There’s no place in the world like New Orleans. The food is amazing. The drinks are plentiful. The music is wonderful. However, If you’ve spent a few days walking up and down Bourbon Street, you might feel like you need to give your body a rest. You can only eat and drink so much before you start looking like you need a vacation from your vacation. I’ve put together a list of some places that will give you a little break from drinking and dancing in the French Quarter.
Just an hour south of N’awlins is a protected swamp area where one can hop on an air boat and ride around the bayous that help make Louisiana a unique destination different than the other 49 states. It’s a fascinating tour that covers the history of the area to pulling alongside alligators and even catching a small one to pass around. You’d think that the alligators would shy away, but they’re so used to being fed marshmallows (Alligator “crack”as one tour guide put it) that they’ll practically chase down the boat. Marshmallows don’t seem like a logical choice for an alligator diet, but it does have a “marsh” in the name and maybe these giant reptiles know that. If you’ve never been on an air boat, it”s a real treat. It’s loud and you have to wear headphones to keep from going deaf, but since there’s no propellers involved, the boat can go through ridiculously shallow water with no effort. If you prefer a slower pace, kayak tours are also available
Avery Island is a couple of hours away from New Orleans and is the home of the world famous Tabasco Sauce. The factory is built on a salt dome island and in addition to checking out the factory, the jungle gardens on the island contain a plethora of botanical wonders. If you like hot sauce, the visitor center has every possible chili pepper product you can imagine and a few you can’t imagine. You can also sample Tabasco pepper ice cream and flavored soda. Yes, Tabasco sauce flavored ice cream!
The New Orleans Cooking School is a great break from club hopping. You can find it in the quarter on St. Louis street, but you have to reserve early because it fills up fast. It’s really more of a history lesson and food tasting than an actual school, but the food is terrific and you’ll get lost in the origins of how the unique cuisine of New Orleans was created. It’s so much more interesting listening to history when you’re munching on some amazing bread pudding or jambalaya. There’s several classes to choose from where different dishes are created and you get to take the recipes home with you as well. The demonstration classes cost about $30/pp. If you’d like to go “hands on” and get involved with preparing as well as eating the food, expect to put down about $140/pp to make a full Louisiana meal.
I’m not a big believer in haunted hotels and ghost walks, but I was invited to do the Bloody Mary ghost walking tour which takes place nightly in the quarter. New Orleans has a rich history and lots of interesting above ground cemeteries, so if there is such a thing as ghosts and/or vampires, I can’t think of a better place in the USA for them to hang out. The walk is interesting, full of history, and gives you a different point of view about New Orleans than what you get by just bar hopping. My guide talked about “orbs”, lighted bubbles that could be captured on film if spirits were present. I saw no such thing, but was amazed when my camera picked up these manifestations in almost every haunted spot…..creepy!
Mardi Gras World gives you a chance to experience Mardi Gras all year round. This factory is just a short ferry ride across the Mississippi river and is full of floats that are being constructed or modified for the next Mardi Gras season. Blaine Kern created the factory in 1947 and churns out 80% of all the floats used in the parades. Kern really is the grandfather of Mardi Gras in New Orleans as he practically made it what it is today. His warehouse is a wonder and will amaze even the most jaded travelers.
Besides these choices, you can always gamble for a bit at Harrah’s, visit the world class Audubon Aquarium, ride a riverboat down the Mississippi, take a streetcar through the garden district, stop by the Voodoo temple, or visit one of the numerous museums in the area. There’s no shortage of things to do in a city with everything!