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 St., 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. Hence this list of 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 airboat and ride around the bayous that help make Louisiana a unique destination. It’s a fascinating tour that covers the history of the area. We even pulled alongside alligators and caught 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 airboat, 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, a couple of hours away from New Orleans, is the home of world-famous Tabasco Sauce. The factory is built on a salt dome island, and it, along with the jungle gardens on the island, are worth a visit. This place has every possible chili pepper product you can imagine, and a few you can’t imagine. You’ll get the chance to sample Tabasco ice cream and flavored soda. Yes, Tabasco sauce flavored ice cream!
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, and I enjoyed it. New Orleans has a rich history and lots of interesting aboveground cemeteries, so if there is such a thing as ghosts and/or vampires, I can’t think of a better place in the US 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 are 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. Located right next to the New Orleans Convention Center, the factory is full of floats that are being constructed or modified for the next Mardi Gras season. Blaine Kern created the place in 1947, and it churns out 80 percent 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.
Okay, okay, we know it’s centered around food. Nevertheless, The New Orleans Cooking School will give you a dose of history with your bread pudding and jambalaya. You can find it in the quarter on St. Louis St., but you have to reserve early because it fills up fast. There’s several classes and dishes to choose from, and you get to take the recipes home with you as well. The demonstration classes cost about $30/person. 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/person for a full Louisiana meal.
Other options include gambling for a bit at Harrah’s, visiting the world-class Audubon Aquarium, riding a riverboat down the Mississippi, taking a streetcar through the garden district, stopping by the Voodoo temple, or visiting one of the numerous museums in the area. There’s no shortage of things to do while you recover from a night on the town.