Take that family reunion from uninspired to unforgettable in New Orleans, Louisiana, where grandkids, granddads-and everyone in between-can fill their days with Big Easy excitement. It starts in the heart of the famous French Quarter, where the city's heart pulsates through intimate, European-style streets, and continues up to the city's charming Garden District and out to the surrounding Louisiana countryside. You'll find everyone in the family is quick to "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"-or, "Let the good times roll!"
Day One: A Big Easy Inauguration
Morning: Bustling Café Du Monde is the place to start in New Orleans, for a breakfast of melt-in-your-mouth beignets-sugar-dusted doughnuts-and chicory-infused café au lait. (or OJ and rich hot chocolate for the little ones) served al fresco on a shaded patio. Animated street musicians put a new spring in everyone's step for a self-guided or expert-led walking tour of the Quarter-then it's time for a family photo on the steps of the Moonwalk or in iconic Jackson Square, where the St. Louis Cathedral makes a splendid backdrop.
Afternoon: Grab Muffaletas to go from Central Grocery and enjoy the classic sandwiches at Woldenberg Park, a green space and promenade on the banks of the roaring Mississippi River. Then it's an easy stroll to Riverwalk, where an indoor shopping promenade offers a welcome break from the sun; youngsters will scurry off to the adjacent Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, and don't forget to visit Parakeet Pointe while your there!
Evening: It's mix-and-mingle time so that everyone can catch up: Congregate the fam at the hotel bar for a casual cocktail gathering (complete with Shirley Temples and sodas) and arrange for some heavy hors d'ouevres or an easy buffet dinner. After the little ones hit the sack, adults with energy to spare can head off to the live-music venues and bars on Bourbon Street and Frenchman Street; the brave will sing karaoke at Cat's Meow and snag their first string of Mardi Gras beads.
Morning: It's quick coffee and breakfast pastries this morning from a nearby café, then the family is off to Blaine Kerns' Mardi Gras World, where a behind-the-scenes peek the colorful costumes and sparkling floats of carnival will make everyone's eyes sparkle.
Day Two: Something for Everyone
Afternoon: Board the Creole Queen or Steamboat Natchez right in the French Quarter for a calliope concert, lunch and two-hour tour of the Mississippi River. After disembarking, NOLA's famed attractions beckon: consider the National WWII and Louisiana Children's Museums in the Business District, or a visit to Tremé, the country's oldest surviving African-American neighborhood where the Backstreet Cultural Museum details such local traditions as second line parades and Jazz funerals.
Evening: It's a group celebration in paradise-with knock-your-socks-off cheeseburgers-at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, an itinerary highlight for music fans and kids, too: Colorful surrounds and boats suspended from the ceiling set the scene for a lively, jovial meal; other fun options include Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Hard Rock Café. Then it's off to Pat O'Brien's for (grown-up) late-night fun: The indoor-outdoor bar and music venue is a must-visit for a nightcap. Its famous Hurricane cocktail comes in a take-home souvenir glass.
Day Three: Uptown Fun
Morning: Get an early start today: Everyone is headed Uptown on N'awlins' historic Streetcar-for just $1.25 each. The open-air trolley journeys along St. Charles Avenue and through the Garden District, where exquisite Victorian-style mansions and towering Oak Trees make for a relaxing, scenic ride. Pull the string to disembark at Loyola and Tulane Universities, and visit the Amistad Research Center on African-American history. Then cross the avenue to Audubon Park and follow the walking path, cameras in hand: You'll want to capture the kids' excitement when you arrive at the Audubon Zoo, one of the top zoos in the country. While you are there, don't forget to cool off at the new "Cool Zoo"!
Afternoon: A shady spot back near the park's duck and turtle pond is perfect for a picnic lunch of Po Boy sandwiches (dressed-meaning, "with the works"), locally made Abita root beer, and Zapp's potato chips. Hire a DJ, pack some Frisbees and footballs, and surprise the group with custom-made family reunion t-shirts for an afternoon that's just plain fun.
Evening: Book a few lanes at Rock ‘N Bowl, a funky, family-friendly live music venue that brings everyone together for some friendly bowling competition. Enjoy dinner and dancing there, too, and then head back down to the French Quarter, where you'll all end the night on a high note: at Preservation Hall, a legendary jazz music venue where admission is just $5.
Morning: Start the day slow with an unhurried wake-up and classic Big Easy event: an unforgettable brunch at House of Blues or Praline Connection (Sundays only), featuring favorite New Orleans dishes with a side of uplifting live gospel music. Walk off the biscuits and grits with a casual stroll along Royal Street, a veritable paradise for the antiques-lovers in the group. There's also the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum (offering free hourly tours with admission and a scavenger hunt for kids) and the Musée Conti Historical Wax Museum of New Orleans, which details the French Creole and voodoo histories of New Orleans with realistic wax sculptures that everyone loves.
Day Four: Classic Creole
Afternoon: After such a big breakfast, a sweet praline is just the right tide-me-over for the afternoon's adventure: a trip to the Louisiana Bayou for a thrilling Swamp Tour, featuring ‘gators, turtles, snakes and birds. Or, take a trip to Oak Alley or Laura Plantation, where stately homes and perfectly-groomed grounds showcase the city's Colonial era.
Evening: Dinner at Mulate's or Michaul's (both cater to groups, Michaul's exclusively) will bring out the Louisiana in everyone. Group menus include classic Creole-Cajun dishes like Shrimp Etouffee, Red Beans ‘N Rice and Jambalaya, and both young and old will take to the dance floor when they hear the classic Cajun band start to play.
Day Five: The Finishing Touch Morning
No one will want to leave the city without another round of Café Du Monde beignets, and the morning is free today: It's take-it-easy time in the Big Easy, as everyone revisits their favorite French Quarter haunts and stocks up on last-minute gifts and food stuffs at Decatur Street's souvenir shops and the French Market. Some may want to take the kids to the Audobon Insectarium, where they'll get "bugged out"; a favorite exhibit will surely be Butterflies in Flight, an enclosed Asian-style garden with hundreds of butterflies soaring around. Any food lovers in the group may want to enroll in a cooking class at the Hermann-Grima Historic House's outdoor kitchen.
Afternoon: Enjoy one last Streetcar ride to City Park, where an easy group picnic under the Louisiana sky will be a welcome respite after a busy week. Then it's off to explore the nearby attractions, including the New Orleans Museum of Art, with an outdoor sculpture garden and fun interactive gallery for kids; amusement park with a popular miniature train ride and Storyland, a fairytale-themed playground. Alternatively, get in touch with the supernatural on a voodoo or ghost tour of New Orleans, whose above-ground cemeteries-"Cities of the Dead"-are one-of-a-kind.
Evening: Casual, kid-friendly dining is an ideal end to an unforgettable family reunion. The Crescent City Brewhouse has fantastic microbrews and something for everyone on the menu, with live jazz music to boot. Or, book a dining space at your hotel for a memorable banquet dinner and private religious service. For those who just can't bear to say goodbye, consider an after-dinner horse and carriage ride around the Quarter for one last chance to soak it all in.