Mardi Gras is a big deal. Hundreds of thousands flock to New Orleans each year for the party, schools take an entire week off and for many, simply attending a parade is a bucket list item. And trust us, it’s such a spectacle, it deserves to be on your list. The heart and soul of NOLA are on display with colors, costumes, sights and sounds. There’s something for everyone, and there’s never a dull moment.
If you’re an out-of-towner, you may think it’s all parades and the French Quarter. There will be plenty of both for sure, but there’s so much more. And you’re in luck because today we’ll fill you in on how to do Mardi Gras like a local, and make it a time you’ll never forget!
1. PLAN AHEAD
With so many parades happening in so many different areas of town, it’s important to make a plan before heading out. You can find the full parade schedule here. There’s also a handy smartphone app that will allow you to track each parade, and you can download that here.
2. GET THERE EARLY
Once you have your plan in place, stake a spot and get there early! We suggest hitting the streets well before the first daytime parade starts (these are typically the more family-friendly events as well). Another veteran move is to plan a rendezvous spot. With such large crowds, it’s easy to get lost in the mix. Have a designated area where you and your own “krewe” can meet up safely.
3. BRING A BAG
No doubt you relate colorful beads to Mardi Gras. Don’t worry, there’s no need to bring your own; you’ll get way more than you can carry. So, bring a bag and take a plethora of souvenirs home!
4. LOSE THE KEYS
When hundreds of thousands pour into a city like New Orleans, the party is full and so are the streets. For that reason, it’s best to park your car when you get into town and leave it there until the festivities are over. Don’t worry, you won’t need it! Hop on the streetcar or the public bus and enjoy the views of the city. If you’re not into public transportation, there are taxis and Ubers. Since many streets, streetcar lines and bus routes will be blocked, however, we suggest bringing your walking shoes or renting a bike once you’re here. This is the most efficient way to hop around all the parades and amazing neighborhoods you want to see. You can rent bikes here. (Pro tip: you’ll need a heavy duty lock! Or, if you rent a Blue Bike, you’ll get one with your bike.)
5. SPREAD THE LOVE
While there is plenty to do in the French Quarter, and a trip to NOLA isn’t complete without a trip there, there is so much more to see and do! Many parades run through various neighborhoods like Mid-City, Uptown, and you need to check out the insane costumes and flair that exists in the Marigny & Bywater areas. Don’t hole up in one area of town; you’ll sell your experience short.
6. DON’T HOLD BACK
There’s no such thing as being “too cool” at Mardi Gras, so check your inhibitions and insecurities at the door. Carnival season is a time to be yourself and have some fun. So wear a wig, put on a costume and clamor for beads!
7. EAT RIGHT
Let’s be honest, whether it’s Mardi Gras or a random Tuesday in August, the food in New Orleans is some of the world’s best. Although there are huge crowds, you can still sneak into many of the city’s amazing restaurants. Do it right and eat as much gumbo and king cake as you can stomach!
8. CATCH SOME MUSIC
What New Orleans list would be complete without some music on it? Truthfully, you can duck into just about any dive bar or stop on just about any street corner and hear some amazing tunes. Mardi Gras features even more great music than usual, and you can check out a schedule of music here.
Having read this list, you can see that Mardi Gras is full of people, food, music and fun. To fully experience it, you have to bring your good attitude and plan on being flexible. There will be big crowds and it may be slow getting around town, but as long as you keep the good vibes flowing, you’ll have one of the best times of your life.
Laissez les bons temps rouler! Contact your LOCAL expert today to see how we can help you create the life you love.