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Family Toad Trip: New Orleans

April 16, 2013

Consider New Orleans for your family's summer travel destination.

By: Harlisha Homer
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Harlisha Homer
New Orleans is typically known for letting the good times roll. We visited the Crescent City on two occasions recently, and uncovered a family-friendly side to New Orleans. I've been to the city many times, but our most recent visit was the first with my children. I'd like to show you around a bit.

First, a bit of background. Thanks to the kindness of the New Orleans Convention and Vistor's Bureau, I first visited some attractions as their guest. I encourage you to visit their site and request information about the family-friendly side of the city. You can find them here. We then returned to New Orleans on a family road trip, in support of my son's school and their participation in a music festival. So, the trip details are the culmination of two visits to the city.

Audubon Zoo

Image: Audubon Zoo

Audubon Zoo is consistently voted among the top in the country, and I can see why. It's a unique mix of old and new, with several older structures intertwined among updates. The zoo is housed on a sprawling landscape that was once an 18th century sugar plantation and an 1884 World Exhibition. It is now home to 1,500 animals and the world's only urban swamp in the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit.

This was, hands-down, my favorite activity, with truly something for everyone. Each of my children had their own fascinations, while my husband and I enjoyed learning about Louisiana's swamps and the creatures that call them home (this was really a highlight for all of us. The exhibit was huge and very informative). I was also struck by the overall layout - animals had room to run,  the tree-lined walkways were super wide, the various opportunities throughout the zoo for kids to climb and play --  I could go on. Having gone in December and again in March, I have to say that I was hooked by this zoo. We will definitely return.

See more pictures on my Google Plus page (here)

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas

Also a part of Audubon Nature Institute, Audubon Aquarium of the Americas did not disappoint. Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is located along the banks of the Mississippi River in the historic French Quarter. Ranked as one of the top five aquariums in the US, a visit to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas spans the underwater world from the Caribbean, to the Amazon Rainforest to the waters that give New Orleans its lifeblood: the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico.

We truly enjoyed our visit. The Aquarium holds 10,000 animals, including penguins, sea otters, and a white alligator in such exhibits as a rainforest, coral reef, and a Gulf of Mexico exhibit. It reminded me heavily of a local favorite, Moody Gardens. With that in mind, if time or budget won't allow a visit to both, I personally favored the Zoo, though the Aquarium was also entertaining. See more pictures of my visit here.

New Orleans Streetcar

I recommend that you take your children on a New Orleans Streetcar. It's not a theme park roller coaster or something that will incite thrills and chills, but it's just plain fun. I confess that I didn't get to do this with my kids because we ran out of time on our short trip to the Crescent City. But, you have to take your children on one. The routes are easily accessible, and they aren't difficult to map. Find out more about them here.

Here are more family activities that I've heard are awesome:

Haunted History Tour - I did not experience this, but my son and his school group did. It's not for younger children, but it's an interesting look at the macabre side New Orleans for older kids and teens.

Swamp Tour - My son experienced this as well and it was a highlight of his trip. There are multiple companies that offer these. Check to find one that fits your budget. My son enjoyed the experience provided by Cajun Encounters.

Take a ride on a riverboat. The Steamboat Natchez is the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River. It's truly a unique experience that all ages can enjoy.

It's also nice (and free) to stroll the walkway along the Mississippi River or encounter the jazz and personalities in Jackson Square.

If you choose New Orleans as a summer destination, I'd love to hear about your experience. Enjoy!

The author received complimentary tickets to Audubon Zoo and Audubon Aquarium of the Americas for the purpose of facilitating this review.  Opinions expressed in this article solely those of the author.