Everything You Need to Know About Mardi Gras in New Orleans

So it’s Mardi Gras time (actually it’s Carnival time and Mardi Gras is a day- but we’ll get into all of that). Maybe you’re new to NOLA, or maybe you’ve been here a while but you’re still not exactly sure what to do, how to do it and what to wear. Well I love Mardi Gras and my family goes to as many parades as we possibly can and we go hard. I’m here to tell you all  you need to know so you too can be a Mardi Gras pro.

What is Mardi Gras?

If this isn’t your first Mardi Gras, feel free to skip this section but you might just learn something you never knew. So Mardi Gras is technically a day, also known as Fat Tuesday. Carnival is a season that stretches from the Christian fests of the Epiphany (January 6) and then fully culminating the day before Ash Wednesday. Each year Mardi Gras falls on a different date, always 47 before Easter.

What to expect

Bring lots of large bags for all of your “throws.” You will catch beads, stuffed animals, candy, toys, doubloons and so much more. There are also dozens of dance groups comprised of toddlers up threw grandparents, marching bands, Mardi Gras Indians, flambeaux and lots more. Krewes will have a theme that can change from year to year and many of the floats and throws are designed around that year’s theme. Krewes like Muses keep their theme a secret until the day of. Many of the major Krewes have signature throws. These are the prized throws and sometimes can be hard to come by. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get one, be there just to enjoy the fun. But if you happen to catch one of the coveted throws, enjoy it! Below is a list of some of the krewes and their signature throws.

Krewe of Oshun- hand-made fans
Krewe of Cleopatra- hand-decorated wine glasses
Krewe of ALLA- hand decorated genie lamps
Krewe of Morpheus- hand decorated sleep masks
Krewe of Pontchartrain- crawfish trays
Krewe of Choctaw- hand-painted wooden tomahawks
Krewe of Freret- hand-decorated masks
Krewe of Carrollton- hand-decorated shrimp boots
Krewe of King Arthur- hand-decorated grails
Mystic Krewe of Nyx- hand-decorated purses
Krewe of Muses- hand-decorated high heels
Krewe of Iris- hand-decorated sunglasses
Krewe of Tucks- hand-decorated toilet themed items including plungers and toilet brushes
Zulu Soical Aid and Pleasure Club- hand-decorated coconuts

What to wear:

So I cannot give you weather specific advice because last year I was in shorts for part of carnival and then suddenly I was in a coat and 3 pairs of socks on Fat Tuesday. So be prepared for all possible weather situations: hot, cold, dry and rainy. But if you’re looking for cute, fun and festive threads there is absolutely no shortage. A few of my favorite stores

The whole family

Moms

Kids

What to pack:

  • A ladder
  • Camping chairs
  • Snacks, snacks and more snacks. Snacks not only help to keep hangry kids at bay, but sometimes they’re the distraction kids need while waiting for a parade to start and it’s always nice to have extra to share in need be.
  • Sunscreen
  • Beverages
  • Bags to keep your throws in
  • Baby wipes and hand sanitizing wipes
  • A cooler full of your favorite family’s beverages and water

Insider tips:

Headphones for kids who are sensitive to noise. Parades are LOUD and can be overwhelming. Headphones can help mitigate some of that stimulation.

– Get yourself a good stroller or wagon. Even if you don’t need it for kids, you’ll need it for transporting stuff

– Grab some glow sticks. I buy them in bulk on Amazon. These are not only fun for kids during night parades, it helps keep kids easy to spot (wear them as bracelets or necklaces), provides entertainment and we love sharing them with kids standing around us.

– It’s always nice to make friendly with people standing next to you. You’ll likely be interacting with them for hours, if not all day. And an extra set of eyes on kiddos can never hurt.

– Bring a ball. You’ll likely catch a few as well but having a ball before the parade starts will keep your kids entertained and make them the most popular person on the block. Plus nothing warms my NOLA mom heart more than seeing my kiddos living their best life and throwing a ball down St. Charles with total strangers.

– On parade routes, fried chicken is life. So be sure and grab your favorite chicken on your way the route. Also during carnival my children basically live on GoGo Squeez, Uncrustables and grapes. All of those items can be frozen and thrown in your cooler or lunch bag and they’re perfectly thawed and ready to go when the kids get hungry.

– Wearing little babies will keep your hands free and might even ensure a parade ground nap.

– Unless the weather is severe parades still go on in rain. I usually pack a poncho just in case and if it has been raining at all recently, rainboots for the entire family is the safest bet. Parades rarely rarely get totally rescheduled. They occasionally will get moved up or back an hour or two to avoid really nasty weather.

Where to buy decor:

Many people like to leave up their Christmas tree and turn it into a Mardi Gras tree. Also, people like to decorate their homes and you’ll catch plenty of things you can use for that, but if you want to supplement the below retailers are great.

What’s the point?

So this is a big one for me. I grew up going to Mardi Gras. I have such distinct memories of parades, king cake and spending time with my family. It’s something I love doing with my own children and their excitement for the season brings me pure joy. There is just nothing like New Orleans during carnival, it’s pure magic.

FAQ

Is Mardi Gras family friendly? Absolutely! You will see many kids at parades and I think in general on the parade route, especially day parades there is a sense of community among parade goers. It’s always important to follow best safety practices. Children will play catch in the street with strangers and it’s truly magic. I suggest the weekend 10-11 days before Mardi Gras to get your carnival feet wet. The crowds tend to be lighter and the atmosphere is fun and casual. If you’re still a bit nervous, give Metairie parades a try. Parking is easier and crowds are lighter.

Where should I stand? I’ll refrain from weighing on neutral ground side versus sidewalk side. But I’ll say that most spots on Magazine, Napoleon and St. Charles are family friendly. St. Charles especially the closer you are to Napoleon. Most parades tend to follow a similar route Uptown so once you find a spot you’re good to be there all day and shouldn’t need to move.

Where do I park? Parades are mostly all street parking. There’s plenty of parking but be prepared to walk (an awesome stroller or wagon will come in handy). There are a few paid lots sprinkled around and you might find it worth it to spend a little money to know your car is parked safely, legally and in close proximity to where you want to be. If you think “maybe I shouldn’t park here”, DON’T. You will get a ticket, booted or towed. It’s the quickest way to get the magic of carnival to disappear. Do not block driveways or fire lanes, you must be 15 feet away from a fire hydrant, and 20 feet away from a corner. (http://www.experienceneworleans.com/parking-in-new-orleans.html)

Where do I use the bathroom? There are port-o-potties on the parade routes. But if that’s not your thing many local businesses, restaurants and churches along the route will sell day passes to use their restroom.

How do I know when the parades are, where they go and when they’re coming? There are lots of online resources to show you when and where parades will be. My advice would be to download a parade tracker app, WWL and WDSU each have one, and those will show you the full parade schedule as well as GPS locations of where the parades actually are while they’re in progress.

Other Mardi Gras Resources

How to Kick Off Carnival Like a King (or Queen) 

3 Ways to Mardi Gras in the Rain with Kids

Celebrating Mardi Gras with a Child with Autism

Ain’t No Party Like a Metry Gras Party

Everywhere Else, It’s Just Tuesday 

Tips for a Non Mardi Gras Mom to Survive Mardi Gras Season

Five Ways to Use All Those Mardi Gras Beads

How to Catch a Muses Shoe (And Other Elusive Carnival Throws) 

How to Make a Shoe Box Float 

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Tara grew up all over south Louisiana and currently lives in Metairie with her husband Josh, and their 3 kids Dax, Dane and Delta. Tara is a buyer for a local food-service distribution company and Community Director for New Orleans Mom. During the week she can be found replying to emails, carpooling kids all around, giving out hugs and kisses, and looking forward to bedtime. Weekends are for family adventures, naps and cheering for LSU and the Saints. She loves trying new foods, travel, and she and her family love all things New Orleans, but especially Mardi Gras.

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