Big Easy Bonding, is it as easy as it sounds?
Several years ago, one of the top travel magazines in the world named New Orleans the number one city in America for a family vacation. The selection raised eyebrows across the country, with many questioning how a city often marketed as a “party town” could also be a great place to entertain kids. But locals knew it all along.
It’s impossible to be bored in the Big Easy, whether you’re two years old or a senior citizen. And it’s a great place to entertain grandchildren, no matter what your budget is. Plus, bonding with the grandkids while exploring New Orleans has benefits that cross generations.
“Doing fun activities with grandchildren is the best way to build a relationship,” says Dr. Andy Burka, a child psychologist at Ochsner and a grandfather of two youngsters. “The activities should be tailored to the child’s age and interest. These can start as simply as playing peekaboo with an infant and taking a toddler to the park to swing or feed the ducks.”
So think about bonding with your grandkids, New Orleans-style: what might be fun and go for it. Here’s how to start your special times and build a memory for your grandchildren, whether they live here or visit from afar.
Get Active Outdoors
New Orleans has two urban parks that consistently rank in the top 10 in America. City Park, a 1300-acre urban oasis, offers families a world of fun. The park’s Big Lake has a path that’s perfect for walkers, joggers and skaters. Paddle boats are available for rent by the hour, as are bicycles and surreys big enough to fit the whole family. The Amusement Park boasts 15 rides for all ages, including the newest Ladybug roller coaster and the beloved antique carousel. Storyland introduces families to 25 great fairy tale characters and City Putt offers hours of miniature golf on two separate courses. City Park is dotted with wonderful playgrounds, the world’s largest stand of live oak trees and acres to explore.
The Audubon Zoo is another treasure, with more than 2000 exotic animals in their natural habitats. The new elephant habitat in “Asia” is sure to educate and entertain all ages. Explore the Swamp Exhibit or for more agile grandparents, climb the challenging Kamba Kourse ropes. When your grandchild (or you!) tire out, ride the Safari train to the next stop or take a break at one of the playgrounds. To cool off, try the Cool Zoo and Gator Run lazy river ride.
Both Audubon and City Park have family memberships that offer a myriad benefits, including free admission to some of the venues and deep discounts throughout the year; they’re a good investment if you’re fortunate enough to have grandkids residing here.
With more than 40 museums and historic homes in this city, there’s one for every interest. Start with the Louisiana Children’s Museum, one of the top children’s museums in the U.S. Here toddlers to pre-teens can spend a day creating crafts, piloting a tugboat, learning about anatomy and making giant bubbles, all while experiencing hands-on learning at its best.
The New Orleans Museum of Art is a treasure trove of fine arts to interest and inspire all ages. Its Walda and Sidney Bestoff Sculpture Garden is a delightful place to introduce your grandchildren to some of the greatest works of the art world and admission is free. Toddlers-to-teens love to explore these larger-than-life sculptures.
The World War II Museum is inspiring and introduces visitors of all ages to the Greatest Generation. Some of the exhibits are heartbreaking and might be better suited for older grandchildren.
Mardi Gras World, located on the Riverfront, is a fun way to teach any age grandchild the history and traditions of Mardi Gras. As visitors stroll through the enormous gallery, they can watch artists create the enormous figures that decorate floats each year. Each tour ends with King Cake, of course, capping off the Carnival experience year-round.
The Cabildo and Presbytere are the heartbeat of the French Quarter. Site of the signing of the Louisiana Purchase, the Cabildo is often called the second most historic building in the country. The Presbytere showcases a dramatic exhibition about Katrina and another exhibition on the history of Mardi Gras.
The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas never ceases to awe. Here you and your grandchildren can explore sea life, watch the endangered penguins waddle by or hold a parakeet on stick. Just down Canal Street is the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, dedicated to the intricate (and quite fascinating) life of bugs.
Ferry rides across the Mississippi River are fun and inexpensive. The short rides offer an amazing view of the city and the ships and tugboats that chug down the river. Board the ferry at the foot of Canal Street. If you are so inclined to spend a longer time on the Muddy Mississippi, ride the Steamboat Natchez for a lazy ride, complete with calliope music.
For $1.25 each way, a ride on the Streetcar is always fun. Your grandkids can see elegant mansions, some dating back to the mid-1800’s, Tulane and Loyola Universities and Audubon Park. Along the way, stop off and enjoy lunch at a hip neighborhood restaurant or let the grandchildren play on the brightly colored climbing equipment at Danneel Park.
One of the city’s nicest picnic areas is at the Lakefront, overlooking Lake Pontchartrain. Watch sailboats glide by, play at one of the pristine playgrounds and visit the LPBF New Canal Lighthouse, a real working lighthouse and museum where grandchildren can learn about local ecology, water quality and habitats.
Some of the most fun activities New Orleans offers its grandparents and their grandkids don’t involve big outings. A snowball at Hansen’s or Plum Street. A stick of Roman Candy bought from a 100-year-old carriage. Feeding the ducks at Audubon Park. Fishing in the Lagoons of City Park. Visiting Jackson Square. All create memories that last a lifetime.
“The important thing to remember is that all of these moments build connections and bonds between the child and the grandparent,” says Dr. Burka. “And if the grandparent is having fun, it’s likely the grandchildren are as well.”
Building Relationships with Grandkids
1. Don’t forget: you’re the grandparent, not the parent. Parents set rules; your job is to enjoy the child.
2. The connection between the generations is more about having fun than doing specific things.
3. Routines establish traditions and traditions build relationships.
4. Have fun together doing simple things, like fixing a meal or talking about what’s important to the child.
5. Ask yourself: Do we laugh together? Snuggle together? Do the grandchildren look forward to seeing me? If the answer is yes, then you’ve hit the bull’s eye.
-From Dr. Andy Burka
Staying connected when the grandkids live far away
1. Facetime often, even with the smallest child. Make it silly and fun.
2. Send small, thoughtful gifts that appeal to the child’s interest.
3. Visit as often as you can.
4. Record your voice reading the child’s favorite books.
5. Bake cookies and mail to child for no reason.
6. Send photos of yourself for the child’s room.
7. Make a special effort to attend Grandparents’ Days and special school performances whenever possible.
8. When your grandchild visits New Orleans, make it memorable and fun.