Monday, February 2, 2015

Family trip to New Orleans

Before heading to North Carolina to spend Christmas with my parents, we decided to do a few days in New Orleans with the kids. Torsten and I had both been to New Orleans previously, but never together (he had gone for a work conference and I had been with my parents at age 19). And the kids had never been. I want to recap the trip not just because it was great but also because it was a real learning experience about traveling with two kids and I have some tips that might be useful for others considering similar trips.

New Orleans is my favorite type of vacation with littles - it's a city where all we'd really be doing is walking around anyway, so we can just throw the baby in the stroller and she has plenty to look at and can nap on the go, and there's lots of cool stuff for the preschooler to see as well. Callum hasn't ridden in a stroller in a long time, and as a result we don't own a double stroller. We debated buying one, or bringing a second one, for this trip since we knew we'd be walking many miles each day, but ended up instead going with a scooter that came highly recommended by Katie, my favorite urban dweller mother of littles, who obviously knows what's up as far as facilitating little kid city-walking (she also helpfully tipped me off when they were on sale). The scooter was a GREAT plan; Callum LOVED it and we walked close to 10 miles most days without a peep of complaint from him.

Scooting along the Mississippi

This stroller nap ended up lasting three hours

Of course, the possible drawback with kids in New Orleans is that half the point of going to New Orleans is the amazing restaurants, many of which are not kid-friendly. We worked around this problem by bringing our au pair with us on the trip. This had the side effect of addressing our other concern, which was not wanting our au pair to be alone on Christmas, and it turned out to be awesome. The only real added expense was his plane fare, since he shared a sofa bed with Callum in our hotel suite (plus side of teenage boys: they aren't picky about where they sleep!), and since he helped out with the kids on the plane we didn't buy a ticket for Annika, so it shook out more or less even. Plus he got the bonus of getting to see an American city he'd never been to.

So our basic set-up for the trip was that we spent the days exploring the city, then handed the kids off to our au pair in the afternoons and headed out for a nice adults-only dinner. This was a LOVELY approach. Highly recommend, if you can swing it. It also worked out well on the swamp tour, which was decidedly not baby-friendly but which Callum loved; Annika spent the afternoon at the children's museum with our au pair while Torsten, Callum, and I did the tour, which turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip.

The swamp was just so damn COOL

Callum on the swamp tour boat

We were in New Orleans for 4.5 days (December 19-24). Our general approach to traveling with the kids is to try to keep things relaxed; have a loose itinerary with an idea of one, maaaaybe two things that we'd like to see that day, but to generally be willing to change plans to accommodate naps, sudden intense needs for snacks, and stops to run around. This went very well for us on this trip. Major activities included:
  • We spent one day walking around the French Quarter and the Woldenberg Park river walk, naturally including a stop at Cafe Du Monde as well as brunch at Cafe Amelie, which was AMAZING, so much so that we actually tried to go back another day but between our limited time in town and their holiday hours, we weren't able to swing it. 
Beignets were a hit
  • Another day we did a double-decker bus tour of the city (good way to see a lot in a short amount of time, and buses are always a hit with Callum). 
  • One day we did a self-guided walking tour of the Garden District (we left the scooter behind for that one because the sidewalks are incredibly uneven, and that was the right call but Callum was complaining about being tired after two miles; thank goodness we had the scooter for the rest of the trip). This was lovely, and we wrapped it up with a walk through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which was fascinating.
When your kid starts to complain about being tired is when it's helpful to have an au pair along.

We ended up joining a tips-only tour of the cemetery that some random guy was running, which turned out to be great.
Family tombs. The most recent person to die is guaranteed the top slot for a year and a day. After that, their coffin may be removed and their bones put with the others below to make room for the next family member.
  • And one day the major activity was the aforementioned swamp tour, which was completely awesome. It was the wrong season for alligators, and we didn't see any, but we saw multiple herds of wild boars, including babies, and we saw turtles and herons, and all that was cool but honestly the highlight of the tour was just the boat ride through the swamp itself - so cool and mystical with the shadows and the Spanish moss. Torsten and I both loved it and Callum was enraptured as well, though it was definitely good that we didn't bring Annika. Frankly this would be my number one recommendation for anyone going to New Orleans, with or without kids.
Wild boar in the swamp
This boat was wrecked during Katrina and has stayed this way since.
  • Kid activities: when Torsten and I went out on our own, our au pair brought the kids to a couple kid-oriented activities, the children's museum (big hit) and the aquarium (fine but not as good as expected based on the reviews).
We also did a bunch of what I consider secondary activities, which is to say little things that we squeezed in when the kids' moods and schedules allowed for it, including:
  • The Christmas Concert at Saint Louis Cathedral (we left the kids with our au pair for this one, although Callum probably would have been fine) - this was FANTASTIC, so so cool and the music quality was amazing. 

The cathedral before the concert started
  • Multiple streetcar rides (Callum especially was enamored of these) - some for practicality to get to where we needed to go, but the Saint Charles line is also a great way to see part of the Garden District.
OK, he LIKED the streetcars, but he also fell asleep in more than one of them.
  • Celebration in the Oaks - this was the only dud of the trip. It was SO. CROWDED. We went on a Saturday night, which was the only night that worked with our schedule, and it was just impossibly awful. We had pre-purchased admission and train tickets, and the line for the train was TWO HOURS LONG, so we ended up not riding it, which meant the train tickets were money down the drain. I also bought Callum an unlimited ride band, which also didn't pay for itself because the lines for the rides were so long that he didn't get to go on enough to justify the cost versus paying for individual ride tickets. The light show in the garden was nothing special, and so crowded that it wasn't enjoyable anyway. It was so miserable that our au pair actually just went back to the hotel early. We stuck it out for Callum's sake and he had a great time on the rides, but OMG. DO NOT RECOMMEND. On the other hand, if you're in New Orleans at any time of year OTHER than Christmas, I would totally recommend City Park generally and the Carousel Gardens amusement park specifically, particularly for the 4- to 8-year-old crowd. It would have been great if only there had been room to, you know, walk, or waits of less than an hour for the rides.
  • A ride on the Algiers Ferry. We try to plan for breaks for the kiddos amidst all the walking, and Callum loves boats, so when he started to hit his limit on the first day (before he really got into his scooter stride) and we noticed we were near the ferry terminal, we hopped on the Algiers Ferry for a quick ride across the Missisippi. Nothing fancy at all, but a good way to spend about half an hour sitting down and doing something a little different, and way more affordable than those steamboat river tours. Also the perfect length of time for the preschool set. Callum liked seeing the river and exploring the boat and pointing out all the other boats on the river, but when we got back and it was time to get off, he had no complaints about being done.
View of Saint Louis Cathedral from the ferry 

And, of course, we can't forget about the restaurants; I have to mention some of the highlights:
  • Jacques-Imos: We did this one the first night, with kids and au pair, and it was great. GREAT. Very kid-friendly, very New Orleans, super delicious. It's not really walkable from the French Quarter so we took the streetcar to get there, which was very easy. Absolutely recommend.
  • Restaurant R'Evolution: Both of us considered this the runaway favorite of our three adults-only dinners. So so good. Delicious food, amazing drinks, impeccable service, just perfect from start to finish. Highly recommend.
  • Commander's Palace: This is the classic New Orleans restaurant and it was great. A little bit more suited to Torsten's tastes than mine, but I also highly enjoyed it. Recommend.
  • GW Fins: This was the only disappointment of the trip, restaurant-wise. It was good, but nothing special and not worth the cost or the waste of our limited nights out without kids. There are so many other restaurants in New Orleans that are more worth your time and money.
  • Cafe Amelie: I mentioned this above but it bears mentioning again: YUM. Also they were SUPER nice to the kids. In good weather they also have a gorgeous courtyard to eat in. Highly recommend.
  • The Grill: This is just a little burger place, and I didn't actually go there myself, but our au pair took the kids there and said it was really fantastically delicious and the kids loved it too. A good, affordable, quick option if you're looking for something easy with kids (also cash only).
  • Surrey's Cafe and Juice Bar: We picked this one randomly off Yelp for breakfast our last day based mostly on proximity to our hotel, and it was SO GOOD. Small and cash only but DELICIOUS. Also Callum had a banana pancake bigger than his head. He wasn't able to finish it, but the rest of us selflessly helped him out. And really affordable. Highly recommend.
Banana pancake in progress

Curly topknot!

Really, it was an amazing trip. All five of us had a great time. We got lucky with good weather, mostly warm but not too hot or humid (though humid enough to make Annika's hair kind of curly!), and I felt like we managed to hit a lot of the major sights without being too scheduled or too exhausted. We did walk an average of about 10 miles per day, according to my pedometer app, but with the stroller and the scooter plus lots of breaks and kid-oriented activities, nobody was too exhausted. (Though we definitely all slept well at night! Well, maybe except our poor au pair - Callum sleeps like a starfish.) It was definitely the perfect trip to travel with childcare. Not sure we'll ever have that opportunity again - but really glad we took advantage in this context. It was the perfect destination and a really nice way to enjoy some family time during the holiday break.


  1. I have yet to attempt a trip like this. You are giving me courage. The scooter idea is genius!!!

  2. I loved the cemetery in New Orleans, it was one of my favorite things we did there!


  3. It looks like such a great time!

    We took a bike tour last time I went, and I would definitely recommend that - it was fantastic.

    Also, in terms of food, I second Commander's Palace and Cafe Amelie, but for future trips I'll suggest The Rum House (best meal we had there) and breakfast at The Ruby Slipper Cafe. Both just so good, and not necessarily quintessential NOLA but delicious.