New Orleans with Tweens: A Perfect Family Day

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New Orleans with Tweens: A Family Vacation

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So you and your family have decided to go to New Orleans. Luckily, there are a number of attractions, for families with children aged 8-12, that are sure to please. With a perfect day that starts by eating beignets at Café Du Monde and ends at a real Cajun hoedown, it's hard to go wrong in New Orleans with tweens.

Morning


The ideal day starts at Café Du Monde (800 Decatur St., New Orleans, LA 70116; 504-525-4544). In business since 1862, the cafe is revered for its French fritter or beignet (pronounced ben-yay), light-as-air squares of deep-fried dough sprinkled extravagantly with confectioner's sugar. Be there first thing in the morning to cop an outdoor table overlooking Jackson Square and its medley of street artists, tarot card readers and musicians. Adults will enjoy Café Du Monde's chicory-laced cafe au lait.

The masses have traveled around New Orleans by streetcar since 1835, both in steam-powered cars and horse-drawn ones. Kids of all ages will get a kick out of the beautiful wooden electric cable cars that have been clickety-clacking since 1923. At $1.25 a ride, streetcars are a bargain as both a slice of history and a mode of transportation. (Tip: Buy a one-day VisiTour pass for $5 or a three-day pass for $12.) The most multipurpose line for visitors is the Riverfront line, which follows a two-mile path along the Mississippi River, making stops at the French Quarter (Esplanade Avenue), the French Market, Jackson Square, Canal Street, the Riverwalk Shopping Mall, the Hilton Hotel and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.


Among the coolest things about New Orleans is its surface burial grounds, known as "cities of the dead." In an amazing display of urban preparation, these graveyards were indeed arranged like mini cities, with parallel streets feeding between the rows of plushy surface vaults and intricately carved stone graves. The best way to explore the cemeteries of New Orleans with tweens is with a guided burial ground tour by Save Our Cemeteries. The Lafayette No. 1 Cemetery Tour ($10/adult; children under 12 free) leaves from the Washington Avenue Gate, while the St. Louis Cemetery Tour ($12 for adults; children under 12 free) leaves from the Basin Street Station Visitors Center at 501 Basin Street. No reservations are required but space is limited and it's first come, first served, so get there early.


Afternoon


Hungry kids can lead to high food bills, so get the ultimate cheap lunch at Johnny's Po-Boys (511 St. Louis St., New Orleans, LA 70130; 504-524-8129), an eatery whose interior is as humble and scrappy as the sandwich itself. The po-boy is New Orleans's answer to the submarine or hoagie, served on French bread with the filling of your choice. The classic po-boy is made with fried oysters or shrimp, but favorite deli foods such as roast beef, ham and meatballs also have strong followings. If you ask for your po-boy "dressed," it will come with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and mayonnaise. Johnny's is open 8AM to 3PM on weekdays and on weekends until 4:30PM; cash only.

After lunch, the tweens can feed their imaginations at the Louisiana Children's Museum (420 Julia St., New Orleans, LA 70130; 504-523-1357), a 30,000-square-foot interactive wonderland with more than 100 hands-on exhibits. Kids of all ages can drive a tugboat down the Mississippi River, role play in the Kids Café, go rock climbing, and do the household's grocery shopping in a mini-supermarket. The under-4 gang has a devoted play area all to itself. Admission is $7.50/person (adults and children).

Or, your family may enjoy communing with the more than 1,300 animals -- including a Komodo lizard, a herd of frisky sea lions, a couple of white Bengal tigers and a family of exceedingly uncommon white alligators -- at the Audubon Zoo (6500 Magazine St; New Orleans, LA; 800-774-7394). Younger tweens will love traveling through the zoo on board the Swamp Train, while bigger kids will not be able to get enough of the hi-tech Safari Simulator ride. The zoo is closed on Mondays. Admission is $13.50/adult and $8.50 for children 2-12).


Evening


If you have never been to a Cajun hoedown, here's your chance to put that right. Get the entire family into comfortable shoes and head for Michaul's Live Cajun Music Restaurant (840 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, LA 70130; 504-581-4629), where everybody gets complimentary dance lessons. The dining room is appropriately rustic (wooden floors, picnic tables, checked tablecloths) and the menu boasts all the common suspects: gumbo, jambalaya, deep-fried chicken and shellfish done every way possible. The instant the band begins to play, the dance floor fills up and the foot stompin' commences. Don't be astonished if one of the resident dance teachers draws you onto the floor to teach you the two-step. Let go. Have fun. This place boasts "the most amusing fun on two feet" -- and delivers -- a great stop when you're visiting New Orleans with tweens.

And when it's time to call it a day, try the 655-room Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St., New Orleans, LA 70130; 504-523-3341; room rates range from $99-$129 with suites as low as $189 a night. The belle of the French Quarter since 1886, the hotel still turns heads with its beautiful baroque facade, liveried doormen, blazing chandeliers and rumored resident spooks. Tweens will enjoy the heated rooftop pool and rotating piano bar. Adults can listen to live jazz nightly in the lounge. Children 17 and under stay at the hotel for free.

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