Just when you think the holiday haze is over and normal life has resumed – think again. January 6 marks Twelfth Night, which in New Orleans means the beginning of Carnival season. Though the holidays are very special in New Orleans, the most wonderful time of the year is really Mardi Gras. If you’re a Mardi Gras newbie, or just need a refresher, refer to our guide for all the essential Mardi Gras intel.
If you’re not familiar with the great New Orleans tradition of Mardi Gras, all you’ve probably heard about is beads and Bourbon Street, but there is so much more. Mardi Gras isn’t just fat Tuesday – it’s nearly a month filled with celebrations, many of which are family oriented and many of which are lesser known. Some of the smaller, locally attended parades are Krewe du Vieux, Society of Saint Anne, Barkus and Chewbacchus – each of which are very unique in their own way – as well as the Uptown parades that roll earlier in the day like Tucks and Iris. Another way to get the authentic local experience is to venture further beyond Canal Street and find your very own spot to enjoy the parades away from the big crowds.
The parades that have really put New Orleans on the map are the extravagant Super Krewes. These krewes including Endymion, Bacchus, Orpheus and Zulu have the largest, most elaborate floats and the most members of any other krewes. These parades draw very large crowds, so get ready to witness the spectacle and compete with others for their coveted throws.
There’s cake, and then there’s king cake. The most delicious of Mardi Gras traditions, friends, family and coworkers take turns buying the indulgent pastry and whoever gets the slice with the little plastic baby inside brings the next one. King Cake represents the three kings who visited the Christ child, and it is a ring-shaped cake with dense dough similar to a cinnamon roll, coated with purple, green and yellow sugar. These days, king cakes come in many creative varieties. For more traditional king cake, head to Haydel’s or Randazzo’s. For some seriously new-school styles, check out the king cakes at Cochon Butcher, Domenica, Gracious Bakery and Sucre.
Finding a hotel room for Mardi Gras, even a month in advance, can be a challenge. Luckily, Destination Management, Inc. still has some available at the lovely Astor Crowne Plaza, ideally located in the French Quarter on Canal Street. Book your affordably priced four-day package, which includes a Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters, by calling 800-488-4364.
If you’ve never been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, there are a few things to go over. First of all, you’ve probably never heard of some of this terminology that’s been thrown around. The phrases you should remember are “krewe” which means the club each parade belongs to, “neutral ground side” and “side walk side” indicating which side of the street you watch the parade from, and “throw” which means beads or any other special trinket thrown by the krewe member during a parade. The best way to catch a throw? Make eye contact and shout “throw me something!” The most sought after throws include the Krewe of Muses shoe and ZULU coconut.
Other than the semantics, remember that Mardi Gras is a marathon not a sprint, anything can happen, festive attire and costumes are encouraged, bring a survival kit with plenty of hand sanitizer and toilet paper, and above all – HAVE FUN!
Need a ride from the airport to your hotel? Make your reservation with Airport Shuttle. Looking for some additional entertainment while in town? Take a riverboat cruise on the Paddlewheeler Creole Queen or visit the alligators on a Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour!