Top Tips for Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Attending a genuine New Orleans Mardi Gras should be on every traveler’s to-do list. Though the festival is commonly known for its booze, boobs, and beads, in reality it is so much more than the debauchery that commonly makes it on TV.
The real Mardi Gras is a month-long citywide celebration of community, family, and fun. The real magic of Mardi Gras lies in its ability to cross racial and socioeconomic divides as everyone in the city - young and old, black and white, wealthy and poor - comes out to celebrate together.
If you’re keen to visit the Big Easy and take part in the festivities, there is definitely a right way and a wrong way to go about it.
If you’re gunning for the cover of the latest “Girls Gone Wild” video, then find yourself a hotel in the French Quarter and hang out on Bourbon Street. If you’d like to experience an incredibly fun, but slightly less cliché version of Mardi Gras, our featured travel writer Amelia Conrad has got a few suggestions how to do Mardi Gras right...
1. Be Prepared
As any good traveler should know, making a plan and being prepared for adventure are key. Put together a plan, book accommodation in advance and consider booking a Mardi Gras tour and make an itinerary. Sure, your plan may change a bit as you detour for drinks or make new friends, but you should have a plan of attack to start the day. Parade routes and (tentative) times are posted online every year.
Being prepared means both having survival supplies on you and dressing in something so sparkly or silly that you’re sure to get noticed. A few supplies all good Mardi Gras visitors should carry with them are: toilet paper, a bag to haul back parade swag, a good supply of cash, the numbers of a couple of cab companies, hand sanitizer, snacks, a jacket, and, of course, booze.
2. Start Early
Let’s pretend you’re in town for the Saturday before Mardi Gras. Saturday is famous for the giant Endymion parade in the evening, but not everyone knows that the real fun begins much earlier in the day. Daytime parades begin early—usually around 10 or 11 a.m. Your best bet is to start your adventure somewhere near Napoleon Street and St. Charles Avenue, where most of the uptown parades kick off. Find a semi-clear spot and settle in for the first parade. Day-drinking is perfectly acceptable and probably encouraged.
3. Start Walking After the First Parade Finishes
After the first parade, or during a lull (which often happens when a float breaks down) start walking down St. Charles toward the Quarter. Stop along the way to watch the parade, grab margaritas at Superior Grill, enjoy a second line parade, or make friends.
4. Lee Circle
If you keep heading downtown, you’ll pass through Lee Circle. This is a good place if you need a quick bathroom break and will also be your evening parade watching spot!
5. Experience Bourbon Street and the French Quarter
If you’re only in New Orleans for a few days, you should at least see Bourbon Street and the French Quarter once. Just keep walking towards downtown with the masses of people who are likely to be there and cross Canal Street. Bourbon Street is quite a scene during Mardi Gras so try not to lose your buddies and keep a hand on your purse or your wallet in your front pocket.
Grab a drink—preferably something that will look completely ridiculous in pictures but no one will glance at twice in New Orleans, such as a Fishbowl or a Hand Grenade—and then get out of the madness as soon as possible. While you’re downtown, and assuming you have some time to kill, hop over to Café Du Monde for some beignets, orange juice, and a bathroom.
Once evening approaches, start making your way back towards Lee Circle to get ready for the main event: the Super Krewe called Endymion.
6. Go for the Endymion Route
Endymion has a long route and you can watch anywhere along it. If you’ve been hanging out downtown, though, watching it somewhere near Lee Circle is probably easiest, especially up Howard Avenue from the Circle. People get a little feisty when they’re trying to find a spot so just be patient and polite. Eventually you’re sure to find a bit of room around some semi-sane folks who are there just to have a good time. Then sit back and enjoy the show!
7. Best Place to Grab a Cab
Once the parade wraps up, everyone in the entire city is going to be trying to get home so recognize that it’s unlikely you’ll get a cab right away. Start walking back uptown along St. Charles. Stop along the way for some food - my pick is VooDoo Barbeque - and maybe another drink (or two). Call the cab companies or flag one down along the way, get back to your hotel or your friend’s house and rest up—you’ve got a big day again tomorrow!
By Alecia Weaver