June 2012

Offbeat Orleans

by Zachary Chouteau

Taking a group to New Orleans and want to do something truly different and memorable? Here are four quick suggestions for offbeat outings in the “Big Easy.”

You don’t have to visit the Big Easy in late winter to enjoy the flavors of one of America’s most popular parties. Mardi Gras World (504.361.7821; is open year-round and showcases the magic behind the festivities, offering tours every half-hour that take your group into the inner workings of Blaine Kern Studios, creator of the fantastic floats and pageantry of the famous Mardi Gras parade. And if a tour doesn’t give enough of a taste, hold your own function or take part in one of the attraction’s special events, such as mask-making or float-building.

To get a whole new perspective on New Orleans, join outfitter Kayak-iti-yat (512.964.9499; to take to the waters of Bayou St. John, which flows through many of the Crescent City’s most vibrant neighborhoods. Paddlers can take in plenty of people-watching, or check out the countless festive gardens and eclectic foliage—including plenty of magnolias and oaks—along the city’s watery banks.

For a group on a limited budget seeking a terrific tour, It Happened Here (949.929.8203; is an app available for New Orleans (as well as D.C., New York, Boston and Chicago) that detects your location via GPS and gives you all the interesting info on your immediate surroundings. From historical events to movie scenes to cool local trivia, the app is packed with fascinating facts and goes for only $2.99. And haven’t we all at some point wanted a tour guide that could simply be silenced with the flick of a switch?

The Degas House (504.821.5009;, where artist Edgar Degas created 18 paintings and five letters in his historic family home, is an unforgettable but often overlooked Big Easy attraction. Degas’ descendants give the guided tours around the beautiful home, and also offer a new program called Bottles and Brushes, giving attendees a chance to paint Degas-style works of art in his studio, all while sipping an adult beverage. The 1850s mansion also has some excellent event spaces available, including an elegant courtyard.


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