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Oh, Mardi Gras! Such an amazing festival and the best and worst idea you could have when it comes to traveling for a special event.
Why best and worst? Because clearly is something you need to experience, the parades, beads, food, drinks, it’s amazing!. Worst because is crowded, dirty/smelly, and overpriced (hotels at least).
But like I said, you need to experience this, at least once. And this little guide will give you all the pointers you need to know about activities, drinks, and food.
This guide is great for:
– Small groups – Bachelor(ette)’s
First of all, doing this trip with friends is the best option. I wouldn’t recommend for solo travelers to do it, just by the nature of the event, you may have fun but is safer if you go with a companion. However, big groups may not be a good idea. Keeping up with 3 – 5 people is a lot better than 10.
A misconception about Mardi Gras is that is only celebrated on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Nope, this celebration goes on from 3 weeks to almost two months! The best weekend is, of course, the weekend before Fat Tuesday!
Let’s do a bit of history lesson here:
Mardi Gras originates from Europe, has been celebrated in NOLA for almost 300 years. It started with balls, then parades and masks were added. The name Mardi Gras comes from French-Canadian explorer Jean Baptiste that named New Orleans “Pointe du Mardi Gras”. Celebrated as Fat Tuesday, resembling the day before Lent starts, celebrating excess and indulgence before Ash Wednesday so that you can have the last feast before fasting for Lent. The first King of Carnival, Rex, introduced the traditional colors: purple for justice, green for faith, gold for power.
A Krewe is a secret society and the group of organized people that put together the parade for the carnival, aka the floats and the Mardi Gras Ball. There are multiple Krewes in New Orleans, and each krewe represents different parts of history or represents different groups of people. An example is a Krewe of women only; another one is of students only, there is only one open to all sexes, races, and ages.
Beads and Throws
Throws are the items that krewe members on floats throw to parade-goers. They often include beads, cups, plush toys. All Krewes also throw “doubloons”. These medallions are made from aluminum and colored later. These have become collector’s items, so much that if someone notices you catch one, they will do almost anything to claim it.
The floats are made at Kern Studios, which is a museum if you want to visit during the off-season. See how they make them, repurpose them, and older floats.
Each krewe has and commissions a float, some of them are very elaborate and beautiful, some are funny and satirical.
The activities during Mardi Gras season are quite different than if you go off-season. Multiple places close and some tours are not worth doing during Mardi Gras. I’d suggest doing another trip to New Orleans to get to see the city.
The obvious, go partying
Bourbon St. is by far the most famous partying street in NOLA. Full of bars, clubs, strip clubs, food, and jazz too. Not quite kid friendly. Another street to party at is Frenchmen St, slightly less crowded and really good bars.
Street-car onto St. Charles Avenue
For me it was a must, specially being the easiest and fastest commute to the hostel. But along this street is a great way to see the parade, as it goes through this street. Plus I fell in love with a little coffee shop that I have visited (not kidding) about ten times in 3 separate trips Avenue Cafe.
Nice place to hangout, see artists, gypsies, palm readers, magicians, and other street performers.
Because a little gambling never killed anyone.
→ New Orleans style iced coffee from Avenue Cafe.
→ Au Lait Coffee from Cafe du Monde
→ Hurricanes from Pat O’Briens
The most famous drink from this people’s favorite bar, a must for a really good hurricane.
→ The Hand Grenade from Tropical Isle
You can find it only at Tropical Isle, which has 3 locations. Is a special and patented recipe, haven’t seen it anywhere else!
→ Daiquiris from Jester
Those frosty machines with crazy daiquiri flavors, some really strong on alcohol content, and refills are slightly cheaper so you can keep going, they have 3 locations along bourbon st.
→ Hurricane from LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop
This is not just a delicious and slightly different hurricane, but also the story behind this bar is amazing. Starting by being the oldest bar in new Orleans, being haunted and the history behind the original shop targeted to pirates that arrived in New Orleans. Just fascinating! Is also at the very end of the bar strip on Bourbon St, so slightly less crowded and there is even dancing happening in the street.
→ Spirits BLUE drink
OMG, this is probably my favorite drink in New Orleans. It’s only sold in one location, is sweet but it has jalapenos! I hate overselling, but I think you should give this one a try.
→ Bloody Mary
Almost anywhere in NOLA, you’ll get an amazing and spicy bloody mary.
→ Creole Food! Anything Cajun, including gator sausage, Crawfish boil, Jambalaya, Po-Boys.
→ Fried chicken, I don’t need to say anything else.
→ French Food
I loved a little Cafe on St Charles Ave. Avenue Cafe, some really yummy quiche and salad!
→ Kings Cake
There are multiple places! For original old-fashioned king cake look for Tartine, Manny Randazzo, Cochon Butcher, La Boulangerie.
→ Beignets and Coffee
Only at Cafe Du Monde, the best part of this place is open late, 24 hours to be exact. I eat my first (from about 5) beignets at almost 4 am and regardless of your alcohol intake, is delicious.
Go into stores for samples, and pick your favorite to take home!
Do’s and Don’ts:
DO Wear super comfortable clothes and SHOES!
DO Be aware of your surroundings
DO Establish meeting points with your friends in case you separate
DO Have extra battery for your phone or a pocket charger
DO If you all have phones, share your real location time (indefinitely) with your friends
DO prepare for the weather
DO bring quarters to ride street-cars ($1.25)
DON’T overindulge on your first night; you’ll have plenty time to do much damage. Is a marathon not a sprint
DON’t rent a car or try to drive, use public transportation or walk
DON’T spend money on beads; you’ll get a lot thrown at you
DON’T use public transportation with an alcoholic drink in your hand
DON’T spend all your time in Bourbon St.
DON’T bring glass on the street (use plastic yards and such)
Happy Mardi Gras!