A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Gena Bigler: Surprise, surprise! New Orleans is a city packed with family-friendly adventure

New Orleans is probably best known for Bourbon Street shenanigans. It is not the first place that comes to mind when thinking of “family fun,” but it should be. Besides the drunken debauchery of the French Quarter tourists, there are huge parks and plenty of child-friendly fun to be found.

What could possibly be more fun for a child than dancing in the street with her parents? Dancing with ice cream. La Divina Café e Gelateria on St. Peter Street has sandwiches and an amazing selection of gelato, sorbetto and ice cream and is half a block from the heart of the French Quarter, Jackson Square.

People-watching in the French Quarter is fun for all ages and Jackson Square is the best place for that, besides interesting tourists and buskers (street performers.) In one afternoon, we saw street performers dressed as a “monster,” one completely painted gold, and another as a pirate, complete with the curved cutlass. While having lunch, we enjoyed watching a jazz wedding processional and another at dinner. There were also an abundance of musicians roaming and sitting on the sidewalks and an entire band playing in the middle of Royal Street.

Early evening is the perfect time to take a mule-drawn carriage tour around the Quarter. Each carriage driver has their own unique stories to tell, the highlights include pointing out some celebrity homes, notorious haunted houses and the more unique historical details and the stories behind them.

A short ride on a streetcar will take you to the zoo. The streetcar ride itself is a treat. Located in beautiful Audubon Park, the zoo is a great way to spend a day outside. The kids love the animals and the park itself is beautiful. A picnic and the zoo creates a perfect afternoon in New Orleans.

Across town there is another lovely park. City Park is home to Storyland, a place where children’s stories come to life, and a small amusement park. Storyland is shaded by large trees with lace-like Spanish moss draping off their large branches. It is a sight to see. The homes of the Three Little Pigs stand near the Grandmother’s house (with the wolf behind the door), and a large pirate ship greets little visitors as they run through the entrance. At the back of Storyland, the dragon slide is a child favorite.

The neighboring amusement park is small but fun for both young and old. Picnic tables are plentiful around the park, and the amusement park has both food stands and a cafeteria. From a Tilt-A-Whirl to bumper cars, there are several rides that accommodate the whole family. Classic rides are also present.  

The Ferris wheel stands tall and impressive behind the real star of the park, the carousel. The carousel, or “flying horses” as the locals call it, is well over 100 years old. The hand carved animals are hand painted and lovingly repainted by hand every two years. Some of the animals date back to 1885. The carousel itself dates back to 1906. The horses have tails of real horsehair; children and adults alike stroke them as they walk by in search of their steed for the ride.

A little outside the city, there are several swamp tours. Jean Laffite swamp tours run a couple of times a day. The boats are comfortable and the tour is about an hour and half long. Swamp is not a pretty word, but the environment is beautiful. The water is still, with purple flowers scattered across.  

Besides the plentiful alligators and turtles, herons and other large birds can also be seen. Cruising through the bayou is fun, and watching the excitement in my kids’ eyes was the highlight of the tour, but that same excitement was reflected in the adults’ eyes as well. Near the end of the tour, everyone is given an opportunity to pet or hold a small alligator. Again, both children and adults were giddy at the unusual opportunity. As we cruised back into the dock, the zydeco music had everyone dancing and laughing.

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This list highlights just a few of the family-friendly adventures that can be had in the Big Easy. New Orleans is a unique city. The music and the food are as unique as the people that populate the region. The striking architecture was even noticed by my six year old. Not every place has hot pink buildings with ornate metal work. Jazz and blues echo through the city streets and the southern charm is almost tangible. It is an amazing place to visit. From Bourbon Street to the bayou, there is something for everyone.

Gena Bigler is passionate about public service and credits her time serving nonprofits in AmeriCorps and Volunteers in Service to America (V.I.S.T.A.) with teaching her extreme budgeting and bargain shopping. Gena is now CFO of McNay Settlement Group and serves on the board of the Lactation Improvement Network of Kentucky (L.I.N.K.). Gena would be happy to hear from you at lgbigler@gmail.com.


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