Virtuoso Traveler 2018 April How to Celebrate New Orleans’ Cultural Offerings

How to Celebrate New Orleans’ Cultural Offerings

Mardi Gras magic in New Orleans’ French Quarter. 
Mardi Gras magic in New Orleans’ French Quarter. 
Photo by benedek/Getty Images
A commitment to preserving cultural traditions and a focus on family fun are among the many reasons why we’re big on the Big Easy.

New Orleans never ceases to surprise: It’s the first lesson I learn soon after arriving in the city, which has long been on my bucket list because of its rich cultural offerings – and yes, its iconic annual Mardi Gras extravaganza. But while I’ve always thought of it as more of an adult getaway than a family destination, Rex, the “King of Carnival,” sets me straight: “New Orleans has always been about families,” he explains while highlighting the city’s history during my visit to the Rex Den, home of one of NOLA’s oldest parade clubs. And he should know – in addition to being a keeper of Mardi Gras culture, King Rex, aka Dr. Stephen Hales, is an amiable, mild-mannered pediatrician.
Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes, a local zydeco music icon and another of NOLA’s Culture Bearers – local artists and advocates working to preserve cultural traditions – concurs. “Step away from Bourbon Street’s tourist-soaked enclaves,” he says, “and multigenerational visitors will delight in a world of family activities steeped in heritage.”
This includes everything from learning how to make gumbo to taking traditional brass-band music classes, notes Barnes, who’s also the co-author of Talk That Music Talk: Passing on Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way. What’s more, travelers find some form of festival almost every week of the year here – particularly in 2018 as New Orleans celebrates its tricentennial – and always, families are welcome.

Bayou scenes outside of New Orleans.
Bayou scenes outside of New Orleans.
Photo by PhotoFires/Getty Images
This is evident even during Mardi Gras, I find, when adults and children of all ages line the parade routes from morning to sunset, picnic baskets in hand, dressed in costumes, and ready to catch the multihued beads tossed from wildly decorated floats. NOLA’s also home to the Louisiana Children’s Museum, which hosts events throughout the year, such as the Festival of Trees (held annually from late November to late December) and the New Year’s Eve Countdown to Noon. Other family favorites include riding the local ferry from Canal Street to Algiers Point to experience the mighty Mississippi River and exploring the backstreets of the historic French Quarter, filled with small family-owned shops packed with curios and handicrafts.
When it’s time to take a break from the city, visit the Big Easy’s (literal) backwaters. “One of our most popular family activities is a day on the bayou,” says Kevin Molony, owner of Royal Insider, Virtuoso’s on-site connection and a company that’s dedicated to sustaining the region’s culture. Molony, whose ancestors arrived in the city in 1721, is a local’s local, and a bayou adventure with Royal Insider is a must. In addition to speeding across open marshes on an airboat to learn about alligators and other indigenous wildlife, a “mudbug race” gives everyone 30 minutes to catch crawfish, known as mudbugs in Louisiana, for a family crawfish boil. This stew of Cajun sausage, corn on the cob, new potatoes, garlic, secret spices, and fresh-caught crawfish is a practically sacred local tradition – and a delicious finish to any Big Easy family vacation.

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