(Photo: Milkovasa/Shutterstock.com; Gifs: Ann Rhee)
New Orleans was just named quirkiest city by Travel and Leisure, which means it’s a fun place that comes with its share of oddities. Surely the Griswolds would have loved New Orleans, but undoubtedly they would have fallen victim to each and every pitfall imaginable. Thanks to this comprehensive guide, you’ll never have to encounter these potentially disastrous situations and ensure the best New Orleans family vacation, ever.
Beat the Bourbon Street Blues
So you’ve booked a hotel in the most central of locations, right in the middle of the French Quarter with a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street. When you made your travel plans, it sounded better than perfect, until you and your happy family decided to talk a seemingly harmless walk to explore the area. You look around, poised to take in your surroundings.
To one side you’re greeted by a pair of fishnet-clad mannequin legs pumping in and out of “Big Daddy’s,” and to the other side a raucous group of drunken college kids. A cacophony of live Jazz mixed inappropriate rap music fills the hot, thick air. Your hands immediately clamp down over your innocent children’s ears and eyes, and you consider high tailing it back to the hotel.
How to Salvage the Situation?
First order of business: Get off Bourbon Street as quickly as possible. Head toward Jackson Square where you can take in a kid-friendly array of street performers and artists. Stop by Café du Monde for a delightfully messy snack of beignets, a powdered-sugar-covered fried dough delight that the pickiest of eaters will accept without hesitation. Top it off with a leisurely stroll over to the top of the adjacent steps where you’ll find Washington Artillery Square. There you can watch the riverboats and barges drift peacefully past.
Avoid a Mardi Gras Mess
You’ve heard the stories about the craziness that happens at Mardi Gras, but you figure it must be safe to bring children to a parade in broad daylight. So far you’re all enjoying the dazzling, larger-than-life floats, the blaring marching bands, and the endless supply of costumed dancing girls. It’s crazy, unlike anything you’ve ever seen, but you can’t help but wonder why everyone is so uptight — this doesn’t seem so bad. Just then the woman across the street from you sees a float approaching and opens her shirt to reveal her bare chest. She is pummeled with so many beads, trinkets, and throws that you lose sight of her in the barrage of Made-in-China madness.
What’s a Responsible Parent To Do?
Locals will tell you that the beginning of the parade route tends to be more family friendly than the end. Translation: Stick as close to the intersection of Napoleon and St. Charles Avenues as you possibly can. The closer you are to Lee Circle, the more unruly the scene, so remember… Uptown is your friend.
Lost in Translation
You’re a native English speaker, and you’re traveling to New Orleans, a city where English is the official language. No worries, right? On second thought, you feel deeply confused when your server at lunch asks you if you want your sandwich “dressed” and then offers you a “go cup” for your beer when you’re ready to leave.
When asking for directions to a dessert place, a local kindly tells you to cross the “neutral ground” and head to the “riverside” of the street. Once you find your way there, you order an ice cream cone and are happily informed that you have received an extra scoop free of charge — a little “lagniappe.”
New Orleans is a unique place in every way. It’s the birthplace of Jazz, a meandering and gritty sound. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can see Mardi Gras. It’s home to Folk Art and fantasy. It makes sense that its people would have their own special vocabulary. We’ve outlined a few commonly used terms for your education and amusement.
Dressed = Lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise on a sandwich
Neutral Ground = Median
Go Cup = A disposable cup that allows you to take your drink with you
Lagniappe = A little something extra
Which Way is Up?
The Griswolds lost their way in London so profoundly, they were trapped on a traffic merry-go-round circling Big Ben and Parliament umpteen times. Your sense of direction is flawless. You can pinpoint True North just by observing the position of the Sun, but you have now entered the Twilight Zone. The Earth’s magnetic poles don’t apply in New Orleans. The natives make their own rules: North, South, East and West are replaced by Riverside, Lakeside, Uptown and Downtown.
And those street signs that seem so obvious are pronounced in an utterly new way. Don’t ask a local the way to Calliope Street, they won’t know what you mean. Try “KAL-ee-ope” instead. Same goes for Burgundy (“ber-GUN-dee”), Melpomene (“MEL-poe-meen”), and Terpsichore (“TERP-suh-core”). Don’t even get us started on Tchoupitoulas Street.