Christmas Road Trip from Chicago to New Orleans

Why New Orleans (a.k.a NOLA)?
Weather: Perfect weather for Christmas time. Our coldest day in NOLA had us wear light rain jacket.
Peace of mind: Christmas is not a peak season for NOLA so a lot less hassle in logistics and no crazy crowds.
Food: Café Au Lait and Beignets offered by iconic Café Du Monde, Cajun.
Revelry: Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street, French Quarters.
Swamps and Bayous: If you are a nature lover, this would be a bliss: NOLA offers a ton of wildlife preserves with pristine views of wetlands and swamps. Less glamorized as compared to Everglades, FL but I would say NOLA was far more immaculate.

How to Plan your visit?

•  Choose if you have the appetite for the road trip or want to fly instead. We did the former, being road trip addicts.

•  Choose the time, preferably skip peak NOLA tourist season if you are going in with kids and not a fan of Mardi Gras. We went bang in the middle of winter peak time, December 22-27, 2019 and had an awesome time.

•  Decide if you want to visit other areas, we visited Memphis on our way back and loved it.

Our Trip Details from Naperville (NOLA Beckons!)

Dates
December 22 – 27, 2019

Trip Notes
Naperville to New Orleans
940 miles and around 14 hours ETA per Google Maps…
2 cars (my ‘precious’ Durango R/T and a rented Dodge Caravan) brimming with 8 adults and 4 kids from 6-10.

How many hours did we grind away to reach NOLA?? 15 hours in total, thanks to short breaks and carefully curated fast food restaurants!

Dec 22, 5:45 AM: Started from Naperville.

For the first 5-6 hours of the journey, you will still be in Illinois. Then we breeze through “The South” – Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and finally, Louisiana.

7:30 AM: The sun blooming alongside us, perks of being early starters!

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4:00 PM: Tennessee Check! Mississippi Next! Weather wasn’t too kind for the later half of the trip as it rained incessantly but we kept coasting at a fast clip.

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9:00 PM: NOLA, here we come…

The Stay
We stayed at this cottage booked from Airbnb, it was tiny but well equipped for the stay.

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Kids were thrilled to fiddle around outside, like it was summer

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As viewed from the front yard of our cottage

Audubon Butterfly Garden And Insectarium

Yes, there is a museum dedicated to insects and NOLA has gone an extra yard and created THE largest one at that, in America. The kids loved the exhibits, butterfly garden and even had live insect encounters under supervision and adults got their entertainment dose (or the insect chills!) as well, a good package overall.

The road overlooking the museum was studded with palm trees and mix of small and sumptuous shops.

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Kids loved getting up, close and personal with the insects.

Some insects were fed healthy food.

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The Girls of our posse.

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There were insect-y snacks on offer too.

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Chocolate “Chirp” cookies weren’t too bad, I tried one!

Walk in the heart of NOLA 

NOLA’s rich cultural diversity stems from the fact that it has strong French as well as Spanish roots. We took a walk in the by-lanes of French Quarter and some of the areas felt frozen in time..

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The iconic ironclad galleries of NOLA might some feeble but they have stood strong in all these decades of reveler traffic.

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A rustic gas and electric lighting shop piqued our interest.

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A gentle stroll on the River walk had a therapeutic effort on aching soles.

Unlock all the love you need, one at a time..

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The author in limelight near Jackson Square.

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The entire gang, cooling the heels.

Can any NOLA trip be complete without a trip to THE Café Du Monde and sipping the Café Au Lait with the Beignets ?

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Café Du Monde was swarmed, as always!

We loved NOLA’s much exalted snack, the French Doughnuts or more eminently called The Beignets. (pronounced “BEN-yay”)

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Nothing like Fresh Beignet

NOLA in the night

We tucked in the kids early and sneaked out one night to catch the glimpse of NOLA nocturnal festivities.

Canal Street offered a perfectly serene but lambent prelude to Bourbon Street.

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Pulling the paparazzi, on the paparazzi (get it? 🙂 )

Thanks to Vasu’s research, we went to Fritzel (European Jazz pub) and were thoroughly entertained by a super enthusiastic and talented band of players.

The pub was very compact and almost every inch was occupied by the patrons.

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Vasu and Sowmya getting up close with the lead singer of the band.

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Band in action..

Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge

On our way to Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour, we did a small trek – Ridge Trail in the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge.

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An overlook for the marshy lands

Cajun Encounters Swamp Tour

A number of companies offer swamp tours in the area, but Cajun Encounters stands out in terms of long and superior track record.

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We saw ample swamp wildlife but didn’t have much of gator sighting. The tour operators offer food to entice the gators but it seems gators aren’t much fond of eating during the onset of winter.

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Can you spot the camouflaged baby gator?

And a Great Blue Heron was kind to the shutterbugs before it took flight.

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A turtle family basking in the sun.

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A family of wild hogs couldn’t turn away from the food on offer.

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The tour was long and offered very diverse views. Here’s a serene one.

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and this one looks right out of Louisiana’s horror folklore..

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Another dreary sight in the woods

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With our soft spoken and knowledgeable guide Brad.

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Louisiana State Museum, The Presbyére

The Presbyére is nestled right at the pink of the city near the Jackson Square and had exhibitions outlining the mesh of cultures, traditions deep rooted in Louisiana history.

The visitors get a grim reminder of the havoc Hurricane Katrina caused from the several exhibits containing the actual audio and video clips from the tragedy.

And of course, there were a ton of manifests on how Mardi Gras came into existence –

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Jackson Square

Jackson Square is yet another lively and colorful venue around the city. We ambled around it while visiting The Presbyére and enjoyed the carnival like environment.

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Jackson Square – As viewed from the Decatur St

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The good ol’ street magician wowed us with his tricks.

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A pair of parrots being lovey-dovey

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The flock was perky and kid friendly

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NOLA embodies the ‘Party Town’ phrase, to the T

Barataria Preserve in Jean Lafitte National Historic Park

This is a must-visit for the national park fans. It offers pristine views of NOLA’s expansive Mississippi River Delta region. It has many trails and for some reason, is notorious for goofed up GPS directions. You can use following address on Waze: 6588 Barataria Blvd, Marrero, LA 70072.

For the detail oriented souls, you can visit this NPS site to view all activities on offer. We went with a simple trek to experience NOLA’s much acclaimed wild wetlands.

We did the Visitor Center to Marsh Overlook trail (marked in red below). It was a moderate trek, if you want to reduce the length, you could also head straight to the Bayou Coquille trailhead (marked in green below).

Barataria Trail Map

Most of the initial trail is paved and gives you rich taste of local flora.

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NOLA’s mysterious tree knees offer rich root system for the local trees. Here’s bunch of Cypress trees with their knees.

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Spanish Moss – yet another gem in NOLA’s rich natural artifacts.

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This one could motivate some famous Louisiana horror lore

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Our first milestone – the Bayou Coquille trailhead

The end of the trail offered some magnificent views.

EFFECTS

Tip: Please be aware that the winter season (we went around Christmas) isn’t conducive for viewing gators as they indulge in brumation or in other words, are too sluggish to get out during the cold season.

Driving back from NOLA to Naperville

12/27 – Left from the resort and decided to have a layover at Memphis which is around 6 hours from NOLA.

Will share Memphis exploits some other time.

12/28 – Left Memphis at 8 AM and zoomed back to home sweet home by 4:15 PM with one break for brunch and couple of bathroom breaks!

That’s it.


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