Holiday carriage ride charming way to see city

By By Frank DiCesare / Special to the American Press

Few things can be as charming as a carriage ride around downtown Lake Charles, especially during the holidays.

Whether it’s an evening tour of the

Christmas lights along Shell Beach Drive or an historic excursion around

the Charpentier

District, passengers on a J&R Carriage ride get a unique — if

not nostalgic — opportunity to see the city they way their ancestors

did more than a century ago.

“It was so special,” said Amber Burks, a

student at Lamar State College in Orange, Texas. She and her boyfriend,

Zachary Menard,

celebrated their third anniversary as a couple last week and

commemorated the event with a holiday carriage ride. “It really

was a memorable experience and something we will definitely do

again.”

J&R Carriage’s Christmas Tours will

be offered until Dec. 31. The one-hour rides begin at 5:30 p.m., 7:15

p.m., and 9 p.m.

behind the Lake Charles Civic Center on Bor du Lac Drive. Each

four-mile ride is pulled slowly by one of the company’s Belgian

mules, offering passengers an open-car, leisurely paced view of

the Christmas lights adorning the homes along Shell Beach

Drive.

For interested parties, the company’s drivers will give a brief history of Lake Charles and its founding families, many of

whom built homes in the Shell Beach area.

Matt Young, public relations director at the O’Carroll Group, treated his mother and her fellow employees from Boise Credit

Union in DeRidder to a Christmas Tour. He said he would highly recommend a carriage ride to anyone visiting Lake Charles.

“It was an amazing ride,” he said. “The tour guide was very informative. He offered us a history of Lake Charles and some

stories about the people who live in the houses we passed. It gave us a personal side of Lake Charles.”

Passengers can choose from one of three New Orleans-style carriages: a six-passenger vis-à-vis for $95, a 10-passenger hotel

surrey for $125, and a 12-passenger wagonette for $150. Roger Roy, the company’s co-owner, said passengers are charged by

the carriage, not by the number of people in their party.

“If two people want our smallest carriage, it will be their private carriage,” he added. “Nobody else will be in there with

them.”

Throughout the year, J&R Carriage offers rides throughout the downtown Lake Charles area, including a one-hour historic tour

of the Charpentier District for $95, a combined 90-minute grand tour of the Charpentier District and the downtown area for

$150, and a 20-minute tour of the Civic Center grounds for $25 per family.

The company also offers 30- and

60-minute proposal and wedding carriage rides for $45 and $95

respectively. For passengers

on a tour who wished to be dropped off at a downtown restaurant

and picked up after their meal, J&R Carriage offers downtown

dinner tours for an additional $10. Tours are given Monday through

Friday and can begin either on Bor du Lac Drive or at any

business location in the downtown area.

“You can even create your own downtown fantasy tour,” Roy said. “If it’s in the downtown area we’ll do it if it’s legal.”

Justin Gill, co-owner of J&R

Carriage, said his company has offered rides to passengers from around

the country and as far

away as England. Many of his out-of-town passengers, he added, are

interested in learning about Lake Charles’ history during

their tour. Others, however, want a simple, quiet stroll through

the city.

“I find that at times when people get in the carriage, especially if there’s just two, they just want to be alone to cuddle,”

Gill said. “You can kind of feel people out to tell where you’re at. You talk to them for a little bit and if they want to

keep talking you can get a conversation going. If they don’t want to talk you just leave them alone.”

Roy said his company gives hundreds of rides to passengers each year. Recently, however, the economy and the downtown-area

construction forced him to cut back on his weekend tours. He added that he’s hoping to return to his weekend tour schedule

after Mardi Gras.

“Our business depends mostly on local people, but we’ve been pleased with the response over the years, “ Roy said. “I like

history and there’s so much of it in downtown Lake Charles.”