16 Tips for Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans
#1 Go Early
#2 Stake a Spot
The most festive site is at the foot of Canal Street near the river, where Rex and Zulu, two epic parades, cross. Crowds are kid-friendlier near the Uptown start, where parking is (a bit) easier, parades pass earlier, and families abound. Download route maps at nola.com/mardigras/parades
#3 Designate a Meet-Up Spot
Before you head into the parade zone, designate an easy-to-find landmark as a meet-up spot in case you get separated from your group. Cell phone coverage can get spotty if lines are overloaded, and even if you do get through, it can be hard to hear over the din of the revelry.
#4 Manage Your Time
If you can’t spare a week for the festivities, maximize your stay during Mardi Gras’ key hours from 12 a.m. Monday to 12 a.m. Tuesday.
#5 Take a (Kiddie) Seat
The ladder box, a seated perch atop a ladder (sold at local hardware stores), keeps kids above the crowd, where they’re safer and well-positioned for bead-catching.
#6 Join a Marching Group
Elaborately costumed members of the St. Anthony Ramblers and other marching krewes parade on foot, led by brass bands, through the Faubourg Marigny and the French Quarter before converging at the R Bar for a rowdy street party. Dress up (a must) and join in—it’s free!
#7 Read the Floats
Muses, a women-only krewe, themes its parade with political satire, and each float pokes good-humored fun at local politicians and current events.
#8 Bring a Go-Cup
NoLa laws permit open containers of adult libations—as long as they’re in a plastic cup (no glass or cans). Beware: Public restrooms are so scarce you’ll see portable toilets strapped to the beds of pickup trucks.
#9 Bag Your Swag
The hand-painted Zulu coconut and glittery Muses shoe are the most rare and coveted throws, but you can count on catching beads, cups, stuffed animals, doubloons (coins), and other free parade throws by the bushel. Bring a bag.
#10 Rent a Bike
You don’t want to deal with the limited parking, crazy traffic, or possibility of running into a parade route. Rent a bike (and a lock) to get around with ease. Some companies will even deliver to your hotel.
#11 Avoid the French Quarter
If your children are along for the ride, it’s probably best that you stray away from the well-known area for earning beads.
#12 Dress Up To Blend In
Fifi Mahony’s wig shop in the French Quarter is a favorite local spot to stock up on parade-proof ‘dos before the big day. Get yours at fifimahonys.com.
People arrested any time between Friday and Tuesday do not get released until Ash Wednesday.
#14 Be Crowd-Savvy
If you're anywhere near Canal Street, be prepared to navigate through elbow-to-elbow crowds. It's a good idea to leave purses at home and to avoid carrying your wallet in your back pocket. Wear comfy shoes, but save your new sneakers for another trip — they may not look so new after a ramble through Mardi Gras streets.
#15 Step on Doubloons
Doubloons are the shiny coins tossed along with beads and stuffed animals from parade floats. Each bears the emblem of its krewe, and many people collect them. (They're also more storage-friendly than beads.) If you see one on the ground, step on it before you pick it up to avoid your hand ending up under someone else's foot!