FINDING FAMILY-FRIENDLY AMIDST AMERICA’S A-1 ADULT ATTRACTION
When visiting America’s most culturally rich adult playground it can be difficult to find family-friendly New Orleans Tourist Attractions, particularly around the French Quarter. Bachelor/bachelorette parties and conventioneers seeking to misbehave can prowl the French Quarter 24 hours, but when I’ve had friends with children visit I’ve taxed my brain to weave together an agenda, for there are only so many hours you can browse the souvenir shops on Decatur and gorge on beignets at Café du Monde. Fortunately, the Audubon Institute has your back.
If you have family-will travel, there is always the famous Audubon Zoo (where they all axed fo’ you!) Uptown which was rescued from decrepitude a few decades ago to become a world class attraction. If you’re wanting to stay near the French Quarter—tourist ground zero—you are still in luck, for the Audubon Institute offers three attraction: An Imax Theater showing nature movies and an occasional national blockbuster, an Insectarium which aims to show the beauty of nature’s most misunderstood and abundant creatures, and Audubon Aquarium right on the banks of the Mississippi. I recently visited the latter on a lazy Saturday afternoon in my quest to explore and share about New Orleans Tourist Attractions, finding it a welcome opportunity to gawk in wonder like a child.
WONDERS OF THE DEEP TO STIR YOUR LANDLOCKED SOUL
As child and teen I made several trips to Chicago where I fell in love with the Cubs (God help me) and the J. Shedd Aquarium, which then billed itself as the world’s largest. I would stand for hours absorbed in their well-staged panoramas of hidden and mystical underwater worlds. At the end of each visit I had to literally be dragged out by the arm when accompanying adults finally lost patience, and it inspired dabbling into tiny personal aquariums through college.
As adults, though, we lose some of that wonder and curiosity of childhood, so it’s hard to compare Audubon Aquarium to J. Shedd or other institutions I visited during my ‘Wonder Years.’ The Audubon Aquarium, though, does has extensive exhibits that are well-presented and maintained, with plenty of modern touches to entertain children such as a stand-in tube that simulates hurricane force winds and a floor lighted with swimming schools of fish that actually part around amazed children when they cross, interrupting the migrating schools. So there was definitely plenty of beauty and diversity to stir a little of that childlike wonder toward mysteries of the deep long dormant in my landlocked soul.
THE BIG WATER PICTURE/BIG WATER PITCHER!
As soon as you enter, you are overwhelmed by the most impressive exhibit, a Carribean Reef whose glass tank curves overhead to form a tunnel. You experience an instant sense of awe as rays and sharks swim around the rocks and pass overhead while barracuda dart back in forth in the background. Such large displays are the strength of big aquariums like this, as they provide a window into the diversity and massive interaction of this hidden world. It’s like sneaking a peek at alien life on a foreign planet.
As you work your way along, your realize part of the display is a fake leg to an oil rig, for these inadvertent natural reefs are now an important breeding ground in the Gulf of Mexico (when not wiping out Gulf sea life with deadly spills—the oil company sponsorship that abounds feels a tad disingenuous).
JUNGLES, CONTEXT, AND CLOWNS, OH MY!
Next you enter the large rainforest exhibit, which is a large greenhouse complete with exotic birds in the thick vegetation overhead and habitat appropriate underwater displays. Later, the Mississippi River exhibit provides context for this most important of U.S. waterways. A lot goes on under that muddy brown.
These educational ecosystems will keep adults engaged, but kids will likely be drawn to the seahorse collection as well as the otters and penguins. The fun as an adult here is not to watch the animals but rather the excited children giggling and pointing at nature’s soggiest clowns.
A DESTINATION FOR FAMILIES, LOVERS, AND TIME TRAVELERS
The Audubon Aquarium’s large exhibits are top notch, but if I had one disappointment, the smaller tanks weren’t as plentiful as in some aquariums I’ve been to. Most of my time as a youth in such places was spent trying to absorb these tiny ecosystem snapshots, for they are easier for the brain to digest and understand than the swirling chaos of great tanks. Still, this is a minor quip and my own prejudice of experience. I can’t imagine a child who won’t be mesmerized by this New Orleans Tourist Attraction that does an excellent job combining ancient sea life with modern exhibition and cutting-edge technology.
So if you’re in the French Quarter looking to flee the debauchery with impressionable eyes, this is the New Orleans Tourist Attraction you’ve been searching for. But even for grownups, The Audubon Aquarium would make a unique and romantic date or provide quiet escape on a nostalgic day when you’re seeking to return to your own Wonder Years.