Mardi Gras has gotten a bad rap.
Too many late night DVD commercials and cable specials have left people with the idea that Mardi Gras is like Spring Break—an occasion manufactured for the consumption of large quantities of alcohol and other things you wouldn’t do in your own hometown.
Most who grew up our city know that there is a very different side to Mardi Gras—one that you would even bring your kids too! In fact, most New Orleanians grew up attending parades with their families and still bring their children to the festivities.
Mardi Gras is a family-friendly event if you plan accordingly and I’d love to share a few tips on how to make the experience enjoyable for everyone.
Avoid Bourbon Street
If you don’t have your kids with you, knock yourself out. But there are no parades in the French Quarter and there are no appropriate places for children on Bourbon Street. It’s best to skip the crowds and craziness that peak during Carnival in that part of town. Most everywhere else it’s PG rated.
Start with a day parade
The Freaks Come Out at Night isn’t just a song on the radio—it’s more crowded at night and there are fewer kids out in the evening. Parades can often start late and mechanical issues can cause things to get even further behind schedule. There’s nothing worse than small children out past their bedtime and over excited by plastic trinkets. If you simply must see a parade that rolls in the evening, try to station yourself at the beginning of the route where you’re less likely to experience delays.
Think of a parade like an outdoor concert—you’re going to want to come prepared. Besides refreshments, bring some folding chairs so you can rest while waiting for the show to start. Consider taking along a blanket blanket—perfect for a kid who needs a nap, a place to snack, or for a sudden temperature drop.
Take along antibacterial wipes—kids get into the craziest things and you’ll feel better knowing you can clean them up a little if necessary. I always bring toilet paper because if a place runs out in the middle of a parade, you can be sure no one will be coming by for a refill.
Prepare your kids
Talk to your children about safe behavior before heading out to the route. Candy’s got nothing on the fever that flying plastic trinkets can cause in little ones. Don’t wait until you’re out on the route to discuss the importance of staying close to mom and dad and not running into the street. You’ll be grateful you covered this stuff in advance when you see the magic that is Mardi Gras.
Mardi Gras is a fantastic experience with a rich cultural heritage. With a little fore-thought you can spend a day with your children enjoying Louisiana’s warmer than average temperatures. A fantastic day that doesn’t include one giant cartoon character or one electronic device—when’s the last time that happened?