We needn’t go through the list of booze-drenched debauchery synonymous with the Louisiana-celebrated holiday known as Mardi Gras. But while you may associate it with the unsavory activity you’ve seen from unstabilized footage filmed on Bourbon Street, for locals, Mardi Gras is actually a family-oriented celebration. Ask anyone lucky enough to have grown up in the Big Easy about their Mardi Gras memories, and they will reminisce about parades, float riders innocently throwing beads and candy, giant block parties, school and work canceled for days filled with crawfish boils and king cake.
New Orleans Chef Alex Harrell, who owns bistro Angeline in the city’s French Quarter, and the father of two little girls knows firsthand how to navigate Mardis Gras’ two sides, especially when he’s celebrating with his family. We asked him for his best tips on how to have a more mature, but still fun, Mardi Gras experience.
- Go Uptown. “In general, it's best to seek out the beginning of the parade routes, which tend to be in more neighborhood-like areas,” says Harrell. “We like to go Uptown; it's more residential and family-oriented, so there's a feel similar to a communal block party, and much less of the crazy behavior that I'd rather my girls not see.”
- Pack Lunch. “We take a cooler with drinks and a picnic lunch,” Harrell says. “Then we don't have to worry as much about our timing quite as much.”
- Think Family-Friendly. With two daughters, we especially like the Muses and the Nyx parades because they have all-female krewes,” Harrell says. “The Krewe of Thoth parade is also a great one. You can park for free at Audubon Park and it's only a short four blocks or so. It's easy to get in and out, which makes it super family-friendly.” Check out the Krewe of Endymion parade. “It's the only parade that rolls by the old Canal parade route,” he says. “It starts by City Park and goes down Orleans Avenue to Canal. We park nearby at City Park around Delgado Community College, so you get to see everything, but aren't inundated with all the crowds.”
- Head to the Bywater. To get away from the fray, Harrell heads to the Bywater or into the Marigny on Mardi Gras day. “We went last year and walked around as a family. It's a great way to really see the true side of Mardi Gras celebrations,” he says. “These neighborhood festivities are not about the big crews, they're more of a neighborhood celebration with music and dancing and amazing costumes.”
- Don’t forget the Metairie area either. Depending on where you’re staying, it might be worth the drive. “They have a weekend called "Family Gras" with concerts and parades. It's very well done.”