Mardi Gras Tips To Improve Your Experience
This was our first Mardi Gras celebration. While we had done a lot of research in advance, we learned a lot in the 8 days we were in New Orleans. There are a few Mardi Gras tips we wanted to share if you are planning your own trip during Mardi Gras. Some of these may apply to any visit to New Orleans, but many of these are specific to this special time of the year in New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA).
Our 10 Mardi Gras tips ….
1) Time of Year
We had always thought of New Orleans as being in the “south”. We wanted to pack shorts and sandals. But Mardi Gras is tied to Easter and Easter varies over quite a large calendar period. This year Fat Tuesday (the major Mardi Gras day) was very early in the year, occurring on February 9. Not the earliest it will ever be, but pretty early in the year.
While it had been quite nice before we arrived and then got warmer the day we left, for most of the 8 days we were in New Orleans it was cold (close to freezing temperatures and one day with wicked wind). Luckily we had checked the weather forecast in advance and came prepared to layer. You are outside a lot and for long periods of time for Mardi Gras, so make sure you plan well.
If you want warmer weather, an important Mardi Gras tips would be to plan to visit New Orleans for Mardi Gras when it falls in March!
2) Stay Inside the French Quarter
I debated putting this on the Mardi Gras tips. We specifically took a hotel just outside of the French Quarter. We are not late night partiers and many reviews talked about paper thin hotel rooms that would let every party holler into our room.
But being outside meant it was a longer trip to get to the activities in the French Quarter and thus a bit less spontaneous. Transit within the French Quarter was pretty limited for most of our visit during Mardi Gras. We missed several things we wanted to do because line ups were too long when we visited and once we got home to our hotel, we were not heading back into the French Quarter.
Be careful if you book a hotel out of the French Quarter during Mardi Gras. You may not get the full experience.
3) Plan for at least a week in NOLA
There is a lot to do in New Orleans and much more than just Mardi Gras. Plan to do your other stuff before or after the crazy 5 days of Mardi Gras (from the Friday through to the end of Fat Tuesday).
If you want to experience more than just Mardi Gras, consider coming in no earlier than the Friday when the party starts and extend your stay after Fat Tuesday. We found that by Thursday morning, the crazy crowds were gone and we could enjoy the French Quarter in a more leisurely way. We even finally got a seat at Cafe du Monde!
4) Plan to travel outside of NOLA
There is a lot to do in New Orleans. We managed to see some of New Orleans other than Mardi Gras but we had no opportunity to get outside of New Orleans to experience the rest of Louisiana. When we came back, we will plan enough time to do a little exploring in this great state.
5) Dress Up In Costume
Have some fun when thinking about this next one on the Mardi Gras tips list. When planning for New Orleans, one of the people on a Twitter chat told me “don’t forget your costume”. I certainly knew that costumes were a big part of Carnival in Venice but I hadn’t planned on costumes for New Orleans Mardi Gras. Since we didn’t have anything at home, we landed in New Orleans unprepared.
Make sure to think about your costume for Mardi Gras. The more colourful the better. If you think you are being flamboyant, someone else will be more out there. If you want to dress up just a little, the shops in the French Quarter offer a wide selection of Mardi Gras accessories to make you stand.
The more noticeable you are, the more you will get noticed from the floats and increase your chance of catching the “throws”.
6) Wear Comfortable Shoes
If you follow Point (2) above, this one of the Mardi Gras tips may not be as big an issue. But don’t underestimate how long you will be on your feet during Mardi Gras.
We walked – a lot – when we were in New Orleans. Part of this was because traffic was much more congested during Mardi Gras and transit options were limited. We also had a lot on our “to do” list. And we don’t do a good job of stopping to just lounge. On our “worst” day we did almost 19,000 steps. In the 8 days we were in New Orleans, we walked over 45 miles in total (75.5 km and 118,118 steps).
When we looked around, most of the people had sensible shoes that would stand up to many hours of walking, being on your feet through parades that lasted up to 4 hours each and navigating the sometimes uneven pavement – but every now and then we would shake our heads at the spiked heels that some woman would wander past in.
7) Attend The Mardi Gras Parades
While the city and the people are all dressed up for Mardi Gras and while Bourbon Street may get super crazy at Mardi Gras, no Mardi Gras experience is complete without attending at least one Mardi Gras parade. Over the period from January 6th through February 9, there were 73 parades. During the busy 5 days alone there were 28 different parades.
Parades can start in different parts of the city but most of them end down around Canal and St Charles. Make sure to get a good parade schedule that shows you the parades, routes and timing. Get one of the Mardi Gras apps that will give you real time updates on where the parades are at any given time.
8) Find A Place To Sit For The Parades
If you plan to see more than one parade, this one of the Mardi Gras tips may save you!
Most parades have a long run before they eventually hit the French Quarter. People line up hours before the parades hit a specific spot and in most cases there are several parades back to back. If you stay to see all the parades you can be there for hours. Unless you are good with standing for 4+ hours, think about a way to sit down.
A lot of people will find a spot on Canal or St Charles to camp and watch the parade. There are many stands set up where you can pay for a seat. The price of the seat varies by location and by parade. The main parade website provides some options for seating but hotels and restaurants also offer seating.
If you don’t pay for a seat in the stands, you should consider getting a folding chair. There are innovative chairs that sit on the top of ladders for children to sit in high above the crowds.
The other thing to consider is heading out to the location where the parade starts rather than waiting for it to end in downtown. You will get a much more local neighbourhood experience in many of the starting points for parades. There will be local business offering seating and some park locations for your chairs.
9) Pay Attention – Keep Your Eyes Up
Don’t ignore an important one of the Mardi Gras tips!
When the crowds get thick, you will need to keep your elbows sharp and protect your spot. The crowds are equally as crazy once the parade breaks and the crowds throng to leave that location. Be aware and keep your belongings close to you. As with all big events, this is pickpocket heaven.
When the floats roll past, everyone gets crazy to catch the “throws” that are tossed from the parade floats. While most of the throws are beads, some of the parades have larger throws that you need to watch for. Be alert when the throws are being tossed. We saw a guy get beaned when someone threw beads right at his head. I had several hit me in the face and they seemed to like to try to ring David’s camera with a string of beads. It is also not wise to bend down to pick up beads. If you really want a specific throw that is on the ground by you, put your foot on it and pick it up after the float passes.
If you walk Bourbon Street, watch for beads being thrown from the balconies. In the party spirit, crowds will stop under the balconies so you usually know when a balcony throw is coming. In the New Orleans tradition, the partiers on the balconies are often waiting for someone to “bare your boobs” before throwing beads, but eventually they just throw.
When you are walking, beware of beads on the ground. The broken strands of beads make the road slippery.
10) Donate Your Beads When Mardi Gras Is Over
You should consider taking a bag to the parades if you intend to fight for your share of loot coming off the floats. Beads are heavy in quantity and while it may be interesting to have the biggest bead wreath around you neck, if you want to keep the beads you will want to shed many pounds of beads and having an empty bag with you will help.
If you attend a few parades, you will collect a lot of stuff. Some of the stuff is big – parasols, laser light sabres, stuffed animals, t-shirts, footballs and so on. At some point you will need to decide how much of this stuff you really want to take home and what you are donating to the housekeeping staff.
You will probably not want to take all the beads you collect home with you. You will have way more beads than you could ever use. Most of the beads are pretty toxic and if you have kids or pets are home, you probably don’t want the beads hanging around. And of course, we did not have much checked baggage weight left for very many souvenirs!
We heard that parades are sometimes looking for bead donations so you could try that route if you leave before the major parades are done. You can always leave them in your hotel and hope that they will not just get thrown in the garbage. We were told there are several places that will take your beads. Someone said you can exchange them for donuts at some of the local donut shops. I also saw a sign pasted to a garbage can that showed some locations to drop off beads (including the public libraries).
It would be nice to think that not all of the beads get put into the garbage or water drains after the parades. This last of the Mardi Gras tips can help ensure that some environmental good might come out of all of those beads!
We hope these 10 Mardi Gras tips will help you to plan for your visit to New Orleans at this special time of year.
Do you have anything to add to our Mardi Gras tips? Anything you think we got wrong?