Mardi Gras in New Orleans: A Girl’s Guide to Partying in Style

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Here in New Orleans, the energy has started to build; colorful floats periodically stop traffic as they are transported across the Crescent City Connection. I celebrated my 27th birthday with a King Cake.

What does this cryptic verbage boil down to? New Orleans (NOLA) is in full Mardi Gras swing! Whether you have already attended Rio’s Carnival or witnessed the pre-Lenten masquerade in Venice, no city celebrates heading into the Catholic season of Lent like New Orleans.

I know what you are thinking: it is too late, I didn’t buy my ticket and it is one day anyways, what is the difference? But, my fellow traveler, you will be pleasantly surprised to know how you can still work the 2013 Mardi Gras festivities into your travel itinerary.

  • What:  Mardi Gras is a general term that denotes the actual day of “Fat Tuesday” and the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday in which people get their party on before it is time to fast and live more simply during Lent.
  • What happens during carnival season? No, not just the drunken “show us your boobs!” fiasco you see televised on Bourbon Street. For better or worse that is usually the only thing most TV shows portray the NOLA Mardi Gras to be; a festival of boobies for men to ogle and women to answer the question, “So how did you get your beads?” However, Mardi Gras has so much more depth! It has over 15 separate parades that roll through the city streets, transporting costumed float riders. Each parade has yearly themes and the “throws” match the theme. Tourists and locals alike dress up in elaborate costumes for the events and do party hard throughout town.
  • When: Carnival season commences on the Epiphany, which is January 5th or the “Twelfth Night”.  The Twelfth Night concludes the 12 days of Christmas. The season ends on the actual Mardi Gras day, which is always the day before Ash Wednesday. Therefore you are looking at roughly six weeks of celebrating in NOLA girlfriend!
  • Where:  In New Orleans Mardi Gras is held ALL OVER TOWN. Schools are shut down for the final week leading up to it because there are so many different parades moving about. If you are looking for the hardest party element, the French Quarter is your spot. The parades themselves occur on the major streets of town-Canal Street, Carrollton Street, and the ever historical St. Charles Avenue. So, relish in the fact that no matter where you decide to establish a home base, the party is within walking distance!

Safety Tips

The NOLA carnival is huge, exciting, and an insanely good time. You should come. So when you arrive we want to keep a sista safe.

  • Open containers + drunk people + balconies and things to throw = messy, sharp, dirty streets!  Wear closed toed shoes even if you are in costume.  It only takes one chard of glass to ruin your trip.
  • Be super aware of your surroundings and carry out only what you need; Mardi Gras tends to be ripe with pickpockets since there are big crowds. Treat it like you would any large event.
  • At night watch your six-in the military this means your backside. Be wary of people following you back to your hotel.
  • Trust your instincts.
  • Party hard with others but know where you are; the vibe of NOLA can change quickly even in the tourist district.  If you and your crew want to migrate to the next bar hop pull out a map and get a feel for where you are doing.
  • Lingo:
    • Mardi Gras: is French for “Fat Tuesday”, referring to the fact that everyone goes all out eating rich food and drinks since afterwards they will be subject to a more simple diet in keeping with Lenten traditions (i.e. fasting from meat on Fridays).
    • A Throw—A memento tossed off the floats by the riders in the parade.  Throws include beads, plastic cups, doubloons, and more coveted items like the Zulu coconut or the Muses shoe.  The popular saying “Throw me something mister!” comes from the concept of yelling to the float rider to send airborne goodies to the masses below.
    • Roll—The word “roll” is used as a verb in the Big Easy.  It means that a parade is moving or on its way down the parade route.  (i.e. “Where is Zulu rolling tomorrow morning?”)
    • Krewe—A Krewe is the organization that puts on a parade and the subsequent ball for carnival season. Similar to a frat or sorority, people who are in a Krewe need to pay dues and attend yearly events
    • Balls—Get your mind out of the Carnival gutter lady pants! A ball is the Cinderella-esk reception held directly after the Krewe rolls in their respective parade. Some balls are fancy and black tie attire, while others are a bit more loosened up and crazy. If you are a visitor and somehow get invited to a ball you have scored big time!!
  • Types of parades: There are so many parades for Mardi Gras that you would go mad (or turn into Rip Van Winkle during Lent) if you tried to attend all of them. When choosing your Mardi Gras post up spot, consider hand picking a few parades you want to attend each day. Here is a teaser of what to choose from:
    • Satirical and silly (Krewe De Vieux)
    • Down home and animal centered: Krewe of Barkus
    • Family oriented: Endymion
    • Classy and ornate-Rex and Zulu
    • Deeply historical- The Mardi Gras Indians (if you can find them!)
    • An women parade- Krewe of Muses

Stay tuned for our second installment on the New Orleans Mardi Gras!  Laissez le bon temps rouler!

 

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About Author

Traci is a bold New Yorker who loves taking her empire state of mind global. She holds a degree in International Business, and bleeds humanitarianism. Traci spent a semester in 2007 living in Italy and bouncing around Western Europe. In the past 3 years she volunteered at a homeless shelter in California, worked construction in New Orleans, and moonlights as a bartender everywhere she goes. She recently completed an epic 7 month backpacking trip through Central and South America and spent a month road-tripping the East Coast. Check out her personal blog at www.alwaysinjourney.com. Based out of: New Orleans, LA