It didn’t seem simple: Plan a cruise for 14 family members, ranging from twin 5-year-old boys to my mother, whose 70th birthday was the reason for the event. Mom had high expectations, and it was only natural she would turn to me to help create something memorable for her milestone. With 20 years of experience in planning group tours, I couldn’t refuse.
Squeezing a cruise in between Christmas and the New Year, when the younger kids were on school break, seemed perfect. The small window of dates was a huge help, as it narrowed the hundreds of cruise ships and itineraries down to only a handful of choices.
We found a seven-night sailing from New Orleans, a wonderful departure city and one with which I was very familiar from my first visit, shortly after Hurricane Katrina, and several more visits, including for NTA’s Travel Exchange in 2015. It’s an ideal place for a multi-generational trip, one that screamed for a few extra days of sightseeing before we boarded the ship. And staying at the Crowne Plaza on Canal Street, at the entrance to the French Quarter, placed us within walking distance of everything.
After the cruise was booked and the airline tickets were purchased, I started the real work and got in touch with my friend Tico Soto, a colleague who had represented the city and region well at Travel Exchange. Wanting to keep the family together as much as possible, Tico started giving me referrals.
“I have a great company for the transfers,” he told me confidently. “And there’s an event called Celebration in the Oaks that would be perfect for the kids: holiday lights, carnival rides and plenty more. And you can ride the streetcar to get there from your hotel!”
I structured our time together in New Orleans just like a group tour. We started with dinner on arrival night at the wonderful Mulate’s, which I remembered from my 2015 visit. We arrived at 7, just when the live Cajun music started. Combined with the great food, it was a great introduction to the city. Family members took turns on the dance floor, and one of my young nephews was invited on stage to play spoons with the band!
After tucking the little ones into bed, it was time for a decidedly adult tour of the French Quarter. A family member, now living in the quarter and providing walking tours as a licensed guide, met us for an abbreviated ghost tour. After imbibing several Hurricanes, the official drink of New Orleans, we returned to our hotel with a walk along Bourbon Street.
The next day we started with that important tradition of coffee and beignets at Café Du Monde. Tico met us, giving the kids a real, live resident of the city to chat with. We then split up. The younger kids went to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. The older kids, myself included, headed toward the National World War II Museum. (Both attractions are NTA members.)
The afternoon was left for lunch, shopping, pralines and a few more Hurricanes. That night a trolley delivered us to the awe and wonder of Celebration in the Oaks. How wonderful it is to see the holidays through the eyes of children!
It was heartening to see the city emerge from years of rebuilding stronger than ever. Visitor numbers have finally exceeded their pre-Katrina levels. A much-needed new airport terminal is scheduled to open in May. A new riverboat, The City of New Orleans, will soon be plying the waters of the Mississippi providing sightseeing. Cruise lines are continuing to expand their offerings, including Royal Caribbean, which just resumed sailings from New Orleans, and Disney Cruise Lines, set to begin its first-ever sailings from the city in 2020.
I was happy to hear from my family that the Crescent City left everyone wanting more. Relying on friends from NTA and my experiences certainly made the trip that much better. With any luck, I’ll be bringing back more groups soon—maybe for Mardi Gras or maybe again for the holidays. Whenever it happens, I know the city will be ready with open arms.
Top photo: Coffee and beignets at Café Du Monde
Photo by CC Flickr/vxla: bit.ly/2UFk2Aw