I love Mardi Gras. My parents are New Orleans natives (much of my family lives in NOLA) and Mardi Gras has always been a part of my life.
Mardi Gras isn't just a New Orleans thing. There are parades all over Louisiana (Baton Rouge, Lafayette, etc.) and in Alabama and Mississippi. In fact Mardi Gras itself originated in France (hence the french term "Fat Tuesday) but they celebrate it in Brazil, Italy, and other places. But you can read all that on Wiki. Something that's rarely known is that in Mamou (South Louisiana) they dress up and chase a chicken for Mardi Gras. ...it's the south people, we're bored and we drink a lot.
The season starts like a month before Mardi Gras day. It's a whole. fucking. season. Each weekend leading up to Mardi Gras has parades and one could spend an entire month in a drunken haze if one were so inclined. It all ends on Fat Tuesday but parades go each weekend before then.
The best parades aren't on Mardi Gras day. The last time I actually went to "Mardi Gras" on the actual Tuesday was years ago. Most of the time I go the weekend before which includes:
- Krewe of Bacchus - huge parade, tons of throws, big floats
- Krewe of Muses - all female, at night and very sassy and fun
- Krewe d'Etat - Plenty of light up beads and beautiful lit up floats
- Krewe of Endymion - usually has a celebrity as the King and pretty floats.
By the time Lundi Gras (Monday before) and Mardi Gras rolls around I'm exhausted and ready to go home.
Bourbon St. is overrated. There aren't any parades on this street and around Mardi Gras time it becomes a huge tourist fest. It's like Time Square on NYE except everyone is drunk and an asshole. It's a tourist hole with overpriced food and drinks and BO. This isn't where the locals go during Mardi Gras. It's not fun, it's annoying.
Drinking in public is legal in Louisiana, which throws people off. It also means some tourists come here treating the Big Easy like it's a fucking toilet. Yes, you can drink in public. Yes, you can hoot and holler and have a good time at a parade. But don't be a dick. Especially when you're in an area that's family friendly. Enjoy yourself, but be an adult and don't treat the city like a cheap whore. It's more like a high priced french call-girl.
Locals can either be your best friends or your worst enemies. Southern hospitality is a thing. And yes New Orleans has it. But the key here is if you're offish or an asshole to a New Orleanian then heaven help you. It's best to meet the people next to you, say hello, get to know them and be friendly. And don't argue over beads with anyone, that's dumb.
Going to a parade is all about sitting around, eating, and drinking. A lot of Mardi Gras is waiting for parades to arrive and waiting for roads to clear. If you have a friend who has a house or apartment "on the parade route" this is gold. Cause then you have a clean bathroom and place to get out of rain or cold or heat, depending on weather. It's basically tailgating.. but with king cake.
King cakes are amazing. They are gifts from angels. This is the best part of Mardi Gras. Not all are created equal though but they are still better than not king cake. If you don't know what a King Cake is it's like a huge oval cinnamon roll that has Mardi Gras colored (green, purple, and gold) sprinkles on it. Most of the time it's just cinnamon on the inside but then sometimes they fill it with strawberry, pralines, bavarian cream, unicorn laughter, the sky's the limit!
Marching bands are awesome. There's nothing like the sound of a marching cadence. It gives me goosebumps. When the band gets going, and the dancers are en fuego, and the crowd is dancing and clapping - it's like a big block party and everyone is just having a good time.
Catching cheap ass junk from China is fun. This ain't yo mama's parade. I love watching n00bs experience Mardi Gras for the first time. Most of the country is used to parades being a "watching" type of thing but Mardi Gras is participatory. Beads are everywhere. A huge collection goes around your neck weighting you down and giving you neck cramps. Beads hit you in the face. They get stuck in trees. They are all over the ground. You catch stuffed animals, fake roses, glow in the dark stuff, flashy lights, panties, etc. If China makes it, chances are it's been thrown off a Mardi Gras float. You holler and jump and shout and act a fool just because. One of my favorite quotes that I've heard about Mardi Gras is:
"While it's in my hand it's worth almost nothing, when it's in your hand it's worthless, but when it's in the air - it's priceless."Then a huge hoard gets dumped out in the middle of the floor into a big pile like Halloween candy and you sit back and admire it "LOOK WHAT I HAVE CREATED!"
That's. Mardi Gras.
It's an experience. It's an event. It's a tradition.
If you've never been, go. NOLA will be happy to have you.