New Orleans instantly brings Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street to the minds of many adults but rarely do people think of it as a family place. So I decided to prove wrong all the naysayers by venturing out of Southern California to the Big Easy with my family. First, we stayed at one of the unique boutique hotels located in the heart of the French Quarter—The Mason Dupuy. From there we boarded and immediately indulged in fine Creole dinning on a Mississippi River Cruise—The Natchez Steam Boat River Cruise. The next day, we ventured into the French Quarter for some fine Creole cuisine tasting and other indulging experiences. Finally, we finished our Big Easy trip in the alligator-infested swamps near Slydell, Louisiana!
Our trip first started in sunny Southern California and soon arrived in San Antonio, Texas for a few days before we departed to New Orleans in about 8 1/5 hours. On the way over there we drove past a few other great American cities like Houston, Beaumont and Baton Rouge to name a few, before getting to the Big Easy. The road to New Orleans is a breathtaking one. It is landscaped by marshes, bird life, and lots of alligator infested swamps! At first, I felt a bit hesitant about seeing or even interacting with the alligators—who are the real owners of the swamps. But upon admiring the scenery, I embraced its beauty and it’s geographically important location in the history of the United States.
As we drove past Houston we noticed a swampy area with a wooden walkway leading into the marshy swamp where we spotted our first alligators. At first we marveled at the murky waters, bromeliad, and moss covered cypress trees with a large Heron sanctuary strewn across the marshy waters.
Nonetheless, we were determined to see alligators and sure enough, it wasn’t before long that we spotted our first pair of alligator eyes just above the water line looking at us. It was then that behind the shield of the wooden railing, I began to take some pictures, recording the magic of the swamplands through the lens of the camera. That was the first time we saw alligators in the wild. An absolute thrilling moment that all of us enjoyed!
As we continued our road trip, we could not help ourselves but to talk excitedly about our first encounter with the alligators and before we knew it we had arrived at New Orleans. A new world came to sight! We could still see the remnants of hurricane Katrina but with a surprising touch of steady renovations of the historical buildings in the French Quarter. At first, The Big Easy appears like no other with its buzzing nightlife, vibrant restaurants, world-renowned Jazz concert halls, and it’s famous party atmosphere. But upon arriving at our hotel, I immediately felt the years of history and tradition apparent through the iconic walls of the French Quarter hotel-The Mason Dupuy. The boutique hotel is in a class of its own because of its historical architecture, combined with a taste of the latest trends in hotel hospitality.
New Orleans without jazz would be like the vineyards without grapes. I couldn’t wait to hear the fine musicians that perform at the French Quarter on a nightly base! From my hotel room I had plenty of fine choices: I could sit and absorb the view from my balcony, go for a stroll and engulf into the New Orleans ambiance of the French Quarter in less than five minutes, head down stairs for a much needed splash in the hotel’s outdoor saltwater pool or simply relax listening to jazz at the casual Bistreaux!
Well, as the curious explorer that I tend to be, I ended up doing a bit of everything! Strolling through those very old streets, I felt as if suddenly, I had landed somewhere else in the not so distant past. When done and tired from shooting pictures, we returned to the hotel and immersed ourselves into the salt-water pool. The weather in New Orleans was warm and humid! But then, again, it was the start of summer and most of the United States, including New Orleans, was experiencing a record-breaking heat wave. The day ended at the hotel’s Bistreaux, where we spoiled our senses with great food and jazz music from the hotel’s resident jazz musician Paul Longstreth. Later, I would visit Preservation Hall for yet another enchanting evening of more jazz.
Up and ready to discover more of New Orleans, we boarded one of the Mississippi River day cruises: the Steamboat SS Natchez, which was built in 1975. We were welcomed by a very hospitable staff and even shook hands with the captain! Once onboard, we indulged on a delicious Creole dinner buffet, explored the port of New Orleans, wondered on the decks and eventually allowed for the current of the Mississippi River to take us into what would be another splendid sunset—all while listening to an amazing live jazz band.
The next day, we drove about 40 miles outside of city and headed out to one of the most popular swamp tour companies. We arrived at The Cajun Encounters swamp tours and immediately enjoyed the landscape filled surroundings with a constant flow of dragonflies and a surprise sighting of wild pigs while we waited for our swamp tour!
We finally were rounded up by our guide and escorted into our aluminum build swamp tour boat. As we ventured into the swamps, I could not help but notice the abundance of wildlife. Then, came the moment we had all been waiting for. “Alligators love marshmallows!” announced our tour guide as we giggled nervously. The guide began throwing a few in the water, and like children, the alligators devoured them as soon as they hit the water. Then came the ten-foot female alligator towards the tour guide. He immediately took out a hot dog while petting her in exchange for more treats. Amazing!
As if that wasn’t enough of a Gator experience, we managed to head on down the road for a second fill of gators at this awesome Insta-Gator Farm. Unlike the swamp tours, the Instagator farm offers hands-on Eco-educational tours that explain the preservation of the species and its environment in a more in depth way. Some of the tours even let you interact directly with alligators by holding them while their mouths are taped. I learned so many things about alligators: from how they build their nest to what frightens them!
There was so much more to see and do in New Orleans like: the French Quarter haunting, its famous cemetery tours, Creole cuisine like Gumbo with delightful hot beignets to complement the meal, beautiful neighborhoods, museums, art galleries, bars in nearly every corner—and of course, Mardi Gras in the Spring. But the most valuable thing that will forever remain in my mind and heart is the wonderful and full spirited people we met while visiting New Orleans. The voices of New Orleans echo a strong history and whisper an unbeatable and unrelenting human spirit.
A special thanks to the city of New Orleans, The Mason Dupuy, Cajun Encounters, Instagator Farms, and of course the gators who entertained us with such scaly hospitality!
Until next time New Orleans…