Our time in New Orleans this summer was short, but we did manage to pack a lot into three days. On our final day in Louisiana we were due to fly home late afternoon but we were determined to make the most of our last day there. I did a bit of research on transport options and soon found that we could pick up a rental car downtown in the morning and drop it off eight hours later at the airport for about the same price as the taxi fare to the airport! It seemed like a no-brainer to me; we were going to do some exploring!
We picked up our car near the hotel and after a bit of an unplanned detour through a few rather interesting neighbourhoods due to unexpected construction we found ourselves on the freeway headed out of town. The small, low slung shotgun houses of the suburbs soon gave way to mile after mile of empty looking swamps with scattered, scruffy looking towns on the few areas of high ground.
It took about 45 minutes to get to the town of Allemand where we stopped in at the office of Airboat Tours by Arthur. I had wanted to see the real Cajun backcountry and so I did a bit of research before we left. There are many tour options and it was a bit confusing to sort through it all. First of all, I knew I wanted an airboat tour instead of a pontoon boat since they are smaller and can access more remote parts of the swamp. I was also looking for a bit of real cajun culture and not a canned tour aimed at the bus tour crowd. To complicate things further, there are age restrictions on the airboat tours with some companies not allowing kids younger than eight, but others allowing as low as age five.
I finally chose Airboat Tours by Arthur based on good reviews and their prompt responses to my email requests for information. We booked a 1045 tour but I was still a bit confused about the price since it was $45 for the 6 person boat and $35 for the 12 person, depending on if others showed up for the same tour or not, with kids being $10 off plus an online booking discount. In the end it ended up costing just a hair over $100 in the 12 person boat with another group for all four of us, which I thought was a fabulous price for the experience we had.
We checked at the main office, which was sort of built out on stilts on a canal with the dock right outside the office doors. The kids were fitted with life jackets and our guide showed us onto the front row of seats (one of the perks of travelling with little people!) and gave us a quick safety briefing. And then we were off! We all wore headsets to protect our ears from the deafening roar of the huge propeller so we didn’t chat much as we headed down the canal and into the swamp.
Our guide, who’s name wasn’t actually Arthur, seemed to know the swamp inside out and took the boat right over an embankment and into gator territory. There was a bucket of raw chicken pieces in the front of the boat and the animals seemed to know the drill well. He’d go to a new part of the swamp and cut the engines and then point into the distance. As we took of our headsets he’d tell us that such and such a gator would be coming from that direction in a minute and sure enough, the animal would appear right on cue, looking for a handout.
While the way the gators were conditioned to come for food was definitely a bit artificial, it still took our breath away to see these amazing animals so close up. Our guide was able to get amazingly close to them and one gator named Big Al even allowed him to pet him on the head and rub underneath his chin between drumsticks. I have to admit I was a bit unnerved to see it but the kids loved it, with my daughter attempting to wiggle out of my death grip around her waist while calling out, “can I pet him too?”
Besides alligators we were able to see some of the birds, flowers and trees in the swamp and learn a bit of history as well as learning about the life cycle of the alligator and it’s importance in the local economy. We were able to see a nest and our guide took out an egg for us to examine before returning it carefully to it’s home. On the way back we were able to see a bit of what the airboat could do and had a great time whipping through the canals at high speed. The only downside was that the water levels were low and some areas were quite muddy, which left us with black specks from head to toe! I had made the mistake of wearing a white shirt, so it was fortunate that the suitcases were in the back of the car so I could grab something else to change into.
Overall we loved out airboat tour and would recommend the company to anyone who want a fun daytrip from New Orleans. It was great value and the kids loved it. Our guide was great and really put a lot of effort into making sure we had a good experience. So if you’re ever in New Orleans, don’t miss the chance the chance to get out of town and see those gators!