Last week I checked off an item that was high on my bucket list. I took a road trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras season!
Before I went I did was I always do, I researched the history of the celebration, the things you cannot miss, and lots of tips and tricks. However, there would SO many things I did not find on any blog post or youtube video that I wish I had know before I had gone. If I did know them, I would have done the weekend very differently.
I would like to preface this with saying, I am in no way, shape, or form, telling you not to attend Mari Gras. Of course you have to attend Mardi Gras! To this day, New Orleans remains my favorite place in this world. I just want you to know what you are in for before you go.
1.) The Street Car does not run on Saint Charles Ave.
When staying in NOLA during this season, one of your main concerns will be making it into the French Quarter. Trust me, traffic will be unbelievable and parking is a nightmare during this time of year. It’s better to be within walking distance if possible.
Due to this, we made sure to book an Air bnb a few blocks away from the street car. This way we could get $3 day passes and hop on and off all around the city. Or so we thought. It was not until we got to NOLA and headed out to catch the car that we learned IT DOES NOT RUN ON SAINT CHARLES AVENUE! This is because Saint Charles Ave is the main parade route at this time of year. It still runs in other places around the city, but not where we could easily catch it.
Luckly for us, Uber prices were actually much cheaper than we originally thought. It was quite easy to get back and forth with Uber. Mainly beacuse we were staying along the backroads and they could avoid the parade routes.
2.) It DOES NOT matter how early you get to the parades.
One piece of advice I got from just about every post I read and video I watched was, “get to the parades a few hours early to get good spots.” After actually doing this, I could not dissagree with this statment more.
Here is the thing… no matter how early you get there, or how many hours in advance you save a spot, people will come and stand right in front of you. And they really do not care.
Trust me, after getting an amazing spot on the sidewalk almost two hours before the parade began, I was super happy that I had learned this tip. Until people of all ages and heights decided to stand in front of us. And this will happen no matter where you stand.
Of course, there are a few exceptions. For example, Zulu (one of the most watched parades) puts up a barrier so the crowed can only get so close to their floats. This would be one that would be beneficial to show up early to because no one can take your spot. Of course, they may try to bump you out of the way and squeeze in.
3.) The locals can be aggressive during parades.
Point blank: The locals will trample you to get the best throws. Hey, it is their city and these are their traditions. They have no problem pulling things from your hands, pushing you out of the way, jumping in front of you, reaching over you or even making you feel bad about not giving something that you caught to their children.
Now, I know this all may sound exaggerated, but trust me it is not. I’ve witnessed all of it and more. I love the people of New Orleans, but during parades they can get aggressive when it comes to throws.
To be fair, I also met a few locals who couldn’t care less. They were kind enough to share beads with everyone around them, give throws to kids, or share tips on getting the best stuff. Or to just converse happily with us during the festivities. And when the parade is over, you will see how fantastic the people of NOLA are.
4.) If you miss the parade, you can still get throws.
For the entire month leading up to Mari Gras (i.e. Carnival) there are daily parades. Everything the people on the floats toss out to the crowd are known as “throws.”
Of course, everyone is fighting to get the best throws, and you may not always catch what you want. BUT… if you take a walk down the main streets the next day, you can find pretty cool throws just waiting on the sidewalk for you to pick up.
Now, the reason there are so many beads and trinkets left over is because the locals believe that what hits the ground is suppsoe to be on on the ground. In otherwords, it is bad luck to pick up throws, you need to actually catch them yourself.
So, if you are not superstitious, take a walk down the parade route the afternoon or morning after the parades. Nothing has been cleaned up yet and you can find some killer beads, doubloons and trinkets.
5.) There is trash EVERYWHERE.
There are so many parades that go on during Carnival that I can see how it would be pointless to pick up after every single one. While the city does have people who do this, it is not their top priority until Fat Tueday is over. Therefor you will find old throws and trash litering the streets, especially along the main parade routes.
Bourbon Street on Mari Gras? It is completely disgusting. Broken beads and spilt drinks pollute the quarter, trash bins are overflowing and people kick around empty cups and other questionable items as they stumble through the crowd.
6.) Many people do not dress up, and you do not have to.
Before I went I read many posts saying that the locals don’t dress up. I figured that meant it was mainly tourists dressing up to parade through the French Quarter. While I was right about that, what I did not realize is how many tourist do not dress up at all.
I spent a lot of time making a cool costume out of beads, crafting my own mask and buying things like body paint, purple lipstick and matching boots. Even though I had been warned, I was still amazed that people seriously do not dress up. Sure, there were a good amount here and there, but the majority of the crowd were simply dressed in purple, gold or green. (You will still see some pretty insane and scandalous costumes, so do not rule that out completely.)
Already in costume, it was definatly too late for me, so I did my best to own it. But, if I were to go again, I would tone it down a notch. However, the mask and purple wig were worth it.
On a different note…If you are thinking about going all out at a parade, do yourself a favor and make sure you are dressed in something you would not mind wearing at Thanksgiving dinner. Parades are family events and there are lots of children there. You will find that, for the most part, those who are dressed up are rocking attire that is more “school sprit” rather than “burlesque”.
7.) If you don’t do your research, you may miss out.
While I understand the idea of just going to a place or “winging-it,” I like to do my research so I know the history. Especially if I am participating in a holiday or an event. When I did my research I learned a lot! I was not only informed of the history of the holiday that I was celebrating, but I learned what parades were the best, what throws to covet and what tradiations we could not miss out on.
So, if you have no idea why Fat Tuesday is celebrated, what a Krewe is, why you need to try king cake or that Mardi Gras is only one day, the last day of Carnival… find out! You wont be sorry!
8.) Book your accomidation NEAR Saint Charles Ave.
Trust me on this one. It was SO nice to have a place not even two blocks away from the main parade route. It also made it ten times easier to see the parades we wanted to, leave when we felt like it, and drop our throws back in our room before heading into the quarter.
It’s easier to Uber to and from the French Quarter, or anywhere in town really, when you are further away from Saint Charles, as this road is extremely congested. Ubers will even cancel on you if you think they can get you across that street.
9.) It is FREEZING.
Yes, the weather in NOLA varies enormously during the week leading up to Fat Tuesday. I do not care what the weather man tells you, BRING A JACKET AND SOMTHING WARM!
My friend only brought shorts, thanks to the weather reports, and she ended up buying pants and long sleeves. We used blankets while watching most of the parades. Trust me, no matter how warm it is suppose to be, or how cool your outfit is, have a back up. I’d even suggest hats and gloves, those beads sting when they hit cold skin, and they are not thrown gentley.
10.) Fat Tuesday is not all its cracked up to be.
I cannot believe I am saying this, and many of you may disagree, but one of the main takeaways I had from attending Mardi Gras season, was that it is not all it is cracked up to be. Mardi Gras itself is just people drinking on Bourbon street.
It was extremely different than I expected. It felt just like NOLA, but with cool parades and more drunk people than usual. It was much dirtier, less decorated and much more crowded than I expected.
I think if I was a local, or knew someone in one of the Krewes, it may have been a lot different. If I was better prepared for what actually happens, rather than expect the crazy scenes you see on television, I would have done it a lot differently.
That being said, I am still very glad I went. And yes, I would go again, but as I said before, I would do it much differently.
*If you are looking for more information about Mardi Gras, I’ll be posting about the history and facts you need to know, as well as tips and tricks. Thanks for reading!*