Escape Artist: Tapping into the best of New Orleans for kids
December 2, 2016
For my youngest son's 8th birthday his wish was to visit the one American city he's been fascinated with since he was old enough to speak – New Orleans. My only experience with the city had been a debaucherous, long Jazz Fest weekend several years prior to his birth. But I knew there must be more to New Orleans than Bourbon Street and late nights that turn into early mornings. Experiencing the city through the eyes of a curious and energetic 8-year-old helped me see the splendor of New Orleans in an entirely new light.
Stay: Henry Howard Hotel. When traveling with kids, I firmly believe in staying in the best location you can. The extra money spent on a hotel with a prime location, regional architecture and charm, along with kid-friendly amenities, enhances the overall experience and leaves a strong impression on young travelers. (Not to mention, if you are going home for the night at 9 p.m., it should be back to a room, staff and location you love.) For this trip, I chose the Henry Howard Hotel, a former Garden District mansion turned new, boutique hotel, one block from St. Charles, where streetcars continuously run to and from downtown. There were cocktails on the porch in rocking chairs, warm chocolate chip cookies at turndown and real brass instruments adorning the custom-toile-covered walls.
Eat: Commander's Palace. Within walking distance of the Henry Howard Hotel, there is no better way to experience the food of New Orleans than at the legendary Commander's Palace. The Jazz Brunch on Saturday and Sunday mornings is a true Crescent City party complete with a three-piece band. There is a dress code, which gives kids a chance to dress up and experience the haute-Creole cuisine that made New Orleans and Commander's Palace famous. For me, the Chicory Coffee Lacquered Texas Quail, with fire-roasted, chili boudin served over smoky bacon wilted greens is a dish I will never forget. The service is impeccable and the tradition of a morning (or evening) here should not be missed.
Hear: Music Box Village. If the lines at Preservation Hall are too long for your family to bear, there is a new family-friendly music venue in the Bywater called the Music Box Village. A project of the nonprofit New Orleans Airlift, the Music Box Village is a collection of eclectic musical houses created by artists and designers in the city. Invited musicians and performance artists can come and create a symphony with the houses or use them as extended objects of their own vision. Each performance "highlights the city's underground art and under-the-radar artists, transporting the dynamic street culture, living folk culture and growing contemporary arts scene of New Orleans." There also are hours where kids and adults can get inside of the houses and make music for themselves. An original New Orleans creation worth checking out.
Experience: I was hesitant at first to visit The National World War II Museum – wondering why we would spend our time at a war museum when there were beignets to eat and marching bands to follow. But the six-building campus of the World War II Museum was a highlight, bringing to life the stories and the actions of the "Greatest Generation" in a way that is interactive, greatly detailed and impactful. We spent a long afternoon touching artifacts, hearing first-hand accounts and learning what these fights on opposite sides of the world meant for Americans and all of humanity.
On the Checklist: Walking through the French Quarter is always an experience, but if you are with kids, yes, it's still best to avoid Bourbon Street. That said, we explored much of downtown on foot and had a great time ducking into the galleries, cafes and museums. In Jackson Square we stopped to watch the street performers, and ate beignets at Café du Monde (still the best in the city!). As for tours, we took a carriage ride from Jackson Square for a little French Quarter insight and later jumped on a two-hour city tour, which was the easiest way for us to see the Ninth Ward, and learn how Hurricane Katrina impacted the people of New Orleans, as well tour local cemeteries and see other points of interest.
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Getting to New Orleans from Colorado is simple and direct. With a flying time of just a little over two hours, by lunchtime we were eating barbecued shrimp. New Orleans is a special American city whose language, cuisine and unique American story should be celebrated and experienced with your children. No doubt the impact it makes on the entire family unit will be everlasting.
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