Bourbon Street may be a playground for adults, but there are also plenty of things to do with kids in New Orleans. While it may seem like a good idea to drag your young ‘uns to Jazz Fest or Preservation Hall, it’s important to remember that it’s their vacation, too. Believe it or not, the Big Easy is an actual functioning city that offers a plethora of entertainment for kids of all ages. Here’s a list of some of the best, including critiques and numerical ratings (on a scale of 1 to 10) from my favorite kids– 11-year-old Drew, 9-year-old Remy and 6-year-old Cole.
The Audubon Aquarium is located right on the bank of the Mississippi River, just steps away from the newly renovated Riverwalk Outlet Mall. The most popular attractions include the Penguin Exhibit, with its 32 African black-footed penguins; the 400,000-gallon Gulf of Mexico tank, which is full of sharks, stingrays and other aquatic animals; and the Amazon Rain Forest, where kids can climb the rocks and frolic among the tropical birds. Tickets cost $23.95 for adults and $17.95 for children. The Entergy IMAX theater shows an array of entertaining yet educational films every hour Tue-Sun, from 10am to 5pm. Tickets cost only $5.00 with Audubon membership or Aquarium ticket.
(Drew= 4, Cole= 7, Remy= 7) “I like the aquarium, but I want more interactive exhibits like the bird feeding, where you can hold a stick with bird food and the bird eats the food and sometimes goes into your pockets and bags.”
Louisiana’s largest zoo is nestled between the grand oak trees in Audubon Park and the passing barges floating down the Mississippi River. For years, visitors were content with the intimate exhibits, featuring alligators in the Louisiana Swamp, jaguars in the Jaguar Jungle and pink pelicans greeting guests near the entryway. Over the past five years, the Audubon Society has been adding more interactive activities, including the Cool Zoo Waterpark, the recently renovated Watoto Walk Petting Zoo and the grand opening of the Lazy River in April 2015. The zoo is open Tue-Sun at 10AM, but closes at 4PM on weekdays and 5PM on weekends, so make sure to go early and enjoy the day. Tickets cost $18.95 for adults and $13.95 for children. Admission for the cool zoo and lazy river is $10 for members and $12 for others.
(Remy= 10, Cole= 9, Drew= 8) “I like the elephants, flamingos and especially the gorillas because sometimes I see them climbing on the trees. But my favorite thing at the zoo is the cool fountain sprayer, and I am really excited about the new lazy river!”
North America’s largest museum dedicated to insects of all shapes and sizes is the latest concept from the Audubon Nature Institute. Opened in the Old Custom House on Canal Blvd in 2008, the Insectarium features creepy crawly spiders, bugs and butterflies, both dead and alive. Sit and watch the Bug Awards—a 4-D interactive film— or test your taste buds by munching on the latest bug creations from their team of chefs. The last stop at the Insectarium is the wonderful butterfly garden, where you can sit and relax among hundreds of fluttering butterflies of all types and sizes. The peace and tranquility makes for quite the juxtaposition from the hustle and bustle of Canal Street. Tickets cost $16.95 for adults and $11.95 for children. If you’re planning on visiting all three Audubon museums, save money and buy the Audubon Experience Package, which is $41.95 for adults and $29.95 for children.
(Cole= 8, Drew= 5, Remy= 8) “I love to relax in the butterfly garden. I really like the chocolate-covered crickets because they taste just like chocolate-covered raisins. The movie is hilarious, but scary at times. So maybe it’s not good for little four-year-olds, because my little brother freaked out when the chair buzzed.”
What was once just a strip mall and movie theater is now also home to a number of entertainment venues for children of all ages. For the youngest tots, Kids Sports (ages 7 and under) at the Elmwood Fitness Center offers a two-story maze, jungle gym and space walk. A few doors down, Adventure Quest Laser Tag (ages 5 and up) offers four great activities, including bumper cars, indoor mini golf, an outdoor maze and, of course, laser tag. There’s also a full game room available. BooKoo Bounce (age 8 and under) has 8,500 sq. feet of inflatables and slides for kids to run, jump and bounce on. And the newly opened Sector-6 (all ages) features 12,000-sq. feet of connected trampolines for kids to work up a sweat. Space is limited, so make sure to purchase tickets in advance.
(Drew= 9, Remy= 9, Cole= 10) “I like Sector 6 because I love to run and jump. I like the video games at Laser Tag, especially the motorcycle game. And if you get enough tickets, you get prizes! My favorite of the big games is laser tag because you get to run around and shoot people and hope you don’t get hit.”
Here, families can spend the entire day in one of the country’s largest urban parks. Start out with some delicious beignets at 24-hour Morning Call. For children with an interest in the arts, make your way over to the New Orleans Museum of Art, which is home to works by Picasso, Renoir, Matisse, Monet and southern folk art favorite Georgia O’Keefe. But you don’t have to be an art-lover to appreciate the Besthoff sculpture garden, located just behind the museum. The 60 enormous sculptures, valued at over $25-million, perfectly harmonize with huge oak trees dripping with hanging moss. At the boathouse, you can rent paddleboats and paddle on the Big Lake or bicycles to explore the natural beauty of the 1600-acre park. The newest attraction is City Putt, a side-by-side, 18-hole mini golf course, which is located behind a huge open lawn that’s perfect for families to toss around a football or picnic. The Botanical Garden may not seem ideal for children, but when the lights go up in December, it transforms into a world-class Christmas light show called Celebration in the Oaks.
(Cole= 10, Remy= 9, Drew= 7) “Going to City Park in the winter is so cool because the light show is amazing! I love to go with my Dad to City Putt because they have two different courses– one for New Orleans and one for Louisiana. When you get to each hole, the signs give you interesting facts about the city and the state. I like the New Orleans course better because it’s a little easier.”
These two attractions are also in City Park, but listed separately because they’re more appropriate for younger children than the others. The centerpiece of the 16-ride Carousel Gardens Amusement Park is the antique wooden carousel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The rest of the pint-size amusement park features a ferris wheel and rides like the tilt-a-whirl, bumper cars, wacky shack and the newly renovated ladybug roller coaster. Tickets are $4 per ride or $18 for unlimited rides. Next door to the amusement park is Storyland, featuring slides and climbing trails set amongst larger-than-life characters from your favorite classic fairytales. From Jack and Jill Hill to Captain Hook’s pirate ship, children five and under will love to play here. Tickets are $4 per person and free for kids under 36”.
(Drew= 3, Remy= 7, Cole= 5) “I don’t like Storyland because it’s babyish. Maybe it’s good for kids that are like age four and under. I like Carousel Gardens because I like riding the small things, but I can’t wait until I’m big enough to ride the roller coaster!”
Opened in 2011 just 20 minutes from downtown New Orleans, NOLA Motorsports allows adventure enthusiasts to rev their engines in a world class racing facility. The attraction features the country’s largest karting track, offering three different courses for kids 52” and taller. The 40-acre facility offers 25-mph karts for youngsters and 50mph carts for teens and adults 60” and taller. Prices range from $15 per ride on Mondays to $25 on weekends, and the park is closed on Wednesdays. NOLA Motorsports is fun for the whole family. But if mom or dad wants to get really crazy, they can also take their own car for a spin around the world-class Indy track. Check the calendar for special weekend racing in a Mustang or exotic sports cars like a Lamborghini or Ferrari.
(Remy= 10, Cole= n/a, Drew= 9) “I wish I was taller so I can ride the fast karts. Sometimes the 25 mph karts go slower than the other karts, and that’s not fun. But when it goes fast, it’s amazing! I wish it didn’t cost so much because I want to keep riding over and over again. When I leave, I always want to go back.”
Mardi Gras is a larger-than-life event. At Mardi Gras World, visitors can take a tour of Blane Kern’s Studio, where world famous floats have been constructed since 1947. Tours are offered every half hour and take approximately one hour. But what makes the place even more special is the little lagniappe– like a piece of Mardi Gras king cake– at the beginning of every tour. During the tour, you’ll learn about the history, costumes and traditions of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. After the tour, visitors are welcome to wander the working studio and take as many pictures as they like. Located in an old warehouse on the Mississippi River, Mardi Gras World is in walking distance to the French Quarter for most people, but a free shuttle is also available. Tickets are $12 for kids 12 and under and $19 for adults.
(Drew= 7, Cole= n/a, Remy= 7) “I like Mardi Gras World because I like seeing the floats of years past and climbing the floats to get a real feel for what it’s like to ride on a float. They also pass out doubloons, which are colorful coins that are made for Mardi Gras and have the Krewe theme on it.”
Jean Lafitte’s National Park is actually six parks spread throughout Louisiana. But, for the purposes of taking your children on an outing relatively close to New Orleans, let’s focus on the Barataria Preserve. Located approximately 30 miles from downtown, this nature preserve offers spacious trails through the Louisiana swamps and wetlands. The nature center includes an overview of the park as well as a Hurricane Katrina exhibit, and the guides will point you in the direction of the best trails for that day. The lush vegetation is home to plenty of alligators (yes, you’ll see some), swamp rabbits, snakes and many other small creatures. For the family that likes the great outdoors, this is the perfect place (when it’s not too hot out) to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Kids will certainly enjoy the close-up encounters with the alligators. The best part is that because it’s a national park, it’s free!
(Drew= 7, Cole= n/a, Remy= 7) “I like being one on one with nature and seeing animals like armadillos, spiders, snakes and birds. Don’t forget to bring your bug spray, because the bugs are everywhere. In summer, it’s miserable because you’re sweating so much.”
Since 1986, the Louisiana Children’s Museum has been located in a 30,000 sq. ft. building in the heart of the warehouse district. Best for children 3-10 years old, the museum offers an array of educational activities made fun through interactive play. Kids can go grocery shopping in the mini-Winn Dixie, cook meals in the model café, or play captain of a Mississippi River cargo ship. Recently announced plans call for a new Louisiana Children’s Museum Early Learning Village, a 58,000 sq. ft. facility located in City Park. Scheduled to open in 2017, the museum will house a nature center, literacy center, parent and teacher resource center, childcare center, performing arts center, edible garden, kitchen and café. Developers see the new museum as an opportunity for locals and visitors to explore the wonderful ecosystem that New Orleans has to offer.
(Remy= 8, Drew= 7, Cole= 10) “My favorite things are the grocery store and serving my parents food at the café. They have a little kids part for kids three and under. I like the room that’s full of bubbles. There’s a little house that has a phone with emergency numbers, and they have a place where you can pretend to get your eyes checked.” –by Shane Finkelstein; all photos provided by the attractions
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