Mardi Gras in New Orleans
By Alan Rider | June 01, 2023
Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a bucket-list experience you shouldn't miss. Here are a few tips and tricks for what to expect at Mardi Gras.
The first thing to understand is that Mardi Gras is all about sensory overload, a veritable 360-degree swirl of electric color and cacophonous sound. If that sounds just a little over the top, you’re beginning to get the idea.
Mardi Gras is more than just one parade. To develop a plan on where to go when, order a copy of Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide (504-913-1563), which features profiles and route maps for dozens of parades.
age fotostock/Paul Seheult
Timing Is Everything
Make the most of your visit by arriving the Thursday before Mardi Gras, a.k.a. Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, to give yourself a chance to get your bearings, attend a few warm-up parades before the big day, and—of course—enjoy New Orleans’ plethora of pleasures.
Krewes are the organizations that put on the parades, paying for everything out of their own pockets. While not every krewe is open to outsiders, a number—including the huge star-studded “super krewes” of Endymion, Bacchus and Orpheus—will gladly take you along for a wild ride on one of their floats with a one-time membership.
Getting in There
Mardi Gras parades are a participation sport, even for spectators. In fact, the whole point is to stand on the curb waving your arms and screaming, “Throw me something, Mister!” (And don’t go thinking you’re above doing it because, as you’ll discover, you’re not.) The goal is to gather as much krewe-themed swag—beads, doubloons, cups and other trinkets—as possible from the riders on the floats.
Safety tip: No matter how desirable the trinket you just scored from the person on the float, avoid the urge to immediately bend down to retrieve it. Simply do as the locals do: cover it with your foot, and pick it up after the frenzy has died down. Your untrodden fingers will thank you.
A Family Affair
Contrary to popular myth, Mardi Gras is truly a family holiday. To see what we mean, just stake out a spot along the most family-friendly stretch of the main St. Charles parade route between Napoleon and Lee Circle (and avoid the jammed adults-only streets of the French Quarter).
BACK TO TOP
Between ParadesPlease, do not go to New Orleans just for the parades. Visit the Mardi Gras World studios to see how the floats are made, or take a cruise down the Mississippi River aboard the steam-powered Natchez riverboat. And by all means, eat yourself silly, starting with beignets at Café du Monde (take them up to the riverside MoonWalk to enjoy the view). Also, pack a muffaletta sandwich from Central Grocery for lunch, and order up anything from the Gumbo Shop for dinner (try the crawfish étouffée). And for a special treat, partake of the groan-inducing Jazz Brunch buffet at The Court of Two Sisters.
You’ll need an empty backpack for the beads and other loot you’ll be schlepping home. You’ll also want extra clothes as temperatures can fluctuate wildly, often in the same day. The average high is 65ºF and the average low is 46ºF, but no one expects New Orleans to be average, right? Comfy footwear is a must, preferably something you won’t mind getting a little trashed. Bury your cash and cell phone in the depths of your front pocket—just in case there are any pickpockets in the crowd. Throw in the usual amenities—sunscreen, hand sanitizer and the like—and you’re all set.
The Right Words
Ultimately, though, explaining Mardi Gras really comes down to just five words: Laissez les bon temps rouler (Let the good times roll)!
A version of this article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 AAA Traveler Worldwide.