This is my fifth post about our family's visit to New Orleans over Christmas. I recommend reading the first, second, third, and fourth posts before this one. Because I blog about educational travel, I was given complimentary admission tickets, discounts, media rates, and other benefits for some of the places we visited. Many attractions we toured are free to everyone and we paid full price for the rest. This has no bearing on my reviews; I only share what I truly recommend.
Family Fun from New Orleans to Baton Rouge
When I told Trevor we'd be traveling to Louisiana, he asked if we could do a swamp boat tour. He is a very agreeable person and doesn't ask for much, so I was happy to make it a priority on the trip. Besides, a swamp boat tour would be awesome! Or so I thought, until I started researching the many options for swamp boat tours near New Orleans.
I was horrified as I started reading reviews. Over and over I read about companies:
- Baiting alligators with marshmallows, which they mistake for the eggs that are a natural part of their diet.
- Hand-feeding candy to wild boars and raccoons.
- Tying alligators to a dock so that the guide could guarantee a gator sighting to the tourists.
- Swerving through delicate marsh habitat to avoid boats in overcrowded swamps.
I am not ok with any of that, for what I hope are obvious reasons. I started researching "eco" options and eventually stumbled on something completely different than the sketchy boat tours with questionable (at best) practices. I talked it over with Trevor, and then Steve, and both were in total agreement: we did not want to take a boat tour that could cause damage to the swamp and its inhabitants.
So on Friday, December 27, we got a rental car, said goodbye to New Orleans, and went to Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve for a truly eco-friendly, educational, ranger-led swamp walking tour.
We started at the Visitor Center, which is small but nicely done. In reading about the animals of the Barataria Preserve, we learned there is such a thing as a swamp rabbit! Cool!
As a bonus, the ranger tour and Visitor Center are free, so instead of supporting a sketchy boat tour company, we were able to spend our money at the National Park's gift shop, where it will help preserve the swamp instead of abuse it.
We met up with a ranger who took us first along a gravel path, then on a wide boardwalk over the swamp, then on a narrower boardwalk.
Along the way, he taught us all about the plants and animals of the swamp. See those things protruding up from the ground? They're cypress knees.
In addition to cypress, we learned about dwarf palmettos, resurrection ferns, Spanish moss (neither Spanish nor moss), and many more plant species. It was all so interesting and completely unlike anything we have at home. Heck, even water is a practically a novelty for us as Californians after so many years of drought!
The ranger mentioned that we would be unlikely to spot an alligator, as it was cold and rainy. Being reptiles, the best time to see alligators is during the summer when they sun themselves to keep warm. Indeed, we did not spot an alligator, but we were well-informed as to what to do (or, more accurately, what NOT to do) if we did.
While it was a little disappointing not to see an alligator, we all felt good about the fact that the alligators that we didn't see were living in their natural environment, doing what is natural for them.
We didn't see any swamp rabbits either, nor any of the other local mammals or reptiles. We saw many birds, including herons, egrets, and raptors. But the most exciting animal we spotted was actually one we shouldn't have been excited to see because it is an invasive species. Do you spot it (actually them, not it) in this photo? Follow Trevor's hands....
..... Nutria! Four of them, snuggled and grooming.
I'm happy to report that Trevor loved this swamp experience and did not miss doing a swamp boat tour at all. Six thumbs up from the deRosier family for Barataria Preserve! We'd give it even more thumbs if we had them.
We left the swamp and headed to Oak Alley Plantation. Visiting a plantation was a priority for me and it was very important that the one we visited told the story of all of the people who lived and worked on the plantation. To that end, we started with the portion focused on the enslaved people.
All things considered, I was pleased with the effort that went into telling the stories of Oak Alley's enslaved people. We learned stories of individuals by name, not just stories of "the slaves." The personal details matter as we look back on one of the ugliest chapters in American history.
Next, we toured the "Big House." Photography is prohibited inside, but we were encouraged to take photos from the balcony.
Our guide was an African-American woman, probably in her late 20's. She did an outstanding job of teaching us not only about the planter family that lived at Oak Alley, but also the enslaved people who ran the sugar plantation. At the end of the presentation, she shared some personal stories with us about her experiences growing up nearby and the love-hate relationship she has with her job, working at a plantation. It was my favorite part of the whole experience.
We spent some time walking around and admiring the beautiful grounds of Oak Alley. Unfortunately, we'd come during their busiest week of the year, so the only landscape pictures without people in them occurred when we pointed our cameras upward.
I really enjoyed the sugarcane exhibit and theater at Oak Alley, which taught us a lot about how the plantation operated back in the day, as well as how the sugarcane industry works today. Another interesting exhibit is the Civil War tent, which tells all about the impact of the Civil War on Oak Alley.
We left Oak Alley and headed on toward Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana. We checked into the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center, our home for the next three nights. Our room was comfortable, clean, and spacious, and in the perfect location to walk to practically everything we visited. And as a bonus, we had a fantastic view of the Mississippi River!
After dropping off our stuff, we were ready to go find dinner. But first, we had to stop and admire the gingerbread model of our hotel. Isn't it fabulous?!
The details were incredible, particularly the poured candy windows. So pretty!
We headed to Tsunami, which had been recommended to us by practically everyone. There was a wait for a table, so we strolled along the gorgeous waterfront while we waited. That's the Mississippi River.
As we looped back around to Tsunami, we noticed fountains everywhere. Beautiful. We loved Baton Rouge already.
The wait for Tsunami was totally worth it. We had a spectacular view of the Mississippi and the food was to die for.
I didn't get great photos of dinner, but I'll leave you with these desserts.
On Monday, I'll tell you all about our first full day in Baton Rouge (emphasis on full!).