Or What Happens When I Singlehandedly Plan a Trip!
11/1/12 - 11/4/12
Update: All new posts can be found at http://thewanderingmind.net.
Let me preface this series of posts on our recent weekend getaway to New Orleans by saying that this is what happens when I am given free reign to plan a trip without the counterbalancing effect of someone who likes to, say, actually sleep while on vacation. Clay and I were meeting my parents in New Orleans and they decided that I could make the plans so that we could do whatever I wanted (and Clay wonders why I am spoiled). Combine this with the fact that Clay and I live in different cities and he was not present to veto or otherwise alter my plans and the end result is a weekend in New Orleans, Cora style, which is to say meticulously planned and packed with history with a side of some really delicious food!
Friday morning dawned bright and early, and I mean early. I mean, who in their right mind plans to meet for breakfast at 6:45 in the morning after getting into New Orleans after 11 pm the previous night after making the 6-hour drive from Houston post-work? Yeah, that would be me. Although arguably the decision to spend 6 years of my life in graduate school disqualifies me from the "right mind" category in the first place.
Anyway, the day began with what was actually a pretty decent breakfast from the bistro in the Courtyard Marriott where we stayed. As you may know, Courtyard has been reconceptualizing and redesigning their hotels, and this is the end result - a spacious lobby with lots of technology and a small bistro open for breakfast and dinner.
After catching up with my parents over breakfast and coffee (blissful coffee!), we (and by we I mean my dad and I) excitedly waited to be picked up for our tour. Although packaged tours like The Old River Plantation Adventure are not typically the route Clay and I go, after doing some research and reading the reviews, I decided to give it a try. The first benefit - not having to navigate New Orleans traffic during rush hour! We were picked up by our driver and tour guide at our hotel. The second benefit - during the entire one-hour drive each way between the plantations and New Orleans, we got to learn about the history of New Orleans and the plantation culture in Louisiana. Okay, so maybe one-half of us thought that was a benefit and one-half of us thought that meant nap time, but guess which half I was in!
The tour is designed to accommodate multiple preferences. Our day began with a full group of about 25 people. We were all dropped off at the first plantation, Oak Alley. Following that tour, one could choose from two different plantations for a second tour. After the second tour, those who stayed for the afternoon swamp tour were taken to lunch whereas those who chose not to do the swamp tour were returned to New Orleans. It actually felt well-orchestrated and flexible for a group tour.
Our first stop, Oak Alley, was a classic southern plantation. We had some time to walk around the grounds before the formal tour of the house began.
The tour traced the often tragic history of the home from the time it was built as an ante-bellum plantation, as it fell into disrepair and later was lovingly restored as a private home, until it became a part of the foundation that owns it today. Our tour guide was wonderful and provided a context for the dream that Oak Alley represented to the generations of individuals who have owned the plantation.
If Oak Alley represented the classic ante-bellum home, our next stop, Laura Plantation, represented the classic Creole plantation. Although I loved the first tour, I think this was my favorite. The tour provided an entirely new perspective on what it meant to be Creole and the distinctness of the Creole culture from that of the Americans, while also delving into the unique, although no less brutal, history of slavery in Louisiana.
Following a very full morning, those of us who were staying for the swamp tour were dropped off for lunch at a little spot in La Place. We had placed our orders in the morning so that the food would be ready when we arrived. My choice, the shrimp po boy.
After a morning of touring plantations, I think Clay was more than ready for something more manly, like a swamp tour. Although decidedly different from the earlier activities, the swamp tour fully rounded out the day. We had already learned about New Orleans, Creole culture, and plantation life. But one distinct piece of New Orleans and Louisiana history that we were missing was Cajun culture. And our tour guide was a living example. He was as fascinating as the history of the swamp as he shared some about his life, which is so very different from my own. Plus, I got to hold an alligator!
I will be honest, the late night and the early morning meant that I was exhausted by the time we returned to New Orleans. However, I really enjoyed the tour and am glad we (and by we, I mean I) decided to do it. It did feel a bit rushed at times, but I never felt that I did not get to see everything I wanted to. If organized group tours really are not your thing, everything we did (both plantation tours, lunch, and the swamp tour) could have been done independently through each of the individual sites. If you like a little more time and flexibility, you could drive yourself to these or other plantations or to the Cajun Pride Swamp Tours location. However, the benefit of the package was ultimately what I mentioned above - someone else was driving and provided quality narration while doing so. Plus, if you enjoyed a mint julep or two while at Oak Alley, you might need someone else to drive!