Despite its reputation as a city for grown ups that love to eat, drink, party and stay up late, New Orleans is also a city of families. There are plenty of diversions for the little ones in and around town, scores of things for children and parents to enjoy together, whether its outdoors in nature or indoors learning and experiencing.
The word museum can mean a lot of different things. While you might think first of a well curated palace of art, in New Orleans, a museum can mean a sculpture garden, a lighthouse, or even a zoo.
One of the top museums for families in the area is based around Mardi Gras. At Mardi Gras World you can tour a collection of some of the greatest parade floats in the history of carnival, assembled together for endless photo opps. Here, kids can grab selfies with Batman, Spiderman and the Grinch, and that's 'just for starters.
Other great places to spend some time include the holy trinity of Audubon properties (Aquarium, Insectarium and Zoo). Parents can buy economically priced passes that deliver access to all three over the course of a few days.
With New Orleans recognized by many as a fun destination for families, this list will guide you through the top museums that both parents and children will enjoy.
Outdoor attractions are plentiful on this side of Lake Pontchartrain, a world away from the excess of New Orleans. The Global Wildlife Center is the Northshore's answer to Disney's Animal Kingdom, an eco-friendly 900-acre predator-free animal park that offers 90-minute covered wagon tours to view the 40 species, 2700 animals in all, which live in the park. You're likely to see giraffes, antelope, Father David deer, dromedaries and bison on your Louisiana safari, which includes feeding the curious critters from an open air safari-like vehicle. There is so much to do for families on this side of the lake that you might want to stay over for a night or two.
Louisiana has only one working lighthouse, and this be it, on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain. Only a quick drive from downtown New Orleans, the New Canal Lighthouse Museum and Education Center lives on the first floor of the structure raised 19 feet about the level of the lake. The museum and its curators are all about conservation and the efforts taken to improve water quality and restore basin habitats following natural disasters. After perusing the museum and gift shop, the outdoor deck is a great place for picture taking. The south shore of the Lake is really beautiful, and being immersed in nature is a nice change of pace from the fast pace of the city.
An impressive Italian Palazzo design, complete with arched windows and entryways makes the New Orleans Children's Museum a unique learning environment with an almost warehouse-style ambiance. Exhibits are interactive and hands-on, allowing both kids and adults to simultaneously learn and have a blast. Favorites include a display in which patrons surround themselves with a giant bubble and a bicycle ride that teaches participants the functions of the human skeleton. The 30,000 sq ft of space provides room for tons of exhibits. There is an indoor climbing wall to teach kids about the body and fitness, as well as a safety zone to educate the youth on how to operate in an emergency.
Audubon Zoo, located in Uptown New Orleans is a great place for a family visit. Home to more tahn 2,000 animals, the zoo is open year round, from Tuesday through Sunday (seven days a week during the summer). Learning the eating habits of a Komodo Dragon under the Louisiana sun can get hot, so the Zoo features Cool Zoo, a small scale water park complete with an alligator water slide. The new Bambu Village Asian Discovery Trail offers up-close animal encounters with touch-friendly animals and education stations along the way. The zoo is located across the street from Audubon Park, and adjacent to The Fly, a great place to relax in full view of the Mississippi River.
Located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the French Quarter, the Audubon Aquarium is one of three Audubon attractions on this 10Best list. The Aquarium offers its visitors a chance to pet sting rays, feed exotic birds, and ogle sharks in the Gulf of Mexico exhibit, which simulates ocean life under an oil rig. As its name specifies, it is home to more than 10,000 aquatic animals from all over the Americas. Kids will love upping their education while viewing a movie featuring their favorite species on the in-house IMAX theater. Leave the driving to a Hop-On double decker open air red bus which offers tours and transportation service between Audubon Nature Institute's downtown attractions and Audubon Zoo.
Unless you are specifically coming to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, there is no place other than Mardi Gras World to give you a behind the scenes look at Carnival. Blain Kern's attraction is the real deal - these warehouses are where many parade floats are conceived and constructed. Procure a tour guide, and gain valuable insight into the technology and artistry behind floats like the King Kong and Bacchasaurus. Mardi Gras World hosts conventions, birthday parties, concerts and occasionally weddings. If your group is large enough, you can enroll in their Mardi Gras mask making classes. Mardi Gras World is an easy walk from the cruise terminal for a before or after the boat excursion.
Located in New Orleans because that was the home of Higgins Industries, the manufacturer of the landing craft that delivered U.S. troops onto the D-Day beaches, this CBD must-see will appeal to all history lovers and slightly older kids interested in military lore. In addition to the permanent and special exhibits, the museum also offers "Beyond all Boundaries", a 4-D movie narrated by Tom Hanks. Special programming includes a monthly overnight for families, a pajama party geared to the 7-12 year old set loaded with activities, scavenger hunts, games and the opportunity to climb inside the Museum's Sherman Tank. Family-themed work shops explore themes like code school and aviation.
The Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium is located inside the U.S. Custom House on Canal Street. It is the largest North American museum dedicated to insects. Adults and children alike will enjoy learning about the insect's contributions the the earth's diversity. The butterfly garden is an enclosed area where thousands of butterflies flutter around your head. The amount of time you can spend here isn't comparable to the hours upon hours you could spend at a zoo or aquarium, but the venue provides a solid hour or two of learning and excitement - not to mention the gross out factor sure to appeal to some kids.
Harry Potter would be right at home in this teeny tiny French Quarter landmark with its oddball displays of gris-gris (voodoo charms), potions and all kinds of memorabilia pertaining to Voodoo queen Marie Laveau, a 19th century priestess and one of New Orleans' most colorful characters. Ask about scheduled rituals and guided tours to spiritually charged haunts. And yes, spells and voodoo dolls are for sale. Marie Laveau's tomb is said to be in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, but you'll need a guide to get in, a relatively new development in place because Laveau's fans had a habit of regularly defacing her grave.
Located in City Park, the New Orleans Museum of Art, or NOMA, hosts an impressive permanent collection of almost 40,000 objects with a concentration in French and American art. NOMA programming is designed to instill art appreciation in kids as well as adults, with an ongoing menu of workshops like Baby Arts Play! that integrates music, movement and art into playtime for 1 and 2-year-olds. Monthly family workshops provide hands-on art-making experiences and on select Saturdays StoryQuest gives kids 2-7 a treasure hunt of clues to explore the museum's collections using words like shoes, dreams and family. Studio Kids gives older children classes art projects as a bridge to diverse cultures.