In years past, I've done such things as go to see Britney Spears and the Grand Canyon in Vegas, or run Bay to Breakers in San Francisco and then tour the city afterwards. Typically, my adventures involve going somewhere and doing something dumb. And without a doubt, costuming and shenanigans are involved whenever possible.
Of course, 2018 was no exception. With nothing in mind, though, when planning this year's adventure I basically licked my finger and threw it to the wind, waiting to see what would fall into my lap. After lots of thought and some digging around (such as pricing airfare with frequent flyer miles and buy one get one free coupons), I found a pretty sweet deal and decided to check off another bucket list item - a visit to New Orleans.
Yes, I chose New Orleans despite the fact that I'm by no means a spring chicken anymore, and have basically exhausted my liver having gone to UW-Madison - a consistently rated top 10 party school from the 90s to today. I full well realized prior to booking my trip that NOLA is known for it's debauchery and drinking culture. HOWEVER, it is also known for it's unique creole heritage, long established history, and many other things. Those "many other things" have drawn my curiosity for years. And finally, this was the year for me to seek them out!
Today's post below is part 3 of my New Orleans travel recap. You can read day one here and day two here.
Days Three & Four - More Touring & Sunshine!
After two busy days of travel and touring the French Quarter, Friday morning seemed like a good time to leave the city and see more outside of New Orleans.
In fact, prior to even leaving Minneapolis I had anticipated we'd be ready to go see other things by this point in the trip, so months prior I had asked my husband to book us a rental car for the day. Meanwhile I had researched things to do within driving distance of the city and settled on a swamp tour in the morning, and a plantation visit in the afternoon.
Again relying on internet reviews, I settled on Cajun Encounters swap tours for our morning outing. And again, my choice did not disappoint.
Just as our ticket advised, we arrived at 9 am and were on a boat departing shore by 9:30 am - right on time, if not early. I have to admit, I started the tour a bit disappointed because the tour guide stated that Louisiana was having a late (cold) spring, which means few alligator sightings since most stay in hibernation until the temps hit a certain level.
But I kid you not ... he barely got that sentence out and:
Now granted, that was a pretty tiny gator. But I was ok with that once I realized how high out of the water those things could jump. Honestly, if an adult sized gator had been jumping out of the water that close to my son, I likely would have shat myself.
Aside from gators, the tour featured other natural wildlife in the swamps like birds, wild boars, and raccoons:
After seeing about all the wildlife we could, the tour swung by an area where a few dozen or so shanty shack type dwellings stood.
There, the guide explained the squatters rights these people had attained over the course of time (we're talking 50-100 years ago these families started living on the water), and the lifestyle they have had to adjust into as a result of Katrina. I myself looked at the lifestyle they were leading and immediately knew it was not for me - just from a flood perspective alone!
As the tour wound down, our guide recommended some lunch options in the town nearby, and helped us unload from the boat. Taking his suggestion, we headed to Peck's seafood, where we learned what southern style portions really meant:
That, my friends, is a side order of fried pickle chips for $6.99. Seriously, the plate was bigger than my head, and it was meant to be served along with the sandwich I ordered.
No, I did not even come close to finishing. Heh. I don't think I even made a sizable dent in it at all, as it still looked like a full serving when I walked away!
After lunch, while I endured a brief fried food coma, my husband started us off on another drive to our next destination which was about 1 to 1.5 hours away - Oak Alley Plantation.
For me, choosing a plantation tour in this area was somewhat difficult, partially due to historical/political reasons. As much as I hate to see it, many people today still want to hide the truth about what plantations stood for - meaning: glossing over what it took to make a plantation work ... slavery. I myself wanted to see an accurate portrayal of everything related to plantation life, owners and slaves alike, and didn't want to pretend that some huge mansion was there just for rich white people to live their fancy lives.
Finding a plantation that offered the entire picture of plantation life, and not just the "white washed owner's life" was difficult. But, on the other end of the spectrum, I also discovered there is at least one plantation in Louisiana that only tells the story from the slave's perspective. Neither polarized perspective was what I was looking for, since I wanted to see what life inside both the "big house" and the "small houses" was like.
Since I was being choosy, I spent quite a bit of time prior to my visit reading reviews from several plantation sites. Eventually I settled on Oak Alley, as they seemed to offer the closest to a full spectrum display that I could get. I was hesitant on my choice, because even Oak Alley didn't have the greatest of reviews. And to be fair, after visiting, I could see why some of the reviews called Oak Alley too "simple" or "basic", as they did not go into very in-depth into anything - owner or slave alike. However, given my options, and my overall experience at Oak Alley, I was happy I went.
My son, after taking a nice nap in the car, also enjoyed this part of the trip - we let him be a free range toddler in the "Oak Alley", which he thought was pretty fantastic ... until we said it was time to go and he threw a hissy fit on the walkway.
Ah! The terrible twos are here, for sure.
The real reason my son was sad to go was because the root bases of these trees were amazing, and he was fascinated with walking around every tree, trying to conquer walking around the roots without falling down.
Actually - the trees proved to be a good exercise in dexterity for him, and a good exercise in not noping out and leaving my kid behind for me. I say this because, shortly after posing for a cute photo, I discovered the tree I was playing by with my son had a snake crawling down from higher branches. It took just about everything in me to not scream and run away, leaving my son in the dust. LOL! Let's just say, after that, I was much more concerned about which tree my son was by and why!
Once we left the plantation, we drove a little out of the way to have dinner at a unique restaurant called The Cabin. I had heard that this place was actually built in what used to be slave quarters as well, so I thought it would be some sort of experience. Unfortunately, while the food was OK and service was good, the overall experience was not any more notable than being at a TGIFriday's or some other sort of chain establishment. As a result, I was a little sad I "wasted" my last dinner in New Orleans there. Honestly, though, it was probably for the best that we ate at The Cabin, as my son's patience over the ongoing three days of traveling had worn thin and he was done - the staff did an excellent job of noticing his situation and accommodating us with quick food service.
Thankfully, our remaining journey to return our rental car and taxi back to the hotel was uneventful, and after getting my son to bed I enjoyed the balcony of my hotel room quite extensively for one last night in the French Quarter.
Speaking of, it was officially Friday night in New Orleans, which meant Bourbon Street was bustling. I couldn't help but be amazed by the constant flow of people we could see walking up and down Bourbon from our balcony (as well as the occasional visit by an ambulance or police car). That influx of people continued to exponentially increase over the next 8-10 hours, and we quickly noticed the easy going New Orleans we had experienced for the bulk of our trip had quickly degraded into shoulder to shoulder crowds and long lines everywhere.
Shopping areas like the French Market and the side streets in the French Quarter, which were peaceful and pleasant strolls just a day or two earlier, had turned into absolute chaos come Saturday by 10 am. Even Cafe Du Monde had a line of easily 100 people by 9 am that morning!
I couldn't believe the shift that took place in such a short time frame. Certianly, I was glad that we had booked our trip during an off period so as to miss most of the crowd that was now taking over the streets.
In fact, after a short morning and an early nap for my son, rather than continuing to fight the crowds in an area that we had already seen anyway, we decided to "cut 'em loose". By noon, we had checked out of our hotel and boarded a cab back to the airport.
Thankfully, this time, our flight was actually EARLY returning home, and we were all grateful to be home for a truly peaceful night's sleep once again.