Retro crooner Andy Williams is wrong. The “most wonderful time in the year” is not Christmas – it’s Carnival Season right here in New Orleans. And while you’ll have fun no matter what, to be sure there are a few insider tips that help make Mardi Gras even more wonderful. Perhaps you’ll already know some (wear comfortable shoes. It bears repeating.), but others might be news to you. Without further ado, our top 20 tips for a magical Mardi Gras:
Mardi Gras Insider Tips
Make room for the bands (and marching groups)
Bands and marching groups sometimes require more space, so be a grown up and listen to the chaperones when they ask you to back up. Otherwise, you risk getting clocked by a slide trombone.
Bring a pillowcase for your loot
You can only wear so many beads before you start asphyxiating yourself. And, since your pant’s pockets aren’t big enough for coveted throws like Zulu coconuts, Muses shoes, and Nyx purses (go here to learn about more great throws), we recommend you carry a pillowcase, trash bag, or another large bag or backpack. You’re also going to need some place to stash bottled water. And throw in a rain poncho for everyone – just in case.
Mind the kids
If it’s a family affair, show “mis-tah” on a float something cute and adorable (i.e. your little one), and you’ll get the best throws. And while we’re on the subject of kids, remember that snatching beads out of the hands of children just doesn’t jibe with the true spirit of Carnival.
Have a plan for when nature calls
You can stand in line for a Port-a-Potty, buy a parade package that grants bathroom access, or find a restaurant, bar, or other business on the parade route that’s selling pay-per-pee passes. The Avenue Pub on St. Charles Avenue is offering “Krewe de Toilette” wristbands good all season long as well as individual tokens (last year, their bill for toilet repair was $3,000, so they had to start charging non-customers). Whatever you do, do not urinate in public. They say that more than 90 percent of arrests made on Mardi Gras day are for public urination. Don’t even think about it.
Carry a go cup…
Here, in the birthplace of the go cup, “drinking and walking” is allowed on the parade route as long as you’re talking cans, plastic, paper or styrofoam (glass is a no can do).
Not all street vendors, bars, and restaurants take plastic or Apple Pay. If you really want that corn dog or funnel cake, put some of our finest presidents in your pocket.
Call yourself an Uber
Trying to find a parking spot during Mardi Gras is our least favorite thing. Park a few blocks from the parade route and plan to walk; take a bus as near in as it will get you; pay through the nose for downtown parking; or Uber it (yes, they’ll probably be surging). For more tips on getting to a parade, go here; you can also check out the Uber Mardi Gras Ride Guide.
Think outside “The Box”
“The Box” is the confines of all Uptown parades, bounded roughly by Canal Street, Tchoupitoulas Street, St. Charles Avenue, and Napoleon Avenue. If you’re caught outside of this area during a parade, you won’t be able to get back in (or visa-versa) by car, Uber or public transportation. Plan ahead so you can give yourself enough time to get in or out.
Wear a costume and/or dress in layers
February in New Orleans can be either tropical or freezing so pack for both temperatures, whether you’re costumed or not (locals often reserve costumes for Mardi Gras Day). Remember you’ll be outside for extended periods of time, so layers are key. Wigs keep your head warm!
Bring your appetite
You’re going to want to hashtag #gatoronastick, and Popeye’s chicken with king cake (more on that below) for dessert might just be the Official Breakfast of Carnival. You’ll find great portable parade food and drink ideas here.
Try all of the king cakes
This time of year, locals have king cake parties where everybody brings a different cake and they pick a winner. Check out a comprehensive list of where to find ’em, as well as a few unique flavors. This is no time to be a stickler about Weight Watcher’s points. In New Orleans, we start our New Year’s food resolutions after Mardi Gras.
See a Mardi Gras Indian, the 610 Stompers, and the Bourbon Street Awards
Mardi Gras Indians spend all year long sewing their amazing suits. Spying one on Mardi Gras Day is always a highpoint. Plus, you’ll love the 610 Stompers (not your average marching group). And catch the most elaborate costumes at the Bourbon Street Awards, near some of the city’s top gay bars on Bourbon Street at St. Ann. Make them all a part of your Mardi Gras bucket list.
Go behind the scenes
See where the floats are made at Mardi Gras World over by the Convention Center. There’s also a cool Carnival exhibit at the Presbytere next to St. Louis Cathedral. The floats, the costumes, the throws, the balls…the more you know, the more fun you’ll have.
Download a parade tracker app
Free parade apps are an easy way to check schedules and to find out how long before the parade gets to your position. Good choices are the WDSU Parade Tracker and WWL’s Eye on Carnival Parade Tracker. The GoMobile app from New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (NORTA) is also useful during Carnival Season for modified routes and schedules.
Hand sanitizer is your friend
Bring hand sanitizer. You don’t know what’s been where, and Port-a-Pottys don’t have sinks. Speaking of yuck, if you see dirty beads on the ground, leave them there. It’s not like those pearls are real, y’all.
Leave the good jewelry at home
Mardi Gras beads are a dime a dozen, but your engagement ring or best watch isn’t so easily replaced. Be safe and leave the good sparkly stuff at home — just ask celebrity rider Solange Knowles, who lost her engagement ring while riding in the Muses parade in 2016. Don’t do it!
Same goes for the good shoes
Skip out on fancy, impractical, or beloved shoes, and opt for a pair that has seen better days. It might be warm enough for flip flops but, unless you want to get your toes stomped on, wear a more protective pair – ones you won’t get upset about if they get “gunked up.”
Pick a side
There are two sides to a parade – the neutral ground side and the sidewalk side. If you’re watching the action from the median where the streetcar travels on St. Charles Avenue, you’re on “the neutral ground” side. Avid parade-goers have preferences, but even if you don’t really care, you should still know where you stand so you can communicate your location to your friends. Also, if you know any riders on floats, they will use this designation to tell you which side they will be throwing to.
Throw yourself into Mardi Gras traditions
The Boeuf Gras, Twelfth Night, king cake babies, “If Ever I Cease to Love,” the Greasing of the Poles…immerse yourself in Mardi Gras history and culture. Click here to learn more about the Greasing of the Poles.
Start the party early
Don’t stay home just because you can’t find digs for Mardi Gras Day. The parades leading up to Fat Tuesday are every bit as exciting and sometimes even more creative. Favorites include the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus on Feb. 18, which ought to be even more special this year given the recent passing of Carrie Fisher (a.k.a. Princess Leia). And who doesn’t love The Mystik Krewe of Barkus? This pooch parade on Feb. 19 is a real tail-wagger.