New Orleans is my Vegas.
I’ve been to the Southern city four times, in either March or May. The first was for Mardi Gras in 2003. The second was in 2009 with a college friend, her brother and his friends. And as if the universe likes to put me in NOLA every six years, this past winter I returned for work and just got back from Jazz Fest with Brendan and Finn.
This fourth trip was Brendan’s idea to celebrate his 40th birthday. He’s also been to NOLA but never to Jazz Fest and thought it would be a fitting way to ring in his next decade of life. We can both agree it was a much tamer experience than our previous trips.
For some reason, I’ve been at some of my most debaucherous in New Orleans. Drinking. Smoking. Even partying in strip clubs. Who am I? And the food. I gained 8 lbs in four days during my second trip to New Orleans, helped by all the fried food, generous drink servings and glorious open container laws.
So what is New Orleans like when you travel with a spouse and a 1-year-old instead of a pack of booze-hound pals?
New York has been ravaged by unseasonably long winters for the two seasons I’ve been back in the US. It’s felt like half a year of cold. So arriving to near 90-degree temperatures was a shock to the system. For Jazz Fest, we’d gotten a mini tent for Finn, a small portable fan, hats and plenty of sun screen, plus a small cooler to keep milk and water cold. We made it about five hours each day of the last weekend of the festival. Originally we thought we could last till the headliner acts (Elton John, Ed Sheeran and Lenny Kravitz), but one look at our fussy, sweaty baby told us that was foolish. So we called it a day around 3:30 to cool down and bathe at our hotel.
By the way, there are plenty of kids at Jazz Fest, from tots like ours to teens. We were lucky to set up shop the first day near a family with a 10-year-old girl who loved playing with Finn. There was definitely an earthy, hippie vibe that comes with sitting outside in lawn chairs for hours sipping beer and listening to live music with thousands of other people. There’s also more food than I expected at Jazz Fest. I tried local concoctions like alligator pie, crawfish bread and praline-stuffed beignet.
The one down side to Jazz Fest especially with a kid is that no one seemed to be working crowd control. Trying to extract ourselves from the main stage at the end of Saturday was torture as a mob of people hoping to see Elton and Ed shoved everyone else to one side, making it scary for me to squeeze through with Finn. Our solution the next day was to pick a less crowded area closer to the entrance and amenities.
The Bare Necessities
I love trying new food on the road, and there’s not much I won’t eat in New Orleans. I love seafood and the spice and creativity of Creole cuisine. However, finding food for Finn, who entered a picky phase on the trip, proved problematic one late afternoon in the French Quarter. With markets closing for the day, we had to hunt down what seemed to be the lone supermarket to find Finn something to eat.
This is our own fault for not being better prepared that day and for being spoiled by the convenience of New York City. Finn is also not quite yet at the stage where we can just feed him something from the menu at any restaurant, so we made sure for the rest of the trip to have extra food he would likely eat come dinner time. Traveling with a little person who has more of an immediate, scheduled need to eat and sleep is definitely a big change to my laid-back, whatever-goes tempo of NOLA trips passed.
The Great Outdoors
Each time I’ve been in New Orleans, I haven’t really gotten out of New Orleans. Our activities were usually confined to the French Quarter and partaking in the boozy revelry it has to offer. During our family trip, we decided to take two streetcar rides to the end of their respective lines. One ended at S. Carrollton, a more residential area near some beautiful historic homes and mansions, the other at City Park.
We spent the whole morning at City Park letting Finn walk and look around and go on the swing. The park has a museum, a sculpture garden, a pond with turtles and snakes, a playground and an amusement area with a carousel, in addition to a cafe open 24 hours. There’s also iconic New Orleans Cemetery No. 3 down the street from the park.
The Idle Hour
When I travel, I typically like to cram a lot in to my days. I figure I never know if I’m going to get back to a place, so why not stay out and about for as long as possible? This is almost impossible with a small child. As mentioned above regarding Jazz Fest, each day of our trip we pretty much headed home by mid-afternoon to have a rest and bathe before dinnertime. In the mornings, it seemed to work out better for us if we gave Finn breakfast and let him take his first nap at the hotel before heading out (and thus trying to get him to nap in often crowded, noisy, hot places). We were fully indoors getting Finn to bed by 8 each night. I never would have spent this much time in my hotel on previous trips, but it made traveling much more manageable and less tiring for all of us.
Have you returned to a city from your heyday with a family in tow? How was it different?