Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) has been celebrated in New Orleans since 1856 and serves as an the energetic climax of the Carnival season. Carnival season officially starts each year on January 6th, marking the King’s Day (Feast of the Epiphany) but the main party in New Orleans is the 14 days leading up to Fat Tuesday. Fat Tuesday is considered the last day Christians can eat and drink whatever they want each year before 30 days of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. Fat Tuesday can be as early as February 3, or as late as March 9, depending on when Easter falls each year. Fat Tuesday is always 47 days before Easter and Easter is first Sunday after the Spring Full Moon. The two week celebration in New Orleans is a non-stop of parties, joy, bead tossing, costumes, music, drinking, eating, and lavish parades that engulf the entire city. If there was one thing that best summed up New Orleans culture, it would be Mardi Gras.
Helpful Mardi Gras Tips:
1. Best Time To Go To Mardi Gras: While celebrations happen over a 2 week period for Mardi Gras in New Orleans, it is really up to your preference for when you should go. If you don’t like big crowd but still want a taste of the festivities then go early. If you want to jump in head first and get the full experience come the weekend before Fat Tuesday when it is the busiest and stay until the end. The weather is typically also good and the partying goes as late as 5am. If you want to escape the city and parades during the day check out our Top Day Trips From New Orleans.
2. Where to Stay: If you want to visit Mardi Gras you better book your hotel room very early as hotels in the compact French Quarter sell out fast. When we say fast if you aren’t book 6-12 months in advance, your choices are going to be limited. You will really want to stay in the core of town near Bourbon or Royal Street if possible not only to be close to the action, but also to avoid walking through any bad neighborhoods after a long night of drinking. If you have to stay outside the French Quarter consider either the Garden District or the part of town between these two areas as they are not only the most convenient but also the safest. If all of the major hotel chains are sold out consider any of the local bed & breakfasts that are often left off of websites like hotels.com. Like other huge international celebrations like Oktoberfest in Munich, expect to pay 2-3 times more for a hotel during Mardi Gras, especially on weekends.
3. About The Parades: While most of the partying happens up and down famous Bourbon Street, the major daily Parades routes have run along St. Charles Avenue & Canal Street West of the French Quarter since the late 1960’s. The Parades routes were moved to these streets because of how narrow the French Quarter streets are, however, it hasn’t slowed the Quarter’s party scene down one bit. While there are a couple parade that go through part of the French Quarter, the parades themselves largely have family friendly atmospheres and are away from most of the hard core drinking. It typically only on Bourbon Street where woman will be flashing their boobs to get beads surrounded by drunk guys.
Some of the floats cost more than $1 Million and can be over 300 feet long! Since there are over 1,000 floats and 50 parades you can see why it takes something dramatic to really stand out. Float riders are required to wear masks at all times and since the 1870s they have thrown beads, doubloons, and trinkets to the observing public. The weekend right before Fat Tuesday are the busiest parade days when the streets are packed with bleacher seating. The two best parades both happen on St Charles Street called Bacchus and Rex. Bacchus is named after the Roman God of Wine, features celebrity guests and ends at a party of 5,000 people. Rex ifs where you will find the best hand painted floats. For a full parade schedule and routes Click HERE.
4. Mardi Gras Dress: If you aren’t dressed festive at Mardi Gras, you won’t get the fully experience. Many of the costumes showcase New Orleans’ French root, while most other costumes are themed along both the city’s Voodoo and Cajun roots. Expect a lot of skeletons, many very revealing outfits, and the official Madri Gras Colors of Purple, Green, and Gold. The colors were selected in 1872 with Purple represents justice, Green represents faith and Gold represents power. Fat Tuesday is the biggest day for the wearing of costumes, but people will at least be wear Mardi Gras colors even if they aren’t dressed up the other days.
5. Mardi Gras World: Mardi Gras World is a huge chamber of wonders, created for you by the people who bring Mardi Gras to life every year, the artists of Blaine Kern Studios. The colors, the lights, the music, the joie de vivre. Year-round you can peek behind the curtain and tour Mardi Gras in the making through a wide range of giant floats, props, and costumes. Since 1947, Blaine Kern Studios has been as much a part of Carnival as the parades New Orleans themselves and are now the World’s leading makers of floats, sculpture, and props.
Hours: Daily 9:30am-4:30pm with tours every 30 minutes. Cost: Adults $20, Children $13. Getting Here: It is located right at the end of the Riverfront Streetcar line which follows the river from the French Quarter going south. Cost for the streetcar is $1.25 each way but Mardi Gras world also has a number of free shuttles that leave from Jackson Square, just call them before hand to confirm departure times.
6. Future Mardi Gras Dates: To save you the time Googling it, here are the dates of many of the upcoming Fat Tuesdays
• February 9, 2016
• February 28, 2017
• February 13, 2018
• March 5, 2019
• February 25, 2020
• February 16, 2021
7. Odds & Ends: Expect your cell phone won’t work during the height of biggest parades and bar nights as the hoards of people often overload the cell phone network. Have a meeting place as a back up in case your group gets separated since you may not be able to reach them by phone. Like any time you travel carry a little tissue and hand sanitizer with because you just never know. Plan on delays and long lines for food, so arrive early and make reservations when you can plan ahead. Worst case at least bring a couple snacks like protein bars in case you have to stand in line a long time for food.