When you have money all things come easy. Take me to any of the world’s major cities and supply me with plenty of money and I’ll undoubtedly have a good time. Yet it’s money that can also shield us from truly interacting with the places we visit
Dinner at the Four Seasons is dinner at the Four Seasons. It doesn’t matter if you’re in New York or Santa Barbara or Bangkok. And to me it’s very sad to think that people will travel all over the world and never really leave home.
When I role into a city and know that during my time there I’m going to have to count every dollar spent, and I leave having had a great time and wanting to come back–that’s when I know the city was really special. It wasn’t the things that money buy–which can be translated anywhere. It was the soul of the city that captured me.
So it was in New Orleans. I won’t even go into how we got there or the financial stains that were weighing on us as we arrived in the Big Easy. Our hotel was the Iberville Suites–just a block off of world-famous Bourbon Street and adjacent to the Ritz Carlton. Not a bad location by any means. We were in the heart of the French Quarter. Iberville was in-fact oversold upon our arrival and guests were being moved to the Ritz. On a getaway with my wife I would have envied the Ritz upgrade. But not on this trip. I was happy with my two room suite at Iberville which allowed us to place our son’s Pack ‘n Play in a separate room for him to sleep.
But the extra room was just one reason I was happy to stay at Iberville. I already mentioned that we were on a budget, and Iberville featured an all-star complimentary breakfast each morning. Big and impressive assortment of fruits, fresh juices, cereals, muffins. I’m not talking Holiday Inn Express stuff. This was nice and done right. And wafffles. Great waffles. We’d fill our bellies each morning, and, before leaving, stuff a few apples and bananas in the diaper bag.
We arrived in New Orleans late–after a 12 hour drive with our 16 month old. The next morning I was ready to see the city. It doesn’t always work out this way, but I love when it does. My wife and kids still asleep and me lying in bed wide awake. First day in a new city. While they sleep I scout. As quietly as aI could I put on whatever clothes I had easiest access to, grabbed a cap, and snuck out the door.
First order of business was a cup of coffee, but I was not looking for just a crappy cup of coffee. I wanted a great cup of coffee with experience to match. I started walking down Bourbon Street and began to realize how important rain is to this area. Only the rain could begin to wash away the smells from the previous night. I walked down the street thankful I was in this city with my 16 month old, not 16 year old, son. In New Orleans, all things, including women, come easy to he he has money and is not afraid of parting with it.
Yes, there is that element to New Orleans in general and Bourbon Street in particular. Still I liked what I was seeing. I arrived at Jackson Square and could hardly wait to turn around and get back to the hotel to see if my family traveling partners were ready to experience all of this with me.
Experience we did. When we arrived back at Jackson Square my wife jokingly commented that it looked just like Disneyland. We looked up at the iron work on the windows and felt like we’d just come off the Pirates of the Caribbean ride! We strolled along the Mississippi. As a big Jimmy Buffett fan I thought about Jimmy getting his start in New Orleans and sleeping off a night on Bourbon Street on the banks of the Mississippi. There we were in New Orleans, the city Jimmy Buffet called the gateway to the Caribbean.
I’d never had a strong desire to visit New Orleans. I want to do it all and see it all. But there’d never been a great pull to New Orleans. And perhaps the fact that I came in with so few expectations is what made this trip so special. We sat in Jackson Square with nothing to do watching the people go by. We watched the wedding parties dance through the streets. We talked with local artists and admired their trade. We popped in the antique shops and galleries of Royal Street, second only to New York’s Madison Avenue for consumer spending. And we hit the usual tourist spots like Cafe du Monde.
After a few days in the city we did get back in the car. When traveling in cities we hate getting back in the car. We’ll gladly use almost any form of public transportation or cabs. Most of all, we like to walk (although I have learned to ration steps as my wife only has so many in her). There is something about getting in the car that just seems to break that magic. You’re no longer on a journey. Your car is the known. But we did explore some of the areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and felt that this was an important part of our time in New Orleans.
Because of our budget we did not do a lot of the big attractions families may think of doing in New Orleans. We didn’t visit the Aquarium. We didn’t Rock and Bowl. I’m sure these experiences would have been fabulous. (I especially think we would have loved that Rock and Bowl!). But this is the measure of a city. Can you have a great time while spending almost nothing? In New Orleans we did. We strolled up and down the city streets and took it all in.
One tiny little indulgence was taking a carriage ride through the city. We love doing this almost anywhere we go. The carriage ride allows you to see a lot while giving your feet a break. The carriage rides are sort of like a survey course and all along the way you can take note of particular areas you want to explore by foot later. And, if these benefits aren’t enough–kids love the horses!
Taking a carriage ride was great for my son and me, but that time off her feet was even more important for my wife, who was at the time almost 4 months pregnant with our first daughter. Traveling with kids, whether you’re carrying them in your arms or inside of you, seems to make location all the more important. Our location right in the heart of the French Quarter allowed us to make the most of our time. When our 16 month old needed a nap one parent could go back to the room with him while the other explored.
Traveling as a family requires that you leave pre-conceived notions about travel behind. Experiences are different with kids. Not necessarily better or worse. Just different. Life is all about embracing moments. And there are certainly times while traveling as a family when you’re happy to have a moment to yourself. When it was just my wife and me, I would have relished the experience with my bride–but with kids–I was thankful that Monica turned in for the night with our son while I sat outside at the W Hotel and watched a Silent Film projected and smoked a cigar.
Will we go back to New Orleans as a family? Absolutely. And next time, I’m determined to Rock and Bowl.