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Visitors to New Orleans often want to get out of town to the great Mississippi River Road and see the historic plantations that once dominated the region’s agricultural industry. The remaining houses are often stunning, fully restored to their finest eras, complete with period antiques. Historical interpreters and guides on site are generally careful to present not only the beautiful architecture and furnishings to guests but also to explain the brutal system of chattel slavery upon which this grandeur was built. Some plantations are more thorough in their explanations than others, but all that are listed here offer valuable firsthand historical insight. Plantations are largely located 60 to 90 minutes outside the city of New Orleans and all of these tours make it easy on the traveler and include transportation.
Best Shore Excursion: Post-Cruise Westbank Plantation Tour
You don’t have to be on a cruise to take advantage of this plantation tour, but if you are, note that it includes a guarantee that if you book in advance and your ship is delayed to port for some reason, your money will be refunded. The six-hour tour begins with either a pickup at your hotel or at the Port of New Orleans itself and rolls in a comfortable coach past several major plantations before making its first stop: Oak Alley Plantation, made famous in the movie Interview with the Vampire. After a guided tour of the main house, the Civil War Encampment exhibit and the slave quarters, guests are driven just a bit further down the road to Laura Plantation. The story of Laura is told by guides who draw their source material from the journals of four generations of Creole women who lived there and includes detailed and sensitive handling of the history of enslaved people at the plantation. When the tour is finished, guests are returned to either their hotel or their Port pick-up location.
Best Small Group Tour: Whitney Plantation, Museum of Slavery & More
Your day on this small-group tour starts with a hotel pickup in a comfortable 13-passenger van and heads out of town to the Whitney Plantation and its Louisiana Museum of Slavery. The Whitney is the most recently restored of Louisiana’s plantations, and it is nothing like the others, where the plantation house itself is the heart of the tour and the slavery legacy, while typically explained in realistic detail, is done so as an ancillary. Here, that narrative is flipped, and the stories of the enslaved people — here and everywhere in the Antebellum South — are front and center. It pulls no punches and is an intense experience, but one that’s deeply meaningful and has tremendous historical value. After a 90-minute guided tour of the Whitney, the tour van drives on to the nearby St. Joseph Plantation, a filming site for the Oscar-winning film Twelve Years a Slave. St. Joseph is still a working sugarcane farm, owned and operated by the descendants of the original owners, many of whom are tour guides themselves. After an hour-long tour of St. Joseph, you’ll drive back to New Orleans and be returned to your hotel.
Best Combo Tour: Destrehan Plantation & Swamp Tour Combo via New Orleans
This six-hour tour begins with a pickup at your New Orleans hotel, then heads out of town for nearby Destrehan Plantation, a French Colonial-style plantation less than 45 minutes outside the city. The hour-long tour here is history-dense and tells stories of the Civil War, the 1811 slave revolt, as well as other events that took place during the life of the plantation. It also includes a tour of the grounds and a slave cabin and even has time for lunch (not included in the price). After the plantation tour, your group will head out to the Barataria swamps for a comfortable narrated tour on a covered boat. You’ll see alligators, egrets, turtles and more, as well as a Cajun fishing village and a 2,000-year-old Native American burial mound. After the boat tour is finished, it’s back to New Orleans for a drop-off at your hotel.
Best Bargain Tour: Double Plantation Tour in New Orleans
You’ll meet your coach at the lighthouse at the Steamboat Natchez dock for this thorough but no-frills, 6.5-hour tour that includes your choice of two of these plantations: Whitney Plantation and Louisiana Museum of Slavery, Laura Plantation and Oak Alley Plantation. (You must select in advance upon booking.) The tour cost covers entry to the plantations, who provide their own tour guides. The bus driver narrates the trip out of town and back. Food is not included but snacks are available at all three locations.
Best Luxury Tour: Private Chauffeured & Guided Plantation Country Tour
If you want the very best, choose this private six-hour tour, where you’ll ride in comfort in a luxury sedan or SUV through a series of plantations of your choosing, at your pace. Your tour guide is a historian, thoroughly educated about Louisiana’s history, as well as the history of each specific plantation. You can choose which plantations you’d like to visit or your guide can suggest an itinerary and you’ll get an official guided tour at each, with supplements from your historian-guide. Food and drinks are not included but a restaurant stop of your choice can be worked into the itinerary. Hotel pick-up and drop-off are included.