Category Archives: Louisiana

New Orleans Aquarium and Zoo

While in NOLA this October, we decided to try and see some things that we hadn’t in the last few trips. One was the aquarium and zoo. Family membership was at $160, and with 6 of us, it would’ve cost $140 to enter either one by themselves. So we opted for the membership and went to both at a discount.

The aquarium is mostly indoors, and was done pretty well. The majority was focused on local wetland wildlife, with a few of the favorites also added in, such as sharks and upside down jellyfish. If I had had to pay full price for this alone, I would’ve skipped. Good aquarium, but worth over a hundred for us to enter? No. Not really.

We then walked around the corner to the insectarium. Note: it is, for some reason, inside a Federal building. So if you happen to have a sailor in your group who happens to carry a Spiderco knife with him at all times, you will not be allowed to go in. No, they don’t have a bag check where you can leave it up at the front with the police man. No, they don’t enjoy you asking if you can check it with him. And yes, he thinks we should outlaw ALL blades. I almost commented that he looked as though he enjoyed food, and that preparation of said food would be impossible without knives, but I held my tongue as I’m sure he was viewing us as scoundrels who are dragging their poor children into the gutter…..imagine, someone carrying a knife! GASP! (I’m just glad Gabe no longer carries a wrench around….although it WAS handy quite a few times.)

The zoo was larger than I thought it would be. I guess they remodeled it (well, they are remodeling it), and tried to emulate the San Diego zoo. Wide variety of animals. And a lot of them were pretty active. We got to see the spider monkeys go ape (hehehe) over fruit during feeding time. There were lots of teenagers there who volunteered and tried to answer our questions about the different animals. To their credit, they DID know some stuff. But we’ve learned a lot about animals in general, and we’ve been to a lot of zoos, so our questions aren’t typically the 101 variety. Luckily, there were also quite a few full time employees who were very gracious about answering questions and elaborating. Finally, they have a dinosaur exhibit. It costs members an additional $2/each to go through. But they have mechanical models that are staged in different “landscapes” as you walk through. They move. They make noise. Some spit. Fun!

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Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar

739 Iberville St, New Orleans

First night in the city we went here.  We’d gone to Acme, and a friend had told us that Felix’s was a lot better and less likely to have to wait in a long line.  He was right!

Char-grilled oysters were SOOOO good!  OMG!  Even Gabe who doesn’t like seafood in general, and oysters specifically, loved them.  And of course the raw ones were good too.  Nice and fresh!  Blackened gator tastes like chicken.  This was probably the first time we’d had it without it being in something else.  Normally, you don’t get just one bite of pure gator.  But this time, it was all gator, and it left us wondering why we were spending so much money on chicken.  lol  Hamburgers are huge!  Right about the size of a salad plate.  The étouffée was ok.  But I’m not typically a big étouffée eater anyways.  Fried catfish platter was also really big.  I think it came with 8-10 catfish filets on top of a mountain of fries.  I didn’t try it, but Gavin said it was really good.

Definitely going back next time we’re in NOLA.  Loved it!

The Brick Oven

2805 Williams BLVD, Kenner, LA

Upon arriving at Crowne Plaza after a full day at the zoo, we were starving and grumpy and realized that what was for dinner was no longer for dinner.  No Microwaves in hotel room.  What to do.  We went next door to an Italian restaurant.  This is a somewhat small cafe.  Somewhat charming, somewhat kitschy.  But what really got our attention was the hostess.  We arrived at what turned out to be the beginning of the dinner rush.  She acted at first like she didn’t want to even be bothered to seat us.  She brought us to a small side room with all four tops.  I offered, as we do when we go to smaller restaurants like this, to seat the kids at one table and Gabe and I at the other next to it.  We’ve done this a lot.  It’s really helpful when we’ve got another couple with us because you might have to wait for an hour to get a table for 8, but it’s a lot easier to find two booths that seat 4 next to each other.  Plus, the kids are older and have no problem ordering for themselves.  We encourage it.

She scoffed at us and I said something about how it’s really OK, we’ve done it before, no big deal, thinking maybe the issue was that she’d never broken up a party like that before.  Nope.  She replied that the other tables are for paying customers.  Then she went and got a small two top to add to the end of ours, effectively blocking the flow of traffic which meant two of my children were constantly bumped by people trying to squeeze by sideways, sometimes with a fully loaded tray of food.

Needless to say, Gabe and I almost walked out right then.  At that moment, we were exhausted from three days in a row of heavy walking.  We were starving as we’d eaten early before entering the zoo.  The hotel microwave situation was a major letdown (which we remedied the following morning, but at the time, it was a big deal….I just wanted some home cooked food that didn’t cost us $150 out the door for the 6 of us).  And we’d lost our daughter in the rat maze of a hotel.  Now, some kid barely out of high school was telling me that somehow my children wouldn’t be eating food that we paid for?  Was it that she thought we’d somehow spend no money on food, so she ought to save the table for four other people who would be forced to pay?

IN the end, we were simply too exhausted to get up and walk down the street for anything else.  The sad thing was that while our last nerve had been burned by some idiots rude comment, it was our sweet waitress who had to deal with the fallout.  Gabe and I both worked hard to be pleasant, but it was thinly veiled attempt.  We were just DONE!  By the end of the meal, I clued in our waitress because she continued to be amazing through the whole thing.  Once she understood about the hostess and the fact that it had been a really long day to begin with, she visibly relaxed, chatted with us about how she wished she would’ve known and she could seat us somewhere else, saying that there were tons of large tables in the other room and she didn’t know why the hostess had put us there anyways, but she’d gone with it.  She said she was going to talk to the manager.  I said I’d seen some yelp comments about the hostess, but was still caught off guard.  Our waitress was stunned, because she’d never heard anything about the hostess being rude.  We all agreed that perhaps the hostess had had a bad day as well, and I wouldn’t be rude to her (in fact, we mustered all the cheer we could find to say good evening to her on our way out), but that for business, it’s a good idea to have someone inviting up front.

OK, on to the food.  Ehh.  Caesar salad dressing was off.  Didn’t taste right.  Marinara, as always, not as good as mine.  I chose a dish and added a few things to it to make it better.  Waitress seemed surprised.  Maybe people don’t substitute and add to their food around here.  But I was wanting a taste of home, and the meal they had that came the closest was missing three obvious items.  The wine was good (as always), but pretty over priced for the labels they had.  Usually buying at a restaurant is going to be more expensive.  But we know our wines.  A $12 bottle was priced at $42.  A much bigger mark up than what is usually seen.  (That was the price for the bottle, the price by the glass was more, obviously, but we’d looked at bottle prices hoping to get that cost down a bit.)

Most entrees were priced around $15.  Kids eat free, if they choose from the kids’ menu, which mine don’t.  So I guess if you’ve got two little kids, it would be a “nice meal out” for a bit cheaper.  (Note: for anyone reading this and thinking maybe she thought we were going to have four free kids’ meals and that’s what she meant….ALL of my kids were her height or taller.  My kids are tall and my youngest can pass for 12.  Kids’ menu was for under 12.  Plus, you can only get one “free” meal per paid meal.)

Crowne Plaza, NOLA airport

We stayed in this hotel for five days because my husband had a class he needed to take.  It’s northwest of NOLA, in Kenner.  First, the good.  Outdoor swimming pool and spa.  Pool is long enough to do laps in, if you don’t mind the weirdly cold water (in the south, by mid-June, outdoor pools are too hot to swim in…..this pool is freezing).  The dinner menu is actually pretty decent.  Hot wings, Blue crab bisque, and cakes were all good.  Hotel looks new, nicer beds, dressers, sinks, etc.  Decent price for being an airport hotel.

Now the bad, which is, I’m afraid, a much longer list.  Breakfast is awful and pretty overpriced.  A buffet, which is just what you’d expect from any cheap hotel free breakfast, is a whopping $15.  I passed and tried the eggs benedict.  The bread was dry and over cooked, the ham wasn’t very good quality, and the sauce didn’t taste like much of anything, let alone the lemony-buttery-yolky goodness that it should’ve been.

There are no fridges or microwaves in the rooms.  If I had planned on cooking this week, I wouldn’t have needed the microwave.  And we brought a cooler, so whatever.  But, on this trip I pre made freezer meals, thinking that I didn’t want to cook with homeschooling and a bit of sight seeing.  We could then just dish up the defrosted meal and microwave it quickly.  We thought about our options…going to another hotel, upgrading to a suite (they don’t have microwaves either), and in the end, I went to Walmart and bought a microwave.  We figure we will need one soon anyways because we are turning a second laundry room in our house into a kitchenette.  But I would’ve preferred to not have to buy one anyways.

TV channels are limited for what is standard in most hotels these days.  WIFI for general browsing is free, but if you are going to want to do anything with any sort of media, you’ll have to pay for it.  This is becoming common with larger, nicer hotels, especially in downtown areas.  But this really is a mid to lower priced hotel.

The setup of the hotel as a whole is awkward at best.  Elevators everywhere, but there’s only one that actually takes you to your room.  You have to figure out which one that is.  And then once you’re there, it’s a treasure hunt trying to find your way back out.  Most hotels’ hallways all look the same.  But most assume you haven’t been roaming the halls for years and try to make it as simple as possible.  Enter elevator.  Push button.  Arrive at floor.  Follow arrows either right or left to your room.  To get to our room, we have to walk almost all the way down the large hallway, then make a left where it would seem to be just rooms, take that elevator up to the third floor, and once you’re there, you see it only lets out on 8 rooms.  If we were in another room on the same floor, we’d use one of several other elevators to get there.  Finding the pool was awkward as well.  And since we originally found it from the lobby, trying to get back to our room was another adventure.  My daughter left the room when we first got here to use the downstairs bathroom, and we all got lost trying to find her.

Also, the towel rack, you know, for DRY towels, is located INSIDE the shower.  It seems like someone set out to try to make this hotel as unnecessarily complicated as possible.

Would I stay here again?  Doubtful.  Honestly, we were pretty close to bringing the rig for this trip, but in the end we figured the company is paying for the hotel and a food voucher (we didn’t know the voucher would barely cover a continental breakfast).  I’d rather stay in the rig and have Gabe drive the extra distance to go to his class, or stay in a hotel I liked better and just pay for it myself.

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Note: We were currently staying in this hotel when I wrote this blog post (mostly so I wouldn’t forget when we got home.)  The manager found me a few days later and asked about the breakfast situation.  I explained that we had tried many things and most were pretty good, but the Benedict left a lot to be desired.  He gave me two free breakfast buffets.  So we got to eat a buffet breakfast (much like any you’d see at a Comfort Inn) for slightly less money.

Since we ended up trying many more things, let me also add that their desserts are fantastic!  Their filet was seasoned very well and it was good.  But the sauce was almost tasteless.  It didn’t bother us too much because the steak itself was so good.  Maybe this hotel just has a problem with sauces.  Also, we tried the seared Ahi, and it was old fish.  Yuck.

Jackson Square museums

THE CABILDO

This is the Louisiana history museum in NOLA.  It had a lot of information about Louisiana history and traditions and people.  We probably could’ve ended up spending a few hours there.  But Caelan and Tristan had decided they weren’t in a museum mood.  Between hushing them, loosing our place while reading, and having to separate and discipline them (because when they’re both bored, they start to fight), we ended up rushing through it a bit more than we’d wanted to.

THE PRESBYTERE

The bottom floor is all about Katrina.  It’s an excellent exhibit.  When Katrina hit, Tristan had just been born and we were admittedly in our own world.  We’d heard about the difficulties, but only as much as someone currently living in California with four kids under 5 would.  A year later, we moved to Texas and heard quite a bit more.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of Houstonians who weren’t very happy with the influx of refugees, nor that a lot of them stayed on.  In the last 6 years, we’ve heard basically every single problem in Houston blamed on refugees, from over crowding in schools to a higher murder rate.

As you and I both know, there’s three sides to every story.  His, hers, and what really happened.  I suspect it was somewhere in the middle.  I think there probably was a higher crime rate due to refugees.  Thinking through it logically, as a mother, if we had everything lost to a storm, had to move 6 hours away, had to stay with people we don’t know, had to try to find jobs and schools and everything else, I’m sure my kids would’ve rebelled.  I’m sure there were tons of teens who were displaced who were thrown for a loop and didn’t choose the best way to cope.  I’m sure there were plenty of adults who couldn’t put food on the table and turned to easy money.  And I’m sure there were a few criminals who were criminals before the storm.  It is what it is.

On the other hand, to have something like Katrina hit, and no help comes.  And no help comes.  And no help comes.  There’s no water.  No electricity.  No adequate facilities for the amount of people all trying to use them.  No food.  It’s horrible to even try to comprehend.  And these wonderful people didn’t need to be accused as a group for all of the bad things that ever happen to Texas.

The thing that struck me the hardest was that in the end, there were a few “bad guys” during the aftermath of Katrina.  But mostly, it was people trying to help people.  People just trying to survive.  People trying to get somewhere where they COULD survive.  I think, what would I have done?  I’ve only been through one hurricane, Ike.  But we lived some 80 miles inland.  We went without power for about a day.

It’s a strong reminder to always have a bit more grace with others.  A bit more love.  And to always ask, “What can I do for you?” and ask it sincerely.

Pharmacy Museum

THE PHARMACY MUSEUM IN NOLA

We’d missed seeing this when we came to NOLA in December.  So I was very excited about finally getting a chance to see it this time around.  It’s a small museum with two floors, maybe a total of 2000 sq ft.  It has a nice courtyard in the back that is beautifully landscaped and is very lush.

There are tons of interesting things to look at in this museum.  Despite it’s size, it’s got A LOT to look at.  We saw everything from ancient reading glasses to heroin vials, childbirth forceps to tonsil removers.  It was a bit gruesome in that way.  But in others, I really enjoy learning about what the building blocks were that led us to what we have now.  And I comforted myself with the knowledge that the people who had to use those instruments were often on heroin, cocaine, alcohol, or some mixture that is certainly not advisable.  So they probably didn’t feel anything, including fear. ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

Lake Chicot State Park, LA

Chicot State Park, LA

There are RV and tent camping sites at this park, but we’ve only stayed in the cabins.  We stayed there 3 nights in June.  The cabins are in groups of two.  You park your car and walk down a short pier.  Just before the end of the pier, there’s a set of stairs on either side, both leading up to a cabin.  The cabins are on raised foundations ON the lake itself.  Gorgeous!  The cabins are two bedroom, two bath.  One bedroom has a queen, the other has two sets of bunk beds.  Large living room with two full couches that both pull out into beds, plus some other chairs.  A dining table that seats 6, and a full kitchen.  There is also a screened in porch.  The construction is timber-frame, and the living room, dinin- room, and kitchen wall is the one that faces the lake and it is all glass.  The effect is very nice.

This park is located between Lafayette and Alexandria.  It is a good 30-45 minutes away from gas and groceries, so you really need to make sure you’ve got everything you need.

They rent canoes for $20 per 24-hour period.  And with having your own dock, it was very nice to be able to take it out a couple times.  Almost directly across from our cabin was a grove of Cypress trees.  The mostly shaded area was a wonderland.  It wasn’t swampy at all, and there was actually very little understory at all.  So it was basically just us and the trees.  We spent a few hours taking our time and enjoying it, eating a bit of pita and hummus in our canoe-picnic, and of course, seeing a few spiders that would make a tiger jump (right around as big as a dinner plate!  Not even joking!)

There are also many hiking trails and even a long boardwalk that takes you out into the lake and through a few Cypress stands.  The pool was under construction when we went.  There was a splash play park though, along with a regular park.  Because we were alone, we really didn’t explore much of those types of amenities.  But all in all, our impression was a good campground with enough things to do to keep the kids and the adult happy.  Because of it’s location, we will most certainly be going back.

As it is with other Louisiana State Park cabins, the cost is $120/night.  Very reasonable!