Alamy Stock Photo/ray Laskowitz

Mardi Gras One of the most famous street parties in the world, Mardi Gras in New Orleans has a long and colorful history. Europeans celebrated this pre-Lenten holiday in the Middle Ages, and French settlers brought the tradition of masked balls and dances to Nouvelle-Orléans. When Spain gained control of the city in 1762, it banned such revelry. The party resumed after Louisiana became an American territory.

Private social groups known as krewes plan and pay for Mardi Gras events. The Mistick Krewe of Comus launched the first organized parade in 1857. When Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff visited New Orleans in 1872, locals presented their own royalty—Rex, the King of Carnival—along with the official Mardi Gras colors of green, purple and gold. The first African-American krewe, Zulu, and the first women's krewe, Iris, were founded in the early 1900s. Today, krewes must sign an affidavit agreeing not to discriminate in terms of membership, but many are still “by invitation only.”

In the 2 weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday, krewes host private masked balls and some 60 parades with themed floats bearing costumed royalty. Maskers toss “throws” to the crowd—anything from beads and doubloons to stuffed animals. Of all the throws, the Zulu coconut is most prized. Mounted police and cleaning crews sweep through the streets at midnight, signaling the end of Mardi Gras. The next day, planning begins for another year.

Today, Mardi Gras is the most popular event drawing visitors to vacation in New Orleans. Cheap airfare and convenient international flights put this popular street party in reach for the whole world. Plan ahead if you want to join the fun. Group travel packages are common and most hotels are booked full during this time.

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New Orleans, LA

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Travel Information

City Population

343,829

Elevation

11 ft.

Sales Tax

Louisiana's statewide sales tax is 5 percent; an additional 5 percent is levied in the New Orleans metro area, and Orleans Parish has a .5 percent tax on food and beverages. The city has a 14 percent lodging tax, plus an occupancy tax of $1-$3 per night. The state's car rental tax is 3 percent.

Emergency

911

Police (non-emergency)

(504) 821-2222

Fire (non-emergency)

(504) 658-4700

Time and Temperature

(318) 324-8808

Hospitals

Ochsner Medical Center, (504) 842-3000; Touro Infirmary, (504) 897-7011; Tulane Medical Center, (504) 988-5263; University Medical Center New Orleans, (504) 702-3000.

Visitor Information

1221 Elmwood Park Blvd. Suite 411 New Orleans, LA 70123. Phone:(504)731-7083 or (877)572-7474

Air Travel

Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) is about 21 miles west of downtown New Orleans in Kenner and is served by nearly all major domestic and foreign carriers.

Rental Cars

New Orleans is served by several major car rental agencies. Arrangements should be made before you leave on your trip. Your local AAA club can provide this service or additional information. Hertz, (504) 568-1645 or (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.

Rail Service

Amtrak uses the Union Passenger Terminal at 1001 Loyola Ave. Daily service is offered. Phone (800) 872-7245 for further information.

Buses

The Greyhound Lines Inc. bus terminal is at 1001 Loyola Ave.; phone (504) 525-6075 or (800) 231-2222 for schedule and fares.

Taxis

Cabs are plentiful in the main business and tourist areas. Average fare is $3.50 initially and $2.40 for each additional mile and $1 for each additional person. The largest companies are Carriage/Yellow/Checker, (504) 207-7777; Metry, (504) 835-4242; and United, (504) 522-9771. Information about taxi service also can be obtained from the Taxicab & For Hire Bureau at (504) 658-7176.

Public Transportation

Transportation by bus, streetcar and ferry is available in New Orleans.

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