The image of New Orleans as an adult playland with everyone catching beads, downing Hurricanes and hitting the clubs till all hours isn't the whole story. Savvy families traveling with children give New Orleans high marks for its long list of wholesome, educational and downright fun activities.
1. Check in at the Louisiana Children's Museum. Steps away from the French Quarter at 420 Julia Street, the Children's Museum has been an educational playground for more than a decade. There are hands-on exhibits and play centers for different ages from toddlers on up. Hours are 9:30am - 4:30pm Mon.-Sat, and noon - 4:30pm Sun. 504-523-1357.
2. Take a ride on the mighty Mississippi. Float back in time on the Paddlewheeler Creole Queen. As the boat cruises the river, the Captain points out the local sights and history. Cruises stop at the Chalmette Battlefield for a brief tour of that historic site. The Creole Queen shoves off each day at 10:30am and 2pm. For those with less time, the Riverboat Cajun Queen offers one-hour tours at 11:30am, 1pm, 2:30pm and 4pm. The Creole Queen also offers a dinner jazz cruise in the evenings. Enjoy live jazz and a buffet of Creole favorites. 504-524-0814.
3. Talk to the animals at the Audubon Zoo. Who doesn't love a day at the zoo? The zoo is home to everything from Louisiana white alligator to a Komodo Dragon from Indonesia. Pink flamingoes recently moved in to the zoo and there are white tigers, elephants, monkeys and many more creatures. The Louisiana Swamp exhibit includes an Acadian settlement, circa 1930, which offers Cajun food, Cajun music and dancing. 504-581-4629.
4. Chat with the gators on a swamp tour. It's no secret that New Orleans is a city built in the middle of a swamp. You don't have to go far to find swampland overflowing with turtles, alligators, cypress trees, egrets and more. Jean Lafitte Swamp Tours explore the swamps of the West Bank, just 15 minutes from downtown. Guided boats depart daily at 10am and 2pm. 504-592-0560./p>
5. Have a parade at Mardi Gras World. For 50 years Blaine Kern has built some of the grandest floats for Mardi Gras parades. Take the free Algiers Ferry from the bottom of Canal Street to get to Mardi Gras World (a free shuttle meets each ferry). The tour includes a video, a walk through the costume room-with a break to try on costumes and take pictures-and a tour of the city's biggest float warehouses. Tours run every half-hour from 9:30am-4:30pm daily. 504-361-7821.
6. Make a splash at the Aquarium and IMAX. The Aquarium of the Americas is a top national aquarium and home to everything from California sea otters to sharks and jellyfish. Next door at the Entergy IMAX Theatre, super-high definition films hit the five and half story screen. Many of the features are in 3D. Call for tickets and Aquarium combo tickets. 581-4629.
7. Take a spin on the carousel in City Park. The Hines Carousel Gardens are home to one of the last remaining antique, carved wooden carousels in the country. Ride fierce lions and tigers and fine stallions to the sound of a whimsical calliope. Hours are Wed.-Fri. 10am-2:30pm; Sat. and Sun. 11am - 5:30pm. 483-9356. Close by, Storyland allows youngsters to climb in the mouth of Pinocchio's whale, fish in the Little Mermaid's pond and sail aboard Captain Hook's ship. Hours are Mon. - Fri. 10am - 2:30pm; Sat. and Sun. 10am - 4:30pm. 504-483-9381.
8. Ride the Rides at Jazzland. There are plenty of kids rides as well as the 60 -mile-per-hour Mega Zeph roller coaster at the city's amusement park. The park features more than 30 rides plus daily Mardi Gras Parades, park characters, shows and more. The Cypress Plunge log flume offers welcome relief from the summer heat. Jazzland is 15 minutes from downtown off I-510. 10am-6pm most days. Later on weekends. 12301 Lake Forest Blvd.
9. Visit the New Orleans Museum of Art's (NOMA) interactive exhibit, stARTing Point. While most of the exhibits at NOMA will be of interest to grown-ups, stARTing Point will captivate the entire family. StARTing Point is a world of interactive exhibits designed to help people understand the source of artists' inspiration. Computers with special software teach visitors about texture, shape, color and self-portraits. It's open 10am-5pm Tues.-Sun. 504-488-2631.
10. Make the scene at the Musee Conti Wax Museum. Who says that history can't be fun-especially the history of this eccentric city? Stop by the Musee Conti Wax Museum at 917 Conti Street and romp through 300 years of life in the Crescent City. You'll meet Emperor Napoleon, Louis Armstrong and Voodoo queen Marie Laveau. And no wax museum would be complete without a dungeon of horrors. The Musee is open from 10am-5:30pm Mon.-Sat. and noon-5:30pm Sun. 504-525-2605.