Family Friendly trip to New Orleans
If you’re anything like me, taking your kids to celebrate a New Orleans Mardi Gras may not sound like the best idea. When I started planning this trip for my mom’s 80th B-day and my boys presidents weekend I didn’t realize Mardi Gras would already be going. Visions of crazy partygoers filled my head as I was planning our trip. I was worried that going to New Orleans the week before Mardi Gras would not be the most family friendly place but all of my local connections assured me Mardi Gras was for families-except on Bourbon street. All my fears disappeared the moment we arrived in town and we “laissez les bon temps rouler” (French for let the good times roll)! From the parades, to the delicious beignets, to seeing cool critters, to staying in an amazing location, I would recommend all the fun things we got up to in the North Shore and New Orleans to any family with kids. I promise.
What we did: North Shore
Before we arrived in the city itself, we stopped in the North Shore to hit a few spots we had heard were worth seeing for families. About 45 minutes outside of New Orleans, we decided to spend the first night here, taking advantage of some fun activities the area had to offer.
Insta-gator is a family friendly educational hatchery and alligator ranch. This place was super neat and a unique experience for us. Our tour guide was super entertaining and fun and we got to learn all about the alligators and see them up close. We also got to touch their scaly skin and even hold one! This was a completely safe experience, as the alligators had their mouths taped so they couldn’t bite us. I would recommend this place for families with kids who love animals.
Global Wildlife Center
Another super fun place filled with animals is the Global Wildlife Center, which felt like we were on a safari. You can take tours here to see all the animals in a large shaded wagon-like vehicle, where you can get up close and personal to giraffes, buffalos, zebras, llamas, longhorns, and more. What’s so fun about this place is that you can feed all the animals and touch them as they approach the vehicle. We bought a whole bucket of food, but we wished we had bought more as there were tons of animals and they were hungry! We also tried to touch the longhorn’s tongue, as our tour guide said it was good luck. This was an awesome experience and we were laughing nonstop the entire time.
Abita Mystery House
This museum might have been one of the most bizarre places we have ever visited. Filled with thousands of weird objects, inventions, collections, memorabilia and just straight up junk, this place was fun to walk through and have a laugh. They even had a spaceship in the backyard. This quirky museum was named Louisiana’s 4th best attraction in 2017 by USA Today and it’s a fun place to visit if you’re stopping through.
Abita Brew Pub
While in Abita, we also stopped at the brew pub for some dinner and a flight of their beers from the Abita brewery. The food here was yummy, and it was a nice place to get some grub for the night.
There were some other things in the North Shore we didn’t have time for but were recommended to me if you and your family decide to take a trip down south. Some of the activities were the Children’s Museum, Mandeville LakeFront, Fountain Blue Park, and biking and hiking in the area.
What we did: New Orleans
We had an absolute blast in New Orleans, and I was so surprised and relieved by how family friendly it was. We went for my mother’s 80th birthday, and I wanted to take Mason and Logan to see New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season. We went about the week before the holiday, so there were tons of things to do and see.
Because we went during the Mardi Gras season, there were tons of parades to see. The parades were only a half block from the Drury, so we could even see them from our hotel room.
I would highly recommend bringing a bag of some sort if you attend a parade because you get thrown a ton of stuff! This was really fun for the kids, who made away with beads, little toys like balls and boomerangs, frisbees, stuffed animals, cups, and even a hoola hoop! My boys also made a fun sign saying it was their grandma’s 80th birthday that they got to hold up and show off. The floats were amazing, and everyone on top were decked out in Mardi Gras masks. I can only describe the experience as magical for the kids.
I would also recommend bringing water to stay hydrated, hand sanitizer, snacks or some cash to grab treats from a nearby street vendor, ponchos in case of rain, a phone/camera, and you can even download parade tracking apps to stay on top of where the parades are. This is helpful during lulls in the parade when kids ask when the next float will arrive.
Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture/French Quarter
During the day, I felt ok about taking the boys to the French Quarter. The street performers, music, and people watching are so fun. We decided to visit the Mardi Gras Museum of Costumes and Culture, which was a must see while we were there. They have a lot of fun exhibits, but we spent almost the entirety of our time in the costume closet! Filled with original Mardi Gras costumes, there are so many awesome pieces you can try on here, like huge feathered headpieces, gowns, masks, giant Papier-mâché heads, and elaborate costumes. This was a great place for kids who love to dress up, and also a great place for adults too! We got so many fun pictures of all of us all made up in authentic Mardi Gras gear. I would highly recommend this museum, especially for the photo opportunities.
We also walked around the French Quarter for a bit, getting a glimpse at the St. Louis Cathedral and making a wish in the Jackson Square Fountain, and grabbed lunch. Jackson Square is a nice area to explore during the daytime with kids.
We loved visiting City Park, which was absolutely beautiful and great for the kids. We also lucked out by getting to eat Cafe Du Monde’s famous beignets at their location near the park, which was way less busy than the French Quarter so we didn’t have to stay in line. We couldn’t leave New Orleans without sampling some of the famous fried pastries and they were delicious!
The park also had swan paddle boats, but we opted for renting a family tandem-style bike so we could bike throughout the park. They also had Storyland playground, which is a nursery rhyme themed play area for smaller children. I would recommend this to families with younger kids. Mason, who is my 5-year-old had a blast, and while Logan who is 9 had fun, was ready to go after a little while.
AirBoat Swamp Tour
We decided to also take a swamp tour about 30 minutes outside of the city to see some wild gators. Our hotel’s front desk recommended the tour to us and we drove there ourselves, which I recommend since the drive is not far and it is easy to get to.
If you choose to go on a swamp tour, I would recommend picking a warm sunny day and going earlier in the afternoon, since our tour guide told us that was the best time to see the gators, who love to lay out on the mud and bask in the sun. We went closer to the evening, so it was beginning to cool down and get darker. We still got to see some alligators, but probably would have seen more if we had gone earlier. Still, it was a fun experience and can be a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Things we didn’t get to
We also probably would have gone to Mardi Gras World, where you can take tours of the floats being made and learn some history. However, since it was Mardi Gras season, we figured we got enough of the New Orleans experience by watching the parades and visiting museums.
You can also ride the St. Charles street car and see beautiful mansions and gardens throughout the city. However, due to the parades, the street car wasn’t running during our visit.
Where we stayed
To make the most of our visit to New Orleans, we stayed in the Drury Plaza Hotel New Orleans. This hotel could not have been in a better location for us to hit all the places we wanted to see. Only half a block from the parade routes, staying here was the best choice for convenience and comfort.
We love staying at the Drury for a number of reasons. Check out my “7 Reasons We love Staying at Drury Hotels” here.
We always appreciate the kickback hour Drury hotels offer because it can be a quick and easy fix for food. With three free drinks per adult and countless “snack” items to choose from ranging from fresh salads to nachos, kickback hour is great for my family with kids who need something quick and simple.
We also love the pools the Drury has. Drury Plaza Hotel New Orleans had an amazing rooftop pool that was absolutely stunning, and because it was heated, my boys got to swim outside in the middle of February.
Drury also has a huge breakfast selection, with hot fresh food like pancakes and warm syrup, and fresh cut fruit. My boys love eating breakfast at the Drury and fueling up for a day of sightseeing.
So if you and your family are looking to have Mardi Gras fun, or just want to visit New Orleans, I cannot recommend the city enough. With tons of kid friendly activities, delicious food, and unique attractions, New Orleans is the perfect destination for a family vacation.
For other family friendly vacation ideas, check out these posts on: St. Louis Union Station, Flagstaff, Memphis, Nashville, Colorado Springs, Phoenix and more.