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Letting the Good Times Roll

Sometimes an opportunity comes along that’s just too good to pass up.

I’ve worked in travel journalism for more than 15 years. And during the hundreds of trips I’ve taken during that time, there have been many moments when I wished I could have my loved ones with me. But business travel almost always means leaving my wife and kids at home.

This winter, though, we got an opportunity to do something different. The Louisiana Office of Tourism asked me to come to Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, to participate in a Mardi Gras parade. And since Metairie’s Mardi Gras is known as a family-friendly affair, they invited the whole family to join me.

So on a Sunday morning in February, my wife, Laura, and I boarded a flight with our 5-year-old daughter, Daisy, and 3-year-old son, Liam, and took off for Louisiana on a family adventure.

Traveling with young kids can be a lot of effort, especially for someone used to working alone on the road. But the benefits far outweighed the hassles, because Daisy and Liam had the times of their lives in Louisiana.

We flew in a couple of days before Mardi Gras so we could enjoy some of the other family attractions in the area. Our first dinner was at Middendorf’s, a waterfront restaurant in Manhac, Louisiana, with an 85-year history. We enjoyed a platter of fried seafood and desserts like ice cream sundaes and bananas Foster crepes.

We stayed overnight in Hammond and then spent the next morning at the Global Wildlife Center in nearby Folsom. At this incredible 900-acre park, we saw hundreds of animals from six continents. The animals roam free, and we got a guided tour of the park in converted World War II-era military vehicles. As we went, we met zebras, deer, buffaloes and many other animals, including giraffes and llamas that ate feed right out of our palms. Needless to say, the kids were ecstatic.

We spent that night in Metairie so we would be close to the parade route the next day. The Krewe of Argus parade each year attracts between 900,000 and 1 million people, many of them families, who come out to enjoy the marching bands, colorful floats and millions of colorful plastic beads.

I got to ride on a parade float and throw beads into the screaming crowd, and I was delighted to see so many kids enjoying themselves with parents and grandparents. It wasn’t the wild scene many people associate with Mardi Gras. This event is fantastic for youth groups and families.

Laura and the kids watched the parade from the grandstands and had a blast eating, dancing and catching throws. Daisy and Liam needed an extra bag to carry all their toys and souvenires home.

We celebrated the end of an unforgettable family trip that night by having beignets at Café du Monde, one of the places in the New Orleans area that I’ve always wanted to share with my family.

My job will always require me to be away from the family from time to time. But I’m thankful for a chance to share the joy of travel with the people I love most.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.