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New Orleans Family Travel Guide: The Bus Tour

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Our first full day out exploring New Orleans started at 9am and ended at 10pm. I looked at yelp to give me some ideas for breakfast and our number one choice, The Ruby Slipper off Magazine St, had an hour wait so we decided on our second choice Jimmy J’s Café off Charters St. After our amazing dinner the night before, I was ready for another mind blowing experience. Before we entered the colorful establishment we heard a few of the patrons leaving, talking about how it was the best meal they had ever had.
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As you walked into this tiny restaurant filled will personality and charm you get a sense that you are in the hub of cool.
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The restaurant fits maybe 30 people max and is known for its Bloody Mary’s; sadly I don’t drink at 9am so I didn’t sample the famous Mary. The walls are covered with pictures and paintings of some of the greatest musicians ever; you can sit back, enjoy the ambiance and feel right at home.
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The menu is filled with so many rich options but after the heavy meal from the night before, we were looking for something a bit low key. Unfortunately for us low key wasn’t on the menu. We left Jimmy J’s feeling greasy and stuffed longing for a bowl of fruit or yogurt. Looking back I wish I had had a Bloody Mary for breakfast.
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Whenever we visit a new city, the first day, my mom and I like to take one of those bus tours just to see what the city is all about and then pick and choose where we want to go for the next couple of days. We had asked our hotel about a bus tour and they suggested one to us that was down by the Mississippi River which was a 10 minute walk from our hotel.
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We walked down Canal Street until we hit the Mississippi and saw the sign for The New Orleans City Sightseeing Tour. When we bought our tickets, they offered us a complimentary walking ghost tour for that night, I wasn’t thrilled about it but my mom doesn’t say no to anything that’s free. The nice thing about the bus tour is that it gives you a hop on hop off option and a bus arrives every 30-45 minutes. We started at the hub and the least populated spot so we got the prime seats up front. New Orleans is a pretty small city but you don’t really have a concept of how small until you do this tour.
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Our first stop was The Art District which really isn’t a place that my kids were interested in so it was nice to learn about it via the guide. Our next stop was Mardi Gras World, a warehouse by the dock that housed a few of the hundred floats from Mardi Gras.
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This was definitely going to be one of our hops, so we hopped off. I wouldn’t recommend doing this part of the tour late at night being that it is in the most remote part of town, so try and avoid Mardi Gras World after 4pm. Not lucky enough to get to New Orleans for Mardi Gras? Then Mardi Gras world is your second best option. Inside the warehouse leading up to the gift shop where tickets are sold they have old props on display.
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Camera in hand I snapped away and my kids already knew that they were going to hate the next hour.
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The entire tour is just under an hour so you would think that they would just let me do my mommy thing. Our tour began in the theater room which has more props and costumes from past Mardi Gras, nothing elaborate but still fun. We had about 8 minutes to try on costumes and take pictures around the room. These costumes are worn by float riders in the parades.
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Our guide was the only person I met in New Orleans who wasn’t nice and must have hated her job because she kept on huffing and puffing at everything about hurrying up with the clothes.
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We really did only have about 8 minutes and there were about 50 people who wanted to glam up and take pics so she should have been a bit more patient with everyone, hopefully you don’t get her. After costume time we watched a video on Mardi Gras that was fascinating.
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Mardi Gras season actually begins right after the Christmas season ends and goes right up until Lent culminating on Fat Tuesday. Currently New Orleans has 53 parade organizations that roll during this time period.
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Not all organizations have parades with floats, and some older organizations no longer parade.
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After the video we all got a piece of king cake and then headed into the warehouse. In the warehouse they took us to see the different stages of prop making – most of the pieces are made of Styrofoam covered in paper mâché and painted, it’s pretty cool.
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You can take as many pictures as you like but please no flash photography, this was repeated to me by my kids the entire tour.
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After seeing how props were made we were taken into the float area. Since Mardi Gras ended recently the floats still had last year’s decorations.
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They’re really big and beautiful works of art! We were welcomed to stay as long as we wanted with the only rule of not climbing on the floats which was so tempting. If you go during winter or spring, be sure to bundle up, the warehouse is freezing!
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The next stop was the beautiful Garden District filled with historic homes and gardens.
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When you think of picturesque southern homes, this is what you are thinking of. Some of the homes have been used in movies such as Benjamin Button and American Horror Story: Coven (Witches Mansion).
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Most of these homes have been converted to apartments but the outside structure still remains. This area is less touristy and is filled with some of the city’s best coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants. It’s a bit of a walk to get there, but you can always rent a bike, take a taxi or even bus and trolley and walk some. The next stop was the National WWII Museum which I wouldn’t mind seeing once the kids are a bit older.
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Right next door to the WWII Museum is a Chef John Besh Restaurant and Soda Shop! So if you are a lover of gourmet food at a budget then you need to check it out. Less than a few blocks from the WWII Museum is The Louisiana Children’s Museum, a three story museum of fun, innovation and imagination. We actually walked here from our hotel on our third day and it took us about 15 minutes.
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Even though Katrina is a thing of the past, it still haunts parts of New Orleans, such as, the next stop The Superdome.
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The largest fixed dome structure in the world is home to the Super Bowl XLIV Champions, the New Orleans Saints and is an impressive sight to be seen. Unfortunately its name is still tarnished from the horrific events that occurred during that devastating time. As the bus tour continues around this beautiful city, we noticed beads adorned on trees.
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Mardi Gras was 2 weeks before and the beads we high up on the trees as a reminder of the celebration. Fun fact: Mardi Gras floats are so big that they can’t maneuver down the French Quarter. The floats parades are held throughout the entire city but there, in the French Quarter they have a different kind of parade. So the images we have of people throwing beads off buildings onto floats on Bourbon Street are false.
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Next stop is the St. Louis Cemetery #1, the oldest above ground cemetery in New Orleans.
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What’s so fascinating about this? That’s exactly what my mom asked but for those of us who love the macabre this cemetery is a must.
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Here in the Cities of the Dead (named this because of the unique above ground architecture) you can visit the tomb of the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau or of Civil Rights Leader, Homer Plessy and if you see a giant unmarked pyramid, you are looking at the future final resting place of Nicolas Cage.
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Now we made the mistake of not hopping off that day and walking there the next day which again was a mistake. The cemetery is located next to the abandoned projects which have been closed due to the city’s revitalization.
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In the next couple of years this area will be better but right now it’s not that great. This being said St. Louis Cemetery #1 is in a bad part of town. Remember the nice server who scratched off a part of town not to go to; this was that part of town. I don’t recommend going there alone, with a tour is fine, alone with your elderly mom and two young kids not so fine. So my recommendation you should totally visit the St. Louis Cemetery #1 BUT take a tour.
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The bus tour ended at The French Market which was less than a mile away from the hub.
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If you wanted to hop off there, you could visit the Cathedral, Café du Monde, Bourbon Street, and so on. This is also a great place to hop of to go shopping, eat and do the touristy thing. This is the heart of all things touristy in New Orleans. You want a carriage ride this is where you do it. You want a painting from a street vendor this is the place to find it. You want to buy tour tickets to the St. Louis Cemetery #1? Then guess what, there are many outlets here that sell tours tickets. So we once again hopped off but this time it was to eat lunch decisions, decisions.

To be continued…

I’m an OC mom of two and photographer. I love living in Southern California and want to expose my children to all that it offers. I love taking my kids on adventures and capturing their every moment so much so that my kids find it odd if I don’t take their pictures. You can see my work on facebook.com/photosbynaz.
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