Wow. New Orleans was just.. wow. We loved it so much, we kept finding ourselves making comparisons to Disney – “I felt like I saw enough, but I would LOVE to just sit and soak up the atmosphere and watch the city go past!” and on the ferry on the way home, “Hey, it’s dark and we’re exhausted and on a ferry home – but we’ll still have another 20 minute drive after we get off the ferry – it’s just like Disney!”
While visiting New Orleans, we camped at Bayou Segnette State Park. I was really looking forward to this campground before we launched because I’d heard really wonderful things about it. However, once we’d been on the road for a few days, I began to get concerned. The problem: Bayou Segnette doesn’t have sewer hookups, and we have to empty our black tank OFTEN. Whew. We ended up having to move the RV to the dump station every other day that week. Let’s just say we got pretty good at packing up quickly!
Aside from that downside, we really loved this campground. The sites are widely spaced, so that even when it’s full, you don’t feel crowded. There are two nice playgrounds adjacent to the bathhouse/laundry building. The laundry is FREE here! And there’s a huge window in the laundry room that looks out onto the playground. But my favorite part of the campground was the birds – there were songbirds everywhere and I really loved having all the windows and the door open and just listening to them sing.
There are a lot of other recreational opportunities at Bayou Segnette, but we didn’t take advantage of them. Most unusually, there’s a wave pool that’s open to the public, and a regular pool that’s only for campground guests. Obviously, both were closed.. but I imagine they’d be a lot of fun in warmer weather!
One of the best things about staying at Bayou Segnette State Park was its proximity to the Westwego Shrimp Lot. It doesn’t look like much, but if you like seafood, you need to swing by. They have all sorts of freshly caught crabs, shrimp, fish, you name it. Some of it’s a little pricey, but most of it is inexpensive. When we saw the Shrimp Lot, we put all the chicken we’d already bought straight into the freezer and ate seafood all week.
We made two trips out to Barataria Preserve during our week in New Orleans. The first time, we hiked along the Bayou Coquille trail. This trail is about a half mile of mixed gravel pathways and boardwalks. There are little viewing platforms with benches all along the trail – which, all in all, makes it a very nice trail for those who are out of shape or not up for difficult hikes. We saw an alligator and a frog, so the kids were excited. Apparently, there were more alligators further down on the Marsh Overlook trail, which is another .4 mile hike at the end of the Bayou Coquille trail.
Our second trip to Barataria Preserve, we stopped at the Visitor Center so we could do the Junior Ranger program. The Visitor Center is nice visiting regardless of whether you actually need to do anything there – there are great displays of local wildlife and the different habitats in the area. We did another short hike – the Visitor Center Trail, which is about a quarter mile on boardwalks. The kids were excited to do their first Junior Ranger program, but were a mix of disappointed and relieved that the ranger didn’t have them recite the oath.
I feel like transportation into New Orleans deserves its own section! We’d heard awful things about driving into the French Quarter – narrow, confusing roads, very little parking, and exorbitant fees. Luckily, there’s a ferry station about 20 minutes from our campground, and the ferry zips you across the Mississippi River and into downtown New Orleans.
The ferry is part of NORTA, the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority. They have a very convenient app where you can purchase ferry, bus, and streetcar tickets (and combinations thereof). We got combination all-day passes since we knew we wanted to ride the streetcars, too. It was super easy to just show the workers the bar codes on your phone when boarding the ferry and the streetcar.
Even if you do decide to drive into the city (more on that in a bit), you have to try riding the streetcars anyway. It’s so iconic, and not that expensive. The St. Charles line is a good choice if you just want to take a ride – it will take you past Tulane and Loyola Universities, Audubon Zoo, and dozens and dozens of amazing, unique homes – all through leafy, canopied streets.
Now, all that said.. we felt pretty silly for bothering with the ferry when we did. Doug took a Wednesday off so we would hopefully have less crowds to deal with, and we could have easily driven in and found parking – there were tons of nearly empty lots. It probably would have cost a similar amount to what we paid in fares, and it definitely would have taken less time, as we had to wait quite a while for a streetcar on the way home. So if you go in on a weekday in the off season, you’re probably fine to drive. We also drove to City Park on a Saturday, and that had tons of parking, too.
Our first stop in the French Quarter was the French Market. It’s at the end of the Riverfront line and a must-do. Part flea market and part farmer’s market, there’s something for everyone here. We spent some time checking out the flea market – the kids LOVED the Lego mini-fig vendor. Then we headed into the food area and got totally overwhelmed by all the options! We wanted to try some of everything! There’s a lot of seafood, but other choices, too, if you prefer. We got the littles grilled cheeses from a cheese vendor because a lot of the other food looked spicy. The rest of us got seafood – barbeque shrimp, seafood quesadillas, gator sausage gyro, and oysters Creole. Omg, so delicious. There are also bathrooms and ATMs in here, if you need them.
There are so many museum options in New Orleans that it can be overwhelming, but the Presbytere was a no-brainer for us. For one – most of the museums are expensive and don’t participate in the reciprocal programs we belong to, but more importantly, the entire museum is devoted to two important parts of New Orleans that the kids didn’t know much about – Mardi Gras and Hurricane Katrina.
Both exhibits were wonderfully done, perfectly walking the line of sharing lots of info, but in a fun and engaging way. It’s also in a great location – bordering Jackson Square, which is worth seeing all on its own, and quite close to our next stop – and biggest must-do – Cafe Du Monde.
So Cafe Du Monde is one of those must-do’s that you kind of suspect might be over-hyped. I mean, I’ve heard stories of lines out the door and people waiting an hour or more just to get beignets to go! That’s ridiculous, right?!
Well, it’s not. And next time we go back, if it’s an hour wait, I’ll gladly wait. Luckily for us on this trip, there was no such line. It was busy, sure, but we were seated inside right away. The servers were prompt and attentive, fetching us waters, milks and coffee, and plates heaping with beignets in no time. Now, the beignets.. oh boy. We’ve had beignets from Disney’s French Quarter Resort, and those were good, but these.. man. The kids were over. the. moon. Doug said the cafe au lait was incredible, too.
On Saturday (Doug’s official sight-seeing day), we went back into New Orleans to visit City Park. City Park is one of those places that is really many smaller places lumped together.. like Central Park. Within City Park you can find several playgrounds, the botanical garden, an amusement park, mini-golf, Storyland (a weird story-book sculptural playground thing), a coffee shop, a sculpture garden, a train garden, a splash pad, and probably more I’m not mentioning. There are dog parks, places to fish, play sports, and so on.
Not everything is open in the winter, of course, but most of it is. We went to the playground next to Morning Call, the coffee shop. The playground itself was nice, but the real fun was in climbing the trees, checking out the ducks and other birds, and crossing the lovely stone bridges. After the kids got tired out, we went into Morning Call to test their beignets (we’d heard that theirs were better than Cafe Du Monde’s – they’re not). After that, I took Fiona and Niall to Storyland while Doug took Colwyn and Lachlann to a different playground (they were way too old for Storyland). Fiona and Niall had a great time, while I enjoyed the cheesy weirdness of the place. It’s a bit overpriced for what is basically an elaborately themed mini-golf place without the mini-golf, but if you like weird, run-down storybook sculptures and have kids in the target demographic, it’s an interesting place to spend a half hour.
After we were finished in City Park, we drove down the aforementioned St. Charles Street and ooh’ed and aah’ed at all the amazing houses. Even if it’s out of your way, it’s worth the detour. I felt like I was in The Awakening or something.
If reading about our time in New Orleans wasn’t enough, check out our videos!