New Orleans: Quick Hits – Activities

Obviously on a work trip I spent most of the days in a conference room.  However, there was still time to explore some of New Orleans and here are a few of the activities that we partook in.

Swamp Tours: Cajun Encounters vs. Airboat Adventures

A swamp tour to see the alligators of the bayou is pretty much a must-do if you’re in New Orleans.  There are several different tour groups, and I’m here to compare two of them for you.  I would recommend both, but there are differences in the experiences depending on which group you go with.  Both options are about 30-45 minute bus rides away from the French Quarter, and for the options that I took the pricing was around $75 on average.

We’ll begin with Airboat Adventures.  For the thrill-seeking, roller coaster loving types, Airboat Adventures offers a high-octane zip through the swamp.  The unique parts of Airboat Adventures?

  • Obviously racing through the swamp on a tin barge with a giant propeller fan furiously working behind you.
  • Our crazy-ass driver actually jumped into the water with the alligators and fed them while swimming amongst the animals.
  • A baby gator is passed around the boat for some pretty awesome selfies.

One thing to note: if you don’t like loud noise, this may not be for you.  They give you solid headphones to wear, but it’s still pretty loud regardless.

Cajun Encounters is a bit more of a mellow trip through the swamp.  I would recommend paying the $70 because although there are cheaper options, the $70 gets you a ride on a smaller boat fitting 10 people that can go into the smaller canals and river ways.  The unique parts of Cajun Encounters?

  • You do probably see more alligators on Cajun Encounters than you would on Airboat Adventures.
  • As I mentioned, going through the small canals of the swamp offers some fantastic photo opportunities.
  • You do get to see wild boars (see video below).  These animals come right up to the boats for food and are absolutely adorable/enormous.  We just happened to luckily enough (or unlucky to some of the other passengers) almost witness an alligator attack a baby wild boar.  The boat captains intervened and used the boats to shoo away the predatory alligators, but the commotion did get a lot of hearts racing.

You can’t go wrong either way, you just need to decide for yourself what kind of adventure you’d like.

New Orleans School of Cooking

This was one of the highlights of the trip.  Our department head graciously booked us all for a hands-on cooking class as a team builder activity and it was a hell of a lot of fun.  Beer and wine were included, so the libations made it quite an event.  Our chef instructor was young, enthusiastic, and had a contagious passion for cooking southern food.  We were split up into four groups, each group being in charge of one of the menu items (you can change the menu depending on your dietary restrictions): Gumbo, Stuffed Mushrooms, Jambalaya, and Bananas Foster. Obviously being such a big group, not everyone got to do everything, but I would suspect if you visit, you’ll be more hands-on in making each part of the menu.  I was part of the Gumbo team, and specifically helped out in making the roux for the soup.  I had never made gumbo before, let alone roux, so it was a great learning experience.  After the cooking, we all sat and feasted on our creations, and although the food wasn’t super-duper restaurant quality, we loved it because we made it.

The Garden District

An easy cab or trolley ride away from the French Quarter, this is the area to go to if you want to see some ridiculously nice mansions.  The area between Magazine Street and St. Charles Ave holds some of the most impressive houses in such a small area that I’ve ever seen.  Guided tours are available, though just walking around and admiring the architecture was enough for me.  Magazine Street offers some cool little boutique shops and restaurants to meander in and out of as well.  Also located in the Garden District is the Lafayette Cemetery that’s worth strolling into for half an hour to see the traditional tombs and wall vaults made famous in movies and popular culture.  Across from Lafayette Cemetery is the famous Commander’s Palace restaurant, which we didn’t actually eat at, but heard from others in our group that it’s excellent.

New Orleans Ghost Tour

Don’t do this drunk.  I’m serious.  Not because it’s too scary or anything like that.  It’s just that this walking ghost tour doesn’t mix well with inebriated people.  Our tour guide Jack was having an awfully hard time keeping people’s attention and he clearly was getting frustrated by it.  His stories were good, but they were far too long and complicated for a group that had clearly had a few drinks in them.  And you don’t get to go into any of the buildings he was talking about.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t recommend it, but do it earlier in the night and/or on the night off from the bars.

Frenchman Art Market

Located in the heart of the Frenchman Street area, this outdoor market is a great place to find some creative, local art for sale.  Most of the crafts range from jewelry to furniture, and clothing to paintings and have an unsurprisingly hipster look to them.  Nonetheless, it’s a cool place to take a stroll and pick up a souvenir or two.

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