As suspected, having moved just a driving distance away, New Orleans is becoming a destination we would visit more than once. So, when my family flew in from Latvia to visit us for a couple of weeks in September, we decided to take a few days and make the 6-hour drive down to New Orleans to show them around. As my husband and I had been to New Orleans already once before, most of the sights remained the same as during our first trip here (French Quarter, Algiers Point, Barataria Preserve, Mardi Gras museum and others). However, when it came to the plantation and alligator swamp tours, we decided not to visit the same places we saw back in May (which were Oak Alley Plantation and Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour), but rather give new places a chance to impress us, as there are so many to choose from.

 

LAURA PLANTATION

 

We started off with a plantation house tour and this time decided to see the #1 most visited plantation - Laura Plantation. It was a very different experience from Oak Alley Plantation in many aspects. First off, the whole tour was a guided tour, and that included both - the house and the gardens – there was no option of exploring the property on your own at all, so be prepared to stay in a crowded group setting at all times. That, of course, has some positives as well – there is always a guide available to answer any questions.

Secondly, the house itself was a much different style than the Oak Alley mansion we saw months earlier, which gave a different perspective of various styles of the period. Also, the gardens and plants used in them differed from what we had seen at Oak Alley. What I did not like though, was that all of the narrative was only about the people and the family who owned the plantation. Almost nothing at all was said about the slaves, their life on the plantation, their experiences or the slavery period in general. So, during the tour, all you hear is really just the family history and who married whom. In my opinion, this is not the best tour if you want to get a good insight into the slavery and life on a plantation.

But above all (and this should probably be listed as #1 point as far as our experience goes), all I can say is – do not visit Laura Plantation if you have small children! It was very obvious from the start that the tour guide did not like having children in his group at all. This time around we were a company of 7 – 4 adults and 3 children (aged 3 years, 1 year, and 1 year). Already upon entering the property, we were arrogantly told that strollers need to stay at the back of the tour. As we were getting ready to enter the house, the guide just walked upstairs with the rest of the group, never even mentioning a word to us as to where to leave the strollers, or if we need to bring the strollers with us... We were left a little confused, and in the end just left the strollers and our belongings at the bottom of the stairs, and carried the babies up. It really would not have been that difficult to address us by simply suggesting where to leave them or what to do... Or any explanation or suggestion at all for that matter would have been appreciated more than just ignoring us completely. Before starting the tour, we were informed that children can't disturb the tour, and I can only appreciate that as I am not enjoying other children affecting my experience either. And I am always pretty strict about this with my own kids in a public setting as well. However, this was taken to the extremes! We were constantly given dirty looks (by the guide) for any little thing. During the house tour, the 1-year old started to get antsy (not crying, not screaming, not even whining), he was just looking for his pacifier, and before I could even get it out from the bag, the guide asked us to ''step out''. My husband took the baby and walked outside, with the guide shutting the door behind him and never opening it for the reminder of the house tour until we were in the last room of the house. My husband was basically sitting behind the locked door with the baby in his lap missing absolutely everything, without any option to even re-join the group. My brother felt so bad about the situation that he took his baby and left the tour as well to join my husband outside. 

 /Expelled from the house tour/

After the house tour, we were continuing on through the gardens and were so afraid of getting another comment or dirty look from the guide for our baby even as much as breathing too loud, that we stayed so far behind the group that we basically could not hear almost anything that was said. It was a complete waste of $100. I have never had an experience like this before, anywhere, and we always travel with children (several times a year) and take them everywhere. So, if you travel with children and are looking for a plantation to visit, you are better off somewhere else. We had an amazing experience at Oak Alley a few months back, where you can roam the property and gardens on your own, at your own pace, and not feel ashamed if your baby decides to giggle too loud. And even the house tour there went without any problems at all, and with the guide interacting with children as part of the group. 

In retrospect, I think Laura Plantation gets its high visitation numbers because it is the main plantation where the big tour buses go (and as the whole tour is guided, the tour companies don’t have to ‘’herd’’ their clients all around the property when it is time to leave); however, when it comes to individuals and families visiting the plantation, there are obvious gaps and lack of service here. And even though they advertise as a ''family friendly'' activity, they were very far from friendly, and left a sour taste in our mouths at the very start of our trip.  

 

CAJUN PRIDE SWAMP TOUR

As far as the swamp tour goes, we had a much better experience than that of Laura Plantation. Actually, we had an amazing experience! This time we had chosen Cajun Pride Swamp Tour, and although it is a little further out from New Orleans (about a 50-minute drive), it worked out perfectly for us as it was along our route home. We were a little early for our tour, so we had some time to explore the property – there is a nice, shaded waiting area with picnic tables and benches, a gift shop, restrooms, and an enclosed alligator and snapping turtle viewing area. And already while walking around waiting for our tour, we saw 3 alligator swimming in the canal around the tour boats, and a baby one lounging in the tall grass.

Once we were off on our tour, there were just too many alligators to count right from the start. It seemed like they were spotted every 15 feet – swimming, sitting on the logs, buried in warm mud ashore, sometimes even 2 or 3 together in a group. So, so many alligators! During Jean Lafitte Swamp tour back in May we only saw a few gators, so seeing this many this time around took me completely by surprise, as I could not have imagined there were so many of them lurking under the water… Definitely an endless excitement. 

When the guide found ‘’the Big One’’, he had some chicken shish kebabs ready! 

As a side note, I would like to mention that alligator sightings are really dependent on the time of year and the weather. After seeing what seemed like a hundred alligators on this tour, it is hard to believe that (according to the guide) during winter months, the gators become so inactive that sometimes there are barely any spotted during a tour. So expectations need to be adjusted based on when you go.

And of course, no tour would be complete without petting a real, little gator. And no, they do not get abused daily. The guide informed us that this little guy had not ‘’gone on any tours’’ for 5 days, so it was his time to participate… And it made us happy to see that the guide truly seemed to care for all the gators in this privately-owned wildlife refuge, and there is no hunting of any kind allowed here.

Besides the gators, we also met some hungry raccoons, who really did not seem to be too bothered about the 5 gators laying in the grass just a few feet away. The raccoons must not be the gators’ food of choice, I guess! 

And even though the long day and long tour had taken its toll on the babies, nobody kicked us off the boat and nobody made us feel unwelcome here. We had an awesome time on this tour, so a definite ‘thumbs up’ to Cajun Pride!

 

Related articles: New Orleans - the world of Cajun and Creole. In this article you can read a more in-depth review of our first trip to New Orleans, and the main tourist sights like the French Quarter, the Mardi Gras museum, New Orleans Zoo and Aquarium, Oak Alley plantation and Jean Lafitte swamp tour experience, as well as many others.

 

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