April 04, 2011 12:00 PM

Usually, catching sight of an alligator or two is a highlight for visitors at the Honey Island Swamp near New Orleans. But on March 19 there was an even bigger grab-your-camera-now! moment: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie and their six children happily cruising along the bayou in a flat-bottomed aluminum swamp boat. While shocked tourists did double takes, the Jolie-Pitt kids “got a kick out of the alligators,” says Mike Fridge, general manager of Cajun Encounters swamp tours. Their favorite part of the trip? When the boat captain put the pedal to the metal. Says Fridge: “They’re kids; they love going fast.” As for their parents, “Brad and Angelina really enjoyed themselves,” says Fridge. “They didn’t want any special treatment. They just wanted an adventure with the family.”

Adventure-family-style-is all part of growing up the Jolie-Pitt way: From zip-lining in Hungary to hot-air ballooning in France to exploring the Louisiana backwoods, the boisterous globe-trotting clan embrace new thrills the way other families embrace soccer season. Lately Pitt, 47, has been in New Orleans shooting the crime drama Cogan’s Trade while Jolie, 35, held down the fort at their Los Angeles home. With the couple making it a point to never be apart for more than a few days at a time, Jolie flew in on March 18 for some togetherness with all six kids: Maddox, 9; Pax, 7; Zahara, 6; Shiloh, 4; and 2-year-old twins Knox and Vivienne. Strolling around their French Quarter neighborhood on March 20, “Brad and Angie seemed very happy to be spending time with their whole family,” says an observer.

Of course, it’s not all fun and games-especially now that the school-age children are more beholden to their schedule at L.A.’s elite French-language Lycee Francais. Although Pitt and Jolie have the kind of help most stressed-out parents can only dream of, several sources say the pair handle most of the day-to-day child-rearing duties themselves. At their L.A. home, “the family live in a way that can best be described as organized chaos,” says an insider. “Of course it’s wild when all the kids are there, and evening tends to be a bit chaotic with dinner and bedtime.” As with any family that has young children, “some nights the kids are calmer, but some nights there are meltdowns all around,” notes the source. “Brad and Angie are both good with rules, and there are definitely consequences, like time-outs, for bad behavior. But for the most part the kids all get along.”

As for rumors that the twins have developmental delays, a source says the opposite is true. “Viv and Knox are very developmentally advanced,” says the source, adding, “If one of their kids had a problem, Brad and Angie would be the first to openly address any challenges to help other parents out.”

And as their kids get older, friends say, the pair have hit their stride as parents. “It’s so amazing to see [Brad] surrounded by all these children calling ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ ” says a pal. “He’s completely at home.” Jolie, meanwhile, “seems like the coolest mom,” says another source. Working on editing her directorial debut, an untitled love story set during Bosnia’s civil war, along with postproduction for Kung Fu Panda 2, “Angie brings Viv and Knox to work most days so they can play with other kids at the [studio] child care center,” says another source. And with such a big, busy brood, teamwork is key. Says the family friend: “It’s interesting-like she’s the star quarterback and he’s the NFL coach. They’re dedicated to making it work.”

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