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Mardi Gras in New Orleans

THE FIRST THING TO UNDERSTAND IS THAT MARDI GRAS IS ALL ABOUT SENSORY OVERLOAD

There are some things in life—Mardi Gras in New Orleans, for example—that mere words cannot adequately explain, especially when it comes to why the Crescent City’s vibrant pre-Lenten celebration is one of those singular experiences everyone ought to have. And yet, so profound is our belief in this notion that we feel we must at least attempt to support our assertion or, at a minimum, give you the tools you’ll need to discover for yourself why Mardi Gras in New Orleans should be on everyone’s bucket list.

New Orleans Mardi Gras

THE EXPERIENCE
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.

Make the most of your visit by arriving the Thursday before Mardi Gras, a.k.a. Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, which is February 20 this year to give yourself a chance to get your bearings

SEEKING GUIDANCE
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 (mardigrasguide.com; 504-913-1563), which features profiles and route maps for more than four-dozen parades.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Make the most of your visit by arriving the Thursday before Mardi Gras, a.k.a. Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday, which is February 20 this year 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.


New Orleans Mardi Gras

GOT KREWE?
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 man or woman 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.

New Orleans Mardi Gras

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).


You’ll need an empty backpack for the beads and other loot you’ll be schlepping home.

BETWEEN PARADES
Please, 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.


New Orleans Mardi Gras

BRING WITH
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)!


This article originally appeared in the Winter 2018 AAA Traveler Worldwide