Each year, more than half a million visitors come to New Orleans for its Mardi Gras celebration — a season of feasting and revelry leading up to lent, observed 47 days before Easter.
Mardi Gras is a month of parties named after a single day (Fat Tuesday). The Mardi Gras celebration starts on Twelfth Night (January 6th) and lasts until Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday).
During this time the city is alive with eating, costuming, bead-tossing and parading that increases in intensity as Ash Wednesday nears.
There are private society balls and big public parties with parading clubs who call themselves ‘krewes.’ Parades roll all over town on the weekends leading up to Fat Tuesday. There are more than 50 parades that wind through the streets of New Orleans during carnival season.
To enjoy local flair, hit the early parades. Processions grow increasingly elaborate as Fat Tuesday draws near.
Floats generally celebrate a theme chosen by each krewe, spotlighting Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology, as well as historical events and modern-day cultural touchstones. The krewes are as unique as they are wacky, tossing trinkets such as beads, shoes, purses or coconuts into the crowds.
A bit of history
Since 1872, Rex has been the King of Mardi Gras, his entourage one of the oldest parading krewes in the city. Indeed, the Krewe of Rex created the purple, gold and green color scheme that has become a hallmark of the holiday. For generations, Rex and other long-established krewes such as Zulu (established in 1909) have histories that make up the fabric of this incredible city.
The Mardi Gras Indians hit the scene in the mid-1880s. Their one of kind, ornate, hand beaded and feathered costumes honor Native American traditions.
Iris, established in 1917, is the oldest of the all-women krewes. The all-female Muses, who held their first parade in 2001, are known for throwing sparkling shoes.
Bacchus, Endymion and Orpheus are among the newer super-krewes, veritable party machines full of glitz, celebrity guests, marching bands and floats with 1,000 riders apiece.
WHAT TO BRING (If you’ve booked The Mercantile’s Mardi Gras Package, you’ll be all set.)
Wear comfortable shoes. Bring water (to hydrate) and a poncho (to stay dry).
Carry cash, because not all street vendors take cards. You won’t be able to resist the temptation of a roadside corn dog or funnel cake.
Bring a go-cup for your cocktails. Drinking and walking are permitted along the parade route as long as you don’t carry glass.
Bring a bag for your loot. You can only put on so many beads before you get a sore neck! Plus, you can hide away the more coveted throws like Zulu coconuts, Muses shoes and Nyx purses.
Wear a costume, because it is fun.
PARKING + ROAD CLOSURES (Plan in advance!)
Get your spot early — only one car per room.
Uptown parades are bounded 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 vice versa) by car, Uber or public transportation. Plan ahead so you can give yourself enough time to get in or out.
Check the parade schedule for times and routes and plan your transport well ahead of time.