Streets splashed in shades of green, purple and gold, the din of brass horns and second-line drumming playing through the streets, and of course the masses of people from across the country gathering together in celebration for one of the most anticipated festivals of the year: Mardi Gras! This year, you’ve dared to take part in one of the biggest parties known to mankind, but now you’re a wee bit stressed because you didn’t give yourself much time to plan your trip?
Don’t fret, intrepid party-goer! We’ve got just the guide for you, with all the important things you need to know before hitting the Crescent City. So hold on to your masks, beads, hats… and whatever other Mardi Gras paraphernalia you’re decked out in– it’s time for the “Greatest Free Show on Earth!”
How to Get There
As you can probably imagine, flights into New Orleans will be quite expensive, especially when it’s getting so close to Mardi Gras. The essential part of your trip will be to make sure you book your flight as soon as possible! Thankfully, you’ve still got some time, and these last-minute flight deals may help you find an affordable way to get there in style…without stretching your budget too much.
From Airport to City: Here’s How to Get There!
Once you get to Louis Armstrong International Airport, there are a bunch of ways to get into the city. Check out the best options below (in order from least to most expensive):
-On weekdays, the E-2 bus (Airport Downtown Express — run by the Jefferson Transit Authority), will charge just $2 to take you from the airport all the way to Tulane and Elk Place, smack in the middle of downtown New Orleans, which is just a short walk to the French Quarter and areas downtown. On weekends, the E2 bus only goes as far as Tulane and Carrollton. You’ll have to connect to Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) buses for access to downtown. Make sure to check their respective websites for bus schedules and changes.
–Uber will run you a bit less than a regular taxi ($33-50 for a ride into the French Quarter). You’ll have to walk over to the Transportation Center which is on the first floor of the Short Term Parking garage to meet your driver.
-Regular taxi cabs start around $36.00 from the airport to the Central Business District (CBD) or French Quarter (west of Elysian Fields) for up to 2 passengers. For 3 or more passengers, the fare usually goes up by $15.00 per passenger.
The key to booking your accommodation is to try and find a place that is not too far from the action. The parade routes snake their way through the French Quarter, Downtown/Warehouse District and Garden District, making these neighborhoods the most pricey of the lot but also the ideal places to make your home-base. Hotels in these areas tend to book out lightning fast so it’s important to reserve your room in advance.
Do’s and Don’ts of Mardi Gras
Get Decked Out!
Costumes are a must when it comes to Mardi Gras. From elaborate masks to flashing beads to multi-colored boas, you’ll want to make sure the outfit your sporting is teeming with Mardi Gras flare!
Pro-tip: Make sure you wear things you can easily take off and carry with you; the humidity and alcohol can really take a toll on you through the day.
Join the Krewe
Krewes are best described as the life of Carnival—they organize the parades and parties during the Mardi Gras season. Everything from themed costume schemes to organized throws, these groups are the best way to swarm parade floats, toss plastic beads, and throw cups, doubloons, and moon pies into the crowd as the procession passes.
Some of the best-known krewes are Rex (best known for starting the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold), Bacchus (which usually includes many celebrity guests) and The Krewe of Muses (all-female, famous for its tongue-in-cheek parade themes).
Want to be a part of more niche parades? No problem: You can bring your four-legged friends to the Barkus Parade organized by the Krewe of Barkus, or lift your lightsaber to toast the good times with the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus.
Hop Into a Museum!
Did you know? The Mardi Gras Indians, composed mainly from the African-Community of New Orleans, are based on stylized Native American “tribes.” They compete with each other in elaborate costumes and theatrics that incorporate a friendly rivalry with competition and good humor thrown in.
Check out the Backstreet Museum in the Tremé community. Not only will it give you great insight into some Mardi Gras history and traditions, including African American community-based masking and processional traditions, but it also has a great collection of Mardi Gras Indian costumes, and more information on jazz funerals, social aid and pleasure clubs, Baby Dolls, and Skull and Bone gangs. The museum’s Mardi Gras Day Open House, is a must-attend event. Here you can grab some grub and interact with costumed Mardi Gras Indians, the North Side Skull and Bone gang, and musicians.
Download one of the Mardi Gras apps to make plans and track the parades!
-At mardigrasneworleans.com, you can find full coverage of parades and purchase tickets for seats in the grandstands.
Just Bead It!
On the bustling, rowdy streets of the parade, your going to face some fierce competition… for beads! That’s right, only at Mardi Gras is it okay to yell and plead for these cheap, plastic beads. So go ahead, scream, shout and bead up your life this Mardi Gras!
Did you know? The tradition of float riders throwing trinkets to the crowds began in the 1870s. Typical throws include beads, cups, doubloons, and stuffed animals.
Take a Royal Bite of King Cake
Smothered in cinnamon sugar, icing, and covered in festive colors, this brioche-based cake is very accurately named King cake, as it’s definitely the king of Mardi Gras desserts. From the very start of carnival, you’ll find this tasty treat being enjoyed all around town. Try the apple and goat cheese variety at New Orleans Cake Cafe & Bakery, a chocolate variety at Bittersweet Confections, or a classic at Haydel’s Bakery — all you have to do is ask around for directions to where you can satisfy that sweet tooth.
-DON’T get too drunk. Pace yourself with the alcohol consumption – you don’t want to be that guy who passes out under a shady tree while the everyone else is partying on until the wee hours of the morning!
-DON’T be a nuisance! Relieving yourself of the heat with a cold brew on the streets may be okay, but definitely NOT relieving your bladder — urinating on the streets is a punishable offense. Also, make sure to bring your own toilet paper and hand sanitizer — hotels won’t let you use their bathrooms which will leave you with the option of very messy portapotties and even messier restrooms at bars.
-DON’T get too rowdy. As mentioned earlier, Mardi Gras is very much a family event for Native New Orleans residents. While Bourbon Street and the Uptown area might get a little wild, remember to always respect others when parading through neighborhoods!
-DON’T forget to wear comfortable footwear that you don’t value too much. Besides the obvious dancing and walking for hours, remember: you’re bound to be stepped on numerous times and those shoes of yours will get muddied beyond recognition.
-DON’T forget that February in the South doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be warm and dry — Bring something light you can layer on if it gets a bit cold for your liking.
-DON’T forget to wear purple, green and gold!
So what are you waiting for? Laissez les bon temps rouler! – Let the good times roll!