Orleans looks beautiful!

    Name on rafflecopter: Amanda Sakovitz

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  61. I'd love to get beignets and iced coffee at cafe du monde!

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  62. I'd like to do one of the riverboat tours.

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  63. I would love to visit the french quarters

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  64. We are planning our first road trip over to NOLA, just a 3 hour drive from us, and your post has gotten me so excited and has helped a lot in getting me started with planning! Thanks!!!

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