Get Close to Gators and Tour Plantations Outside New Orleans, LA
Imagine cruising one of Louisiana’s eerie swamp landscapes then time traveling through its nearby plantations in the same day. Just a short drive from Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles Avenue, you’ll find these two unique experiences and pique your kids’ interest in history in the process.
Day Trip: New Orleans Swamp Tour + 2 New Orleans Plantations
CAJUN PRIDE New Orleans SWAMP TOUR
Take a swamp tour to see Louisiana’s alligator population in its natural setting. We chose Cajun Pride Swamp Tours to get us close to these animals, and they delivered on that and so much more. During a 90-minute tour of the Manchac Swamp, a private refuge where hunting is not allowed, our guide “T Tom” used marshmallows to lure gators to the boat. They swim so quietly, more of them show up before you have the opportunity to notice them.
As the gators waited for more treats, T Tom showed us the power of their jaws and the force of their jumps by stepping out on a platform and prompting them to go for chicken chunks tethered to a fishing pole. Raccoons in the area also seemed to know the Cajun Pride boats as well. They stood on their hind legs begging our guide to cast a marshmallow in their direction.
T Tom also regaled us with some great stories about Cajun life. We heard tales of alligator hunting, fishing competitions, cabin living and so much more. It was almost as if he was presiding over a fireside chat on a boat! He conducted his tour in both English and Cajun French. Even though I only understand a word of French here and there, I could have listened to him all day! He told us about the Cajun town of Frenier, which stood in the swamp area until it was wiped out by a hurricane. All that appears to be left of it is a graveyard from 1915.
As if the tour wasn’t exciting enough, each passenger had the opportunity to hold a baby gator. T Tom gently taped the creature’s mouth shut and passed it around the boat. Despite my dislike for anything scaly, I held it. I’m still shuddering from the thought of having done so!
Two New Orleans PLANTATIONS
While Cajun Pride Swamp Tours offers a swamp and plantation tour package, my family opted to head out on our own for our plantation visits. A peek into Louisiana’s antebellum past was an easy 30-minute drive from the swamp tour site. While there are several amazing plantations out in this area known as River Road, we decided to focus on just two of them.
Oak Alley Plantation
It will look familiar to you the minute you see it. Known as the Grande Dame of the River Road Plantations, Oak Alley peeks out onto the road from the end of a quarter mile alley of 300-year-old Virginia Live Oaks. The plantation has made appearances in movies like Interview with the Vampire, a Beyonce music video, two soap operas, and a reality show on the Sci-Fi Channel.
We toured the Big House, a gift from a wealthy Creole sugar planter to his young bride. Our guide did a fabulous job pointing out many interesting aspects of the house including the lack of a kitchen; kitchens back then were located outside of the home to limit the possibility of burning down the place.
Visitors can buy an entry ticket and check out many interesting stops at their leisure: a Confederate tent, a blacksmith shop and about 10 simple cabins that call out aspects of the daily life of the plantation’s slaves. Topics covered in the exhibit include healthcare, punishment, and life post-emancipation.
Laura is far from the gleaming, white pillared plantation home many think of when they imagine such places. Its distinctly colorful exterior and raised “Big House” are classic points of Creole architecture and make it a stand out from other plantations in the River Road area.
The only way to see Laura is to join a tour. Look into the cellar underneath the house and marvel out how it was painstakingly restored after it was almost lost in a modern day fire. Peek into the groomed garden. See where the kitchen used to stand and walk through the thriving vegetable garden that once supported what was produced there.
As we explored them all, our informed young guide unpacked the stories of love, greed, family tensions, and business that went on in this place, many of them straight from the detailed memoir of owner Laura Locoul Gore called Memories of the Old Plantation Home: A Creole Family Album.
One of the most poignant parts of the tour was a visit to the 160-year-old slave cabins where the West African folktales of Compare Lapin or Br’er Rabbit were first recorded. En route to the cabin there was a spot where our guide gathered us to talk about the life of slaves. It included a look at papers showing the cost and inventory of slaves, all listed as if they were any other property. It was stunning.
As we headed back to the hotel, our car was filled with excited conversation about the gators, slaves, soldiers, sugar barons, and even a ghost that wanders one of the plantation big houses. There was no question that this excursion through history sparked great interest in my kids.
You may also enjoy:
- Ghost Tours in New Orleans
- A Kid-Friendly Guide to New Orleans
- Enjoy the Best Beignets in New Orleans
- Read about all of our family vacations to New Orleans
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Cajun Pride Swamp Tours and the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau hosted Kristine’s family. Although she received complimentary tours to facilitate this story, she was not asked to express any particular opinion. Her thoughts are her own.
Kristine lives in Mountain View, California, where she is the mother of a gifted girl athlete and a special needs charmer. Like almost everything in her house,…