From the Magic City to the Big Easy

Happy Fat Tuesday!

We recently took a long weekend to the Big Easy; and, boy, did we do it up right!  It all started with a super fun trip on the train…Amtrak to be exact.  Cory and I had ridden the Amtrak years before as our Christmas holiday transportation but it was a first for the kids.  The newly renovated train station in Birmingham along with an on-time train departure was a nice to start to the adventure.  The train takes longer than driving but you can move around and your seat is like having a seat in a first class plane ticket.  We travel with a backpack for each kid with activities, toys and books.  It couldn’t have gone smoother!

We hit the ground running, even though it was past our kids’ bedtime; but, we needed some dinner.  And we got a delicious one at an old pub called Pierre Maspero where we had delicious gator bites, crawfish etiouffe and classic N’awlins Cocktails.

As you may know, we have loyalties to Marriott for hotel stays (and Delta Airlines when flying).  We love a hotel stay on points…aka free!  Cory found us the most central location at the W hotel which had just been moved to the French Quarters.  As we walked out of our hotel the next morning, the sun had shown up; and, we soaked in a full day of uncharacteristically warm January weather.  I was in heaven!  We got started at Cafe Du Monde and right before the line got really long too.  Trick…go before 9am!  We enjoyed dark coffee with chicory and the most delicious beignets with powdered sugar all over our faces!  The warm sunshine talked us into changing our original itinerary and taking our carriage ride around the French Quarter and Marigny today.  This was our daughter’s request as she likes ‘fancy’ things and this was her fancy.  We were pulled behind a mule driven carriage because horses aren’t allowed in New Orleans.  It was a lovely start to the day learning history of the French Quarters and New Orleans!

As we continued on our day, it took us by the Mississippi River where we heard the steam whistle coming from the steam boat.  Not only was it beautiful music but it was live music being played by a gentleman we could see (and wave to) standing on the top fo the boat.  How fun is that!  After a lovely stroll, my husband needed (yes, he needed) some chargrilled oysters from Drago’s.  I didn’t mind either as they were amazing!  Even my son got in on the oyster action; he’s always up for trying new and different foods.  Before we left for NOLA, Cory made it known that he would be eating his way through the Big Easy.  And he (we all) did just that!  With full tummies, we visited the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium next.  What a cool, very different animal museum!  We are regular patrons to any and all animal establishments if my son is along for the trip.  He loved it the most as he isn’t afraid of any type of animal.  My daughter, on the other hand, hid behind the map the majority of the time as the creatures were a little too creepy for her.  The butterfly garden was a hit for everyone though as they each got to hold a butterfly.  We didn’t try their version of a tasty treat but you can eat a bug (masked with sweets) in the museum’s bakery if you feel so compelled.  I would say this is a must visit place especially with kids.

After working up our appetite, we needed a sweet treat and got that and more!  We hopped in Palace Cafe to spoil ourselves with a bananas foster and bread pudding.  Wow!  The plates were all but licked clean as no one wanted to leave a morsel of these decadent desserts.  While we were there, a three-piece jazz band was playing.  They came to our table and played a couple songs the kids would know and sing a long to as well.  Treats on treats!

After much needed naps, we were on to our next eatery.  Remember, I did say that would be the focus of our visit to New Orleans.  Cory used to travel to the city every couple of months so he has his favorites.  Cochon is always on the list and it didn’t disappoint!  It’s fresh farm food with a modern twist and extra delicious!

Our next day might have been a bit chilly but it is winter after all.  Luckily the sun was out for our walk to Arnaud’s for jazz brunch.  Arnaud’s is a famous, established New Orleans restaurant..and super fun and fancy!  Again, my daughter loves all things fancy so we dressed up for brunch.  Along with a four-course meal, we were serenaded by another jazz band trio.  This time it was a stand up bass player, a soprano saxophone player/singer and a banjo player.  Music also seems to be the name of the game in New Orleans and I love it!  We love a stroll after a meal so we took to the pavement to get to Audubon Aquarium of the Americas then a walk through Jackson Square and the French Market.  It was a lovely afternoon!

If you’re in New Orleans close to Mardi Gras, you must eat some king cake.  We had a sample at a local bakery and wouldn’t you know that Teddy got the piece with the baby in it!  If you’re unfamiliar with a king cake tradition, whomever gets the piece with the baby in it has to buy the king cake next year.  I guess we’ll let him slide since he’s only five!  After a little rest, we ate again!  I wasn’t kidding about eating our way through NOLA.  We took the famous street car to Commander’s Palace for one of the best meals I’ve ever had.  I say that because it is an old school establishment with amazing food, excellent service and for reasonable prices!  And they love having children in their restaurant; I must brag that our kiddos do well at fine dining restaurants; but, it helps when the staff is clearly happy to have children there too.  I would say this restaurant is a true ‘must eat’ on your first (and or all) visits.

Whew, what a packed-full time we had in NOLA!  To round out our trip, we drove to Slidell, Louisiana for a swamp boat tour with Cajun Encounters.  This is what my son was looking forward to the most!  Although, we didn’t see alligators, as they hibernate in the winter; we did see turtles sunning and egrets and blue herons perched.  We also found a family of raccoons and wild hogs that the guide fed.  They’re both surprisingly good swimmers; who knew!

The return train schedule didn’t work for us so we rented a car to get home.  One of my husband’s requests on our visit was to stop at a Rouse’s (aka local grocery store) to get cajun seasonings and a king cake to take home that you cannot get in Alabama.  It was a beautifully sunny day to drive home after a lovely weekend away with our adventure-loving family!

Here are also a few highlights we have done on past trips that we didn’t fit in this time as well as a great website for a family traveling to NOLA.
Buying muffalettas at Central Grocery and eating them by the river
Enjoying jazz music (fun for all ages) at Preservation Hall
Eating a po-boy

Until our next adventure…

Amtrak to New Orleans

Beignets at Cafe Du Monde

Gentleman playing the steam whistle on top of the boat on the Mississippi River

Teddy with the king cake baby

Arnaud’s Jazz Brunch

Swamp Boat Tour

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