The Celebration in the Oaks Driving Tour Is Back {And Worth The Wait!}

It’s no secret that 2020 has been a tough year for all of us. Everything that we know and love has changed, including our usual holiday gatherings, traditions and events in New Orleans. It’s hard to believe that just one short year ago we were all attending Saints games en masse, excitedly preparing for Mardi Gras and bringing our children to see the iconic white new orleans holiday event 2020Christmas lights at crowded The Roosevelt Hotel. Of course, the 2020 holidays look quite different and none of what we’re used to is happening as usual.

Growing up in New Orleans, one of my most cherished memories is the driving tour of Celebration in the Oaks. I vividly remember making Swiss Mix hot chocolate at home and hopping in my grandmother’s “boat,” aka a white Chevrolet with plush navy blue cloth bench seats. We drove slowly down Wisner as the sun was setting, excitement building as we inched closer and closer to the park. I vaguely remember the traffic and tail lights, but I remember the hot chocolate and excitement more. Truth be told, I have no idea how long we waited to enter, nor how much time the tour took. I just remember feeling excited and happy and carefree.

For years and years, many of us who share this iconic New Orleans memory have begged – pleaded, even – for City Park to bring the driving tour back. Whether it’s nostalgia or the desire to attend an event where you don’t leave your car, I know I am not alone in my years of praying the driving tour would come back. If my understanding is correct, the cost to reinstate the driving tour after Hurricane Katrina was just too high. The park was successful hosting CITO by selling tickets to Carousel Gardens with rides and other features, so the event as we knew it during our 1980s childhood changed for what seemed like good. Until COVID-19, and, well, the Celebration in the Oaks driving tour is back.

I share all of this because I think it is natural that a pivoted event in a difficult financial year is going to have hiccups. The lines may be long, and the lights may be a few less than you’d expect. But you know who doesn’t probably care? Our kids. As we stumble through this odd holiday season, I’d encourage all of us to remember what makes New Orleans special. The lights that are hanging in those historic oak trees provided much needed work – and hope – to local employees. The traffic flow may necessitate improving, but City Park wasn’t exactly planning to host a driving tour this year and, well, it is what it is.

Like most of you reading, I am also a mom to small children. I know as well as anyone that shrieking kids in car seats is zero fun. As we waited in traffic last night to kick off the holiday season, I found myself getting a little annoyed that there was a wait at all. My darling husband was also impatient. I think some of this can simply be attributed to the Amazon Prime culture we all enjoy whereby everything is ready on demand. Heck, we can even get delivery cookie cake and order Chick-Fil-A via Door Dash. Fast food delivered to our homes … let that sink in for a minute. And thus, as I started to think about it, where else did we have to be last night? Were we really surprised that there was a wait for a popular holiday event in New Orleans? What was the alternative? Sitting at home? We needed to keep this in perspective.

More than anything, it hit me that this experience – driving through the City Park holiday lights under the oaks like I so loved as a young child – was something that our city begged for. It reminded me to be grateful that the park was able to pull it off and provide this opportunity for our kids. It struck me that perhaps we had already lost the lesson of 2020, which has largely been to slow down and enjoy where we are in the moment.

All of that said, here are a few suggestions for your family to enjoy the event if you have plans to go!

Tips for Drive Through Celebration In The Oaks 

  1. If you can snag an early reservation {though word has it many are sold out}, earlier is definitely better – if you can. No matter what – you MUST reserve the experience in advance.
  2. Make hot chocolate or something “special” to drink in the car. If you rather swing through Starbucks, do that (although waiting in line to … wait in another line … may actually send your family over the edge)
  3. Pack snacks or even a car dinner … let the kids pick what you bring so that they are excited to eat it during the ride. Whether it is popcorn or candy or Popeye’s, the kids will probably be excited for a fun meal or snack as part of the experience.
  4. If it’s cold when you go, bring blankets and roll down the windows, put on Magic 101.9 and enjoy the crisp air.hot cocoa bombs New Orleans
  5. As far as how to get there, take Harrison to Wisner and turn right; even if you have to wait in a line once you’re on Wisner, this route is going to get you into the line the most direct way, rather than having to u-turn on Wisner. We left our house 20 minutes before our time window, and we got into the park about 30 minutes into our window. I didn’t get the impression they were turning people with tickets away whether they were a tad early or late.
  6. If you think your kids are better distracted by technology, load a holiday movie on the iPad and distract them with that. Although in our case, we really didn’t wait that long and our kids never got antsy.

I hope that we are all able to share this new experience with our kids and – even if it is way different than the Carousel Gardens rides we had gotten used to – that we see the magic of the holiday through their eyes. After all, kids tend to be among the easier customers and often times are happy just to spend time with us.

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Ashley is the Co-Owner of New Orleans Mom, Red Stick Mom and Lafayette Mom, now the largest network of parenting websites in South Louisiana. Proud graduates of the University of Virginia, she and her husband Blaise spent time in Tampa and Scottsdale prior to settling down back home in New Orleans, something they both said "would never happen." An avid runner, she'll try any workout at least once and is always up for sweating with friends. When she’s not shuttling her 3 very active kids to school, gymnastics or baseball, you can find her cheering for the Saints, trying new restaurants or spending time with family and friends. She's also not afraid to return mediocre books to the library before finishing them because life is too short for bad books. A native New Orleanian, Ashley loves exploring and discovering the beauty of South Louisiana through her growing children's eyes.

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