It’s that time of year again in New Orleans: Carnival Time! With over 50 parades in the metro area between now and Mardi Gras Day – Tuesday, March 4, 2014 – there are so many different krewes, each with its own unique vibe and traditions. From the elegant and traditional old-line parades to the absolute wild and wacky, this is by no means a comprehensive list, but some of our favorite krewes in six distinct categories. Keep in mind many krewes intersect with one or more other categories as well. Without further ado: your 2014 Mardi Gras parade guide, by krewe.
GoNOLA’s Guide to Mardi Gras Krewes
Satire has long been a Mardi Gras tradition, and these krewes put their puns and satirical messages front and center every year.
Krewe du Vieux, Saturday, February 15, 6:30 p.m., Marigny/French Quarter
For many New Orleanians, the superbly tongue-in-cheek adults-only Krewe du Vieux and its sub-krewes (like the Mystic Krewe of Spermes and the Krewe of Underwear) are the unofficial jump-start to the Carnival Season, for fearless audiences only. Seriously, you’ll want to leave the kids at home for this one. This year’s theme “Where the Vile Things Are” promises to be just as silly as in previous years. KDV is also one of the few parades to march in the Marigny or French Quarter – and you can’t miss ‘em, as there will be brass bands, marchers and plenty to see at eye level, and you’ll be able to see the phalluses and other not-so-subtle innuendo on their small floats from a block away!
Tucks, Saturday, March 1, Noon, Uptown
The only parade where the monarch reigns from high atop a giant toilet (Ye Royal Outhouse) instead of a throne, Tucks has its finger on the pulse of satire every year. You’ll be begging to catch the scepters (plungers) thrown from the floats. And you can tell Tucks has passed by because of the toilet paper strewn in the trees like Spanish moss. Look for signature floats like Funky Tucks and the Funky Fox with their disco-era cage dancers (and signature float throws), and the Jolly Roger Pirate Ship.
Barkus, Sunday, February 23, 2 p.m., French Quarter
This parade has gone to the dogs! Canines in costumes may be one of the most adorable aspects of Carnival and one so many have looked forward to since the krewe’s inception in 1992. This year’s theme is “Dogzilla: Barkus Licks the Crescent City” and the parade begins with a big party and morning registration in Armstrong Park and then walks into the French Quarter on all fours. Bring your cameras, and extra treats for our poochie pals.
Le Krewe D’Etat, Friday, February 28, 6:30 p.m., Uptown
Like a classic coup d’etat, a dictator arises often secretly and ascends the throne. The reigning dictator of this mysterious organization won’t reveal his identity (ever) or the krewe’s irreverent local satirical theme, until the start of the parade. There are signature floats like the Dictator’s Banana Wagon, plus be on the lookout for flambeaux torch-bearers, dancing skeletons, and blinking beads, plus mule-drawn floats.
“Hey, pretty lady,” you’ll hear shouted from the crowds as these all-female krewes steeped in traditions old and new roll down St. Charles Avenue.
Muses, Thursday, February 27, 6:30 p.m., Uptown
The 1000+ diverse membership of women of the Krewe of Muses present one of the most anticipated evening parades in Carnival’s history since its founding in 2001. Perhaps it’s the shoes: hand-decorated with lots of glitter, these high heels and boots are the coveted status symbol each year around this time, or the signature floats like the fiber-optic lit Shoe float and gigantic Muses bathtub. Other floats are part of a secretive, satirical theme poking serious fun at local politics, sports and entertainment not revealed until the parade rolls on the streets.
Iris, Saturday, March 1, 11 a.m., Uptown
They say the sun always shines on the ladies of Iris, as this oldest of female super-krewes (formed in 1917) has never cancelled a parade due to weather. This year’s theme of 35 floats is “Iris Rocks!” and will feature floats like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Punk Rock” plus gotta-have signature throws like cloisonné medallions and plush streetcars.
Nyx, Wednesday, February 26, 7 p.m., Uptown
With over 1,200 members and only in its third year parading, this newest all-female organization whose namesake is the Greek goddess of the night, will present 35 floats with a theme to be revealed at parade-time. Look forward to signature throws like beautiful, hand-decorated purses, hot pink iPhone cases, and lots of fun throws for the kids.
Cleopatra, Friday, February 21, 6:30 p.m., Uptown
The 41st annual parade of the Krewe of Cleopatra pays homage to the street where it lives with this year’s theme of “Strolling Down the Avenue” with floats such as “Lee Circle” and “Audubon Park.” Not to be outdone by other all-female krewes, expect generous throws, including acrylic decorated glasses individually decorated by krewe members.
Some parades roll on huge, multi-tandem floats several stories tall and blocks long down St. Charles Avenue. Others have that homegrown, DIY spirit that is integral to the New Orleans way of life with individual costumed marchers sporting handmade throws and floats so small you have to crouch down and get up close to see them.
krewedelusion, Saturday, February 15, immediately following Krewe du Vieux, Marigny and French Quarter
The satirical theme is kept secret until parade time, but krewedelusion and its sub-krewes (like Krewe du Jieux) march spiritedly, complete with brass bands and some impressive marching groups like the Camel Toe Lady Steppers and the Pussyfooters. This parade is more adult-oriented in theme, just like Krewe du Vieux, so get a babysitter and prepare for a night of fun.
Society of St. Anne, Tuesday, March 4, morning, Bywater/Marigny and French Quarter
For some, Mardi Gras Day means waking up early to catch Zulu or awaiting the Boeuf Gras and pageantry of Rex way Uptown. For many, the loosely formed Society of St. Anne is what Mardi Gras is all about: no set schedule or set route, no major organizations with planned themes. No dues to pay. Show up, in costume, and prepare for a wonderful morning of people-watching in the Marigny and French Quarter as you become not only the spectator but the participant in this walking parade. You’ll find the parade passing in front of Mimi’s in the Marigny usually around 10 a.m. on Fat Tuesday. Join in!
Chewbacchus, Saturday, February 22, 8 p.m., Marigny
The 700+ member strong parade is part ComicCon, part walking parade that will bring out the Sci-Fi/Fantasy kid in you! With it’s “Wrath of Khan-ival” theme this year, they’re celebrating all things Star Trek, including a rolling “Barship Enterprise” and Lunar Party Rover interspersed with many brass bands, plus dozens of rolling contraptions.
‘tit Rəx, Saturday, February 22, 5 p.m., Marigny
“Wee the People” is the theme of this year’s micro-parade, New Orleans’ only tiny parade where the biggest of its floats barely come up to knee high. Inspired by the “shoebox floats” New Orleans school children often make and parade around their own schools during Carnival season, ‘tit Rəx is a crafter’s dream, with inspiring tiny floats that beg you to stop and pay attention and notice the little things all while listening to strolling homegrown brass bands.
Krewe of Cork, Friday, February 21, 3 p.m., French Quarter
A walking parade that is all about great wine, good food and fun, these vino-themed costumed revelers celebrate by sauntering through the French Quarter with their oversized decorated goblets, taking the leisurely Friday New Orleans lunch to new extremes. You’ll see them with a brass band on the way to their next delicious meal!
Old Line Carnival Clubs
Tradition is at the heart of Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans, no more evident than in some of the city’s oldest Carnival clubs and organizations, which date back to the 1850s.
Knights of Babylon, Thursday, February 27, 5:30 p.m., Uptown
The 75th anniversary of this parade, steeped in traditions like its secret monarch King Sargon, or the Babylonian Barge, Hanging Gardens of Babylon and Official Knights streetcar floats are particularly fun to watch because of all the flambeaux marchers lighting the parade.
Rex, Tuesday, March 4, 10 a.m., Uptown
The King of Carnival has been around since 1872, making the Rex Procession the longest still-running parade of any Carnival organization. Known for its beautifully ornate old-world style floats, this year’s theme “Gods of All Ages” depicts gods and goddesses and the cultures of antiquity, along with the group’s many permanent floats like the Streetcar Named Desire, the Boeuf Gras, and the Butterfly King.
Hermes, Friday, February 28, 6 p.m., Uptown
The Mystic Krewe of Hermes is the longest-running nighttime parade, named after the messenger to the gods in Greek mythology. Hermes was the first parade to introduce neon lighting on its floats back in 1938 and the krewe continues to this day with uniquely lit floats and riders, each member wearing lights on their costumes, color coordinated to the float. Don’t miss the St. Augustine Marching 100 Band, making one of several high-profile appearances this season at Hermes.
Proteus, Monday, March 3, 5:15 p.m., Uptown
New Orleans’ second oldest parade has been taking to St. Charles Avenue since 1882, and continues using the same float chassis (cotton wagons with spoke wheels) the original parades used back then. Look for LED tridents and other aquatic throws that are part of the tradition of this krewe with this year’s theme “Ancient Elements of Alchemy.”
Mardi Gras for the Whole Family
Mardi Gras isn’t all about flashing upper or lower extremities to drunken voyeurs on French Quarter balconies. In fact, it’s quite family friendly, and these parades put the FUN in family, and are perfect (and easier crowds) for kids of all ages.
Oshun, Friday, February 21, 6 p.m., Uptown
One of the few parades not based off ancient Greek or Roman mythology, this krewe is named for the goddess of fountains, love and wealth for the African people of Brazil, Haiti and Cuba. Oshun is also the first parade of the season on the Uptown route, which traditionally runs starting on Napoleon Avenue or starting near Magazine and Jefferson – then making its way down St. Charles towards Canal Street and Downtown New Orleans.
Pontchartrain, Saturday, February 22, 1 p.m., Uptown
Bring your appetite, as this year’s Krewe of Pontchartrain parade is themed “What’s Eating New Orleans?” with floats showcasing our delicious indigenous cuisine like Muffalettas and Oyster Rockefeller, Bananas Foster and more.
Carrollton, Sunday, February 23, Noon, Uptown
This year marks the 90th edition of the popular daytime parade of this all male krewe with a theme of “Carrollton Goes Two By Two” – celebrating all things that go well in pairs: like Coffee & Beignets and Wine & Cheese.
Okeanos, Sunday, March 2, 11 a.m., Uptown
The Krewe of Okeanos makes its 65th procession this year as they celebrate the holidays as this year’s theme. Perhaps taking a cue from other krewes with unique throws, they’ve added official Okeanos 13” crawfish trays as the special giveaway from riders this year. Catch one before crawfish season gets into full swing!
Thoth, Sunday, March 2, Noon, Uptown
The biggest daytime super-krewe with over 1,500 riders, Thoth’s 40 floats roll with the theme of “Thoth Rolls Out the Red Carpet” with its first ever Grand Marshal, Louis Prima, Jr. (and The Witnesses) who will perform on their float. This parade starts near Audubon Park, and is known as the Krewe of the Shut-Ins as it passes in front of many of New Orleans’ institutions that care for persons with disabilities and illnesses, including Children’s Hospital.
The Super Krewes
Super Krewes like Bacchus have helped make Mardi Gras into a spectacle worthy of international attention. They’ve pushed the boundaries of float design and building/engineering year after year to draw crowds and generate “wows” that never fail to impress even the most jaded in your group. With thousands of members and seemingly bigger-than-the-last-one marching bands and dancing groups between each float, it really is the greatest free show on Earth.
Orpheus, Monday, March 3, 6 p.m., Uptown
This parade is legendary; from its founding by Harry Connick, Jr. in 1994 to today with 1,250 riders, this group revels in music and the arts with celebrity monarchs from the world of entertainment, signature floats like the ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Dolly Trolley, and the tandem Leviathan and Smokey Mary floats, the latter of which is eight floats long and holds 230 revelers, and this year parades with the theme of “The Enchanted World” with seemingly more gold leaf on their floats than a French chateau. Like most of the super-krewes, they end their ride with a huge party, the Orpheuscapade, which tickets are available to the public.
Bacchus, Sunday, March 2, 5:15 p.m., Uptown
The modern Mardi Gras super krewe began in 1968 when Bacchus ushered in flashy entertainment into Mardi Gras parades with celebrity monarchs (like this year’s King, Hugh Laurie) and a massive, elaborate ball for its now 1,400 riders, this year featuring Styx. Fans await the signature floats every year of King Kong and his family, the Bacchasaurus and others, and the 30 bands that decorate the parade, making this one of Mardi Gras’ biggest events.
Endymion, Saturday, March 1, 4:15 p.m., Mid-City/Downtown
This is Mardi Gras’ biggest parade, by far! Endymion boasts 2,700 masked riders, over 27 krewe floats on a theme of “An Evening at the Opera” (plus all the court floats), bands galore, and a 9-part tandem float with 250 riders representing the old Ponchartrain Beach amusement park that dotted the Lakefront back in the 1950s and 1960s. It’s also the only parade to have a procession in Mid-City, beginning near City Park and rolling its way toward downtown down Canal Street.
Zulu, Tuesday, March 4, 8 a.m., Uptown
What began as a spoof of Carnival royalty in 1916 with its king sporting a can of lard as a crown and a banana leaf stalk as a scepter has turned into one of Carnival’s most well-loved big parades. With 50 floats and nearly a dozen signature characters that appear on their own floats year after year (like the Zulu Witch Doctor, and Mr. Big Stuff and Big Shot) – this year Zulu celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela. If you can make it to the parade early enough, see if you can catch one of the famous coconuts (don’t worry, they hand them off – they’re not allowed to chuck them from the floats!).
Photo illustrations by Lydia Mulero