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Mardi Gras: Tips & Lesser Known Facts

Updated on August 15, 2011


Thousands of folks from all over the country flock to the Crescent City to enjoy one of the coolest holidays and largest parties of the year: Mardi Gras.

Several come to drink and party the nights away, but there is fun to be had for the sober as well. Included are some tips that can help maximize your Mardi Gras experience.

You don't have to lift your shirt to get free stuff.

If you're hesitant to go to Mardi Gras because you've heard it's all bare breasts and fornication, don't be discouraged: flashing is a rare occurrence outside of Bourbon Street and the Quarter, and it can be blamed on tourists. You will get plenty of beads without lifting your shirt -- no worries.

Residents of New Orleans attend the parades, but most stay out of the French Quarter. So, if you want to join a less intense version of the party, go where the locals go. Attend a parade in Uptown. Most parades go down St Charles (my favorite intersection is St Charles & Harmony), and you'll see several locals and their families enjoying themselves and vying for beads.

Displaying one night's catch
Displaying one night's catch

Don't Buy the Beads... unless they're awesome.

A coworker of a friend recommended she "buy her Mardi Gras beads before going to New Orleans because they'll be cheaper". This is an absolute NO! Buying Mardi Gras beads before you go to a parade is like buying your own wedding presents before your wedding. Why buy what you'll get for free?

However, large specialty beads are a rare catch at a parade, unless you know someone on one of the floats or you're standing in close proximity to someone else who does (and their friend has poor aim). If you'd like some more memorable beads, there are dozens of awesome specialty beads that can be purchased just outside of New Orleans at warehouses devoted to Mardi Gras. Try Accent Annex Mardi Gras Headquarters in Metairie or Beads By the Dozen in Jefferson. You'll also find awesome hats, boas, and masquerade masks for a fraction of the cost of the touristy vendors in the Quarter.

King Cake!
King Cake! | Source

Indulge in King Cake.

If you're in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, it's essential you have a slice of King Cake. King Cakes are large, circular, braided piece of cinnamon-sugar delight with a light coat of icing and decorated with Mardi Gras colored sprinkles. There's a small, plastic baby inside (said to be baby Jesus), and it's tradition that whoever receives the slice with baby Jesus must purchase the King Cake for next year's party.

A popular favorite amongst the locals is Randazzo's, or Haydel's bakery. Both places also offer different fillings (traditionally, there isn't any): German chocolate, Praline Pecan, and Strawberry Cream Cheese.

And the good news? If you can't make it to New Orleans this year, both Randazzo's and Haydel's will ship their delicious King Cakes anywhere.

What to Bring to a Parade
» Pillowcase or Grocery Bags to store all the loot you'll catch.
» Lawn chairs or camping chairs if you want to grab a front row spot on the route.
» Sweatshirt/Light Jacket - although on the Gulf, New Orleans can still get chilly during the winter.

For the Kids? Yes.

As we've already discussed, there definitely is debauchery present at Mardi Gras, but the majority of it is confined to the French Quarter. Most parades have long routes that wind all the way through the city before eventually dissolving into the chaos in the Quarter.

You'll see several parents and kids out and about at parades, especially in the Uptown area.

Family-Friendly Truck Parades

An even more family-friendly option is to drive out to Metairie, a suburb about 10 minutes from downtown New Orleans, and experience a low-key truck parade, which is similar to the standard American parade, where the floats are pulled by trucks (rather than tractors). As these parades are more of a casual affair, bring your lawn chairs and park yourself on Veteran's Boulevard and wait for the parades to begin.

Attend the Greasing of the Poles.

If you're finding yourself in need of something other than parades to get your Mardi Gras fix, there is a humorous and bizarre tradition at Royal Sonesta Hotel on Bourbon Street: The Greasing of the Poles.

The Friday morning before Mardi Gras weekend, a representative of the Hotel and a handful of honorary pole greasers will arm themselves with petroleum jelly and coat the balcony supports, making the poles nice and slick -- thereby preventing Mardi Gras revelers from attempting to climb the poles.

It Ends at Midnight.

If your intention is to spend Mardi Gras evening living it up in the Quarter, you'll be disappointed when the night ends three hours before bars normally close. At midnight, it becomes Ash Wednesday, the end of Carnival season -- and it is enforced by police. The entire Quarter is cleared out by mounted police leading an army of street sweepers as soon as the clock strikes twelve o'clock AM -- so it's best to be out of the Quarter prior to midnight.

An alternative would be to head out on Lundi Gras evening, but this might give you a nice hangover headache for the actual Mardi Gras celebration, and you may miss seeing King Rex. But don't worry, you'll get plenty of partying time in during the weekend before Fat Tuesday.


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