Last weekend, we had the pleasure of experiencing our first Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. To say it was fun, is a bit of an understatement. We loved every minute of it! As a rookie, I wanted to share some of the things we learned in hopes of helping others plan their first Mardi Gras trip too!
It is more than one weekend
Mardi Gras is so much more than just the weekend before Fat Tuesday! This year, the parades started as early as January 6th! We took advantage of festivities over Valentine’s weekend, which was two weekends before Fat Tuesday (Feb 25th) and would highly recommend it to others as well! We managed to see SEVEN parades in a 2.5 day period of time. It was easy to find a spot for parade watching (less crowds). Plus, our airbnb was over half the price as it was the following weekend right before Fat Tuesday! Talk about bang for your buck!
You may be judging me a bit for taking our kid to Mardi Gras. But don’t worry, we did not see any nudity. What I learned is that most of the parades that make their way towards the French Quarter actually start in Uptown. This area of New Orleans is home to Audubon Park, the zoo, Tulane University, and lots of streets full of families. As a result, the start of the parade is lined with kiddos and the float riders are prepared for them with lots of stuffed animals and footballs.
The majority of the parking in Uptown takes place on the neighborhood streets. This is great because it is free but it is also tricky with all of the wonky/non exisitent sidewalks and random sewer drains. The main thing to note is you can’t park within 20 feet of an intersection or you will get a $40 ticket. Not that I would know or anything…. But, it is pretty frustrating because the no parking area is not marked (like a red or yellow curb) so you have to know this yourself.
What to bring
Plan to arrive early with tailgating chairs, coolers, food, and extra bags for our throws. Don’t forget koozies, a trash bag, bottle opener, napkins, cash for bathrooms, and hand sanitizer.
People in New Orleans throw this word around a lot and I had never heard it before. The neutral side of a parade route is the street median. The other side is the sidewalk side. This is true on the major streets that the parade rolls down… like Napoleon and St. Charles, which have a median dividing the traffic direction lanes from one another. However, smaller streets may have two way traffic with no median. Many people prefer to be on the neutral side of the parade route (if available) so people are not constantly pushing through or around you to get to friends/other parts of the route like they do on the sidewalk.
Do a little research on the krewes in each parade. They are all different- some are all men or women, co-Ed, with varying histories and things they support. You can also learn about their signature parade throws in hopes of getting one. Some of these include bejeweled shrimping boots, decorated stem glasses, or fancy beads.
Parade Float Throws
The amount of crap thrown off the floats is nothing short of impressive. At first, it’s fun to see the variety of the items thrown and toss the beads around your neck. But at some point, the amount of stuff becomes overwhelming and your neck starts to hurt. So, bring bags… like good, solid reusable bags to pack up all your new goodies.
I had never heard of these prior to my first Mardi Gras but I quickly learned that they have a cult following. Basically, they are coin like medallions that are customized for each parade and sometimes vary by float too. They started appearing in the 1960s in various shapes and sizes and quickly became a coveted throw. A group next to us during one parade had a sign asking for Doubloons and would run next to the floats until they received one. Honestly, it was a bit intense, but I guess everyone has their thing.
Pay to Use Bathrooms
Many churches and recreation centers will let you use their bathroom… for a fee. Or, you can always use the porta potties for free. Because I am so bougie, I eagerly paid $2 (per use) to use the rec center bathroom. It was clean, had soap, running water, a mirror (because I love a bathroom selfie), and hand sanitizer. The best way to spend $2 during a free parade!
Ladders for Kids
I had heard about this prior to our arrival in New Orleans but to see it for yourself is a bit crazy. Parents build these elaborate seats (with wheels) to attach to the top of ladders for kids to be able to see the parade from up high. When kids are in the seat, someone has to stand on the back of the ladder to make sure it doesn’t flip. It seems pretty dangerous to me but who am I to judge?
After a bit of a wild goose chase, I quickly learned that not all king cakes are created equal. My friend who lives in New Orleans, swears by the king cake from Dong Phuong Vietnamese Bakery. Unfortunately, since they are in East Orleans (which might as well be in a different state for those that live in town) driving to pick one up is out of the question. So, in town folks cross their fingers for picking up the coveted cake from a satellite location. Unfortunately, we were too late to get one of the prized cakes. Instead, we got one from Tartine and we were not disappointed. SO SO moist. The key, I have learned, is to get a cake with cream cheese.
New Orleans has an impressive clean up crew after each parade. If you hang around long enough, the massive street cleaner shoots soapy water all over the street then a crew of people come along sweeping the trash into the middle of the street where a bulldozer scoops it up. I’d recommend crossing the street towards your car before this starts happening to prevent yourself from falling down in the soapy mess.
We had SO much fun! If you haven’t been, definitely put Mardi Gras on your bucket list! I hope to go again!