City Guide: New Orleans, Mardi Gras Edition
Better than Christmas+Thanksgiving+Halloween+every other holiday
What – Mardi Gras is essentially the best day of the year. People start counting down to the next Mardi Gras the Wednesday after Fat Tuesday. Known outside New Orleans as a weekend of drunken debauchery, flashing boobs, and beads, it is important to know the truth. Only tourists flash their chests for beads, stay away from Bourbon St., and pace yourself. Mardi Gras season is a marathon, not a sprint.
When – Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) is the last day before Lent starts (Ash Wednesday) in the Catholic church, so the exact date is different every year. While Tuesday is the biggest day of the celebration, there are parades and parties for weeks before (called Carnival season). All day celebrations really start Thursday and Friday of the week before Mardi Gras day.
Where – New Orleans gets a lot of attention, but other cities all over the country and the world have their own celebrations. In New Orleans, Bourbon St. is always packed with people, but the parade routes run elsewhere. Uptown, Midcity, the French Quarter, the Westbank, and New Orleans’ surrounding suburbs all have routes that run through them, so check out the schedule and decide who you want to see.
Where to Stay – This can be a difficult one. Flight prices and hotel rates skyrocket during Mardi Gras season, so book early and book smart. Roads and businesses close at odd times in the week surrounding Mardi Gras day, so getting to and from the airport can be tricky. Staying with a friend who lives in New Orleans is no doubt the cheapest and most fun way to go (they know what they’re doing!), but not available for all.
What to Eat – Like previously stated, the city essentially shuts down from the Thursday before Mardi Gras to Ash Wednesday. However, most fast food places stay open, and let you use their bathrooms if you buy food (which in your Mardi Gras state, you will).
What to Wear – Dress up! Wear a costume! Or don’t! Everyone uses Mardi Gras as a chance to wear their craziest clothes, so stick to purple, green and gold and go nuts! Just make sure to wear some shoes you don’t care about ruining and bring a fanny pack!
Who to See – The groups who put on the parades and ride in them, known as Krewes (crews), are all unique. Most are either all men or all women, though some are not. They vary in size (a superkrewe is 2,500+ members), and have their own “thing”. Be forewarned, Krewe members are always in costume and wearing masks. An old rule, it just adds to the fun!
More: City Guide: New Orleans
Do not miss:
Krewe of Muses- An all women krewe, they ride uptown and are known for their talents with glitter. Their signature “throw” (beads and all the goodies Krewe members throw at you) is ornate, decorated shoes. Watch for flying elbows, aggressive children, and grumpy older people- everyone wants a shoe. They are the first big krewe of Mardi Gras weekend, and BONUS: Solange Knowles was the Honorary Muse and rode on the first float during Mardi Gras 2016.
Krewe of Endymion- A Super-Krewe, known for incredible, outlandish floats and seeming to never end, find a good spot in advance and Do. Not. Move. Their parade ends at the Superdome for their annual Endymion Extravaganza. They always have celebrity grand marshals (2016, it was Steven Tyler) and are worth staking out a spot well in advance.
Zulu- Formally called the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, they are the largest predominately African American parading group and they roll (aka go, start) on Mardi Gras day. Their signature throw is decorated coconuts (called the Golden Nugget). Fun fact: Louisiana State Bill #SB188 is the “Coconut Bill” which frees the krewe from liability due to coconut related injuries.
Mardi Gras Indians– A little off the beaten path for a New Orleans visitor, but so worth it. With deep historical ties, their parades are unlike the bead-throwing ones of the Uptown parade route. Difficult to describe, it’s best to see it for yourself.