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Swamp tours, plantations among the draws of River Region

LAPLACE — Summer is here, and with it usually comes time for family fun and adventures. Even if a tropical getaway or visit to Mickey Mouse isn’t marked on your summer calendar, there’s still an opportunity to experience natural beauty and have family fun by way of a staycation.

The idea of staycations have increased in popularity over the years as more and more people have discovered the beauty and affordability of staying close to home and exploring their own region.

Kimmie Carlos, executive director of the River Parishes Tourist Commission, said plantation and swamp tours continue to dominate as top area attractions, adding summer is the perfect time to explore both because plantation tours offer air-conditioned buildings and alligators are active during the hot months.

Carlos said she often hears from River Region residents who take a swamp tour for the first time.

“They always tell me, ‘I had a really good time and I actually learned something,’” she said.

“And it’s just fun to be on a boat,” she added laughing.

Carlos said fall and spring seasons tend to bring more tourists to the area because of people visiting New Orleans for conventions, which means summer offers less crowds to people wanting to explore the River Region.

“People love history,” she said, “And plantations aren’t just about pretty houses.”

A new slavery exhibit at Oak Alley Plantation and the opening of Whitney Plantation as dedication to the slave experience have added another layer to home tours, she said, adding visitors to New Orleans and Baton Rouge are more and more finding the River Region a desirable place to spend time and money.

“We’re in the sweet spot,” she said of the River Parishes’ geography between New Orleans and Baton Rouge.

2014 was the third straight record-breaking year for tourism in Louisiana with 28.7 million people visiting the Pelican State. Those tourists spent over $11 billion, Carlos said, adding tourist spending generated $836 million in state tax revenue.

Locals who have never visited historic haunts, or who haven’t visited them in a while, are in for a few surprises.

“Competition is breeding growth,” she said of plantations and tours. “Even though it’s historical, you have to keep it fresh.”

Carlos said plantations are keeping their tours “fresh” by incorporating touch screen exhibits, as well as other interactive features, to keep visitors of all ages engaged in the experience.

One way tech-savvy residents can get plugged in to local information is by downloading the New Orleans Plantation Country Travel App, available on Apple and Android devices.

Carlos said the free app has maps, a driving tour and provides tour information.

Carlos said the growing local film and television industry has also added another layer to tourists wanting to visit the River Region.

“People are interested and want to know where things are they see in TV and movies,” Carlos said. “This area continues to grow. We’re looking forward to making the River Parishes a destination in and of itself.”

On the River Parishes Tourist Commission’s website, neworleansplantationcountry.com, visitors can find discounts on plantation and swamp tours by clicking on the top “Travel Deals” tab.

Carlos said the agency’s Facebook page — facebook.com/NOLAPlantations — would offer giveaways and hold contests this summer to encourage people to be a tourist in their own hometown.