Mardi Gras New Orleans
by Lance LaHara
Lance Lahara first attended Mardi Gras New Orleans in 1971.
How big a celebration is Mardi Gras New Orleans? Imagine the largest, most crowded party you ever saw. Now double, triple, quadruple it---keep quadrupling it over several square miles of drunken crazies dancing between floats in countless parades-- --young (and not so young) women screaming and flashing their breasts for beads and gimcracks, and everyone gone crazy for days and weeks at a stretch. Now you’re getting some idea of Mardi Gras New Orleans. Read on for reviews, tips, and the rest of the best short intro to the world’s wildest party.
Quick definition of Mardi Gras
New Orleans has many cultural traditions, but none is so well known as Mardi Gras, French for “Fat Tuesday.” Lent, the Catholic period of repentance leading up to Easter, always starts on Ash Wednesday. To prepare for Lent, good Catholics let off steam the day before, on what they call Fat Tuesday. But human nature being what it is, Fat Tuesday gradually stretched itself, and Mardi Gras New Orleans’ season commences in early January, building in intensity till midnight before Ash Wednesday. As Mardi Gras day approaches, the parades come more frequently and everyone gets less inhibited until Fat Tuesday ends in a frenzy of abandoned inhibition. For 2005, the prime time is February 4-8, but Mardi Gras is variable. Timed 47 days back from Easter, it can occur as late as March 9---it all depends on when Easter falls.
First Things First: What to do upon arrival in Mardi Gras New Orleans
1. Secure lodging ahead of time if possible. Hotels and Motels fill up early for Mardi Gras New Orleans and prices are high. So go in with six or eight friends; seasonal rates won’t hurt when split several ways, and you won’t be sleeping much anyhow. And don’t despair if you’re reading this “book early” admonition three days before the last parade—many people leave early, get thrown in jail, or get thrown out of their lodging for over-exuberance during Mardi Gras. New Orleans is a big town--go on down and see what you can find at the last minute. Bring your sleeping bag just in case. If that sounds too risky, you’re not quite ready for Mardi Gras New Orleans!
2. Park your car. Trust me; you don’t want to drive during Mardi Gras New Orleans, for obvious reasons. Doesn’t matter if you have to park several miles away; the bus and trolley services are excellent. Cheerfully pay whatever the parking lot asks, especially if they don’t mind you sleeping in your car (see # 1 above). And if you fly in, don’t worry about rental car premium pricing either—think of your rental as an emergency cheap motel!
3. Locate the French Quarter and find a Parade Guide. Jump on almost any trolley or bus; you’ll eventually end up at the French Quarter. Bourbon Street is the heart of the quarter, a collection of some of the oldest buildings in the U.S., dating back to colonial New Orleans. What you’ll see on Bourbon is seemingly endless bars, strip clubs, music dives, and novelty shops, all very interesting. But as you’ll discover, the main party is in the streets. The parades, put on by “Krews” who compete for the best looking floats and costumes, are practically non-stop in the last week. The Bacchus, Zulu, and Elks are prime time, but any parade is a blast. Get those beads!
What else goes on during Mardi Gras New Orleans?
You don’t have to be a drunken fool (though it helps) to enjoy Mardi Gras. New Orleans is like another country. You’ll find stately Jackson Square on the way to the Mississippi river, where you can take a ferry or a steamboat ride. Some of the best food in the country can be sampled all over town, from red beans and rice in a cheap dive to the fanciest gourmet fare in the quarter’s five star restaurants. Take the trolley to Tulane University and check out the magnificent Magnolias along the way, and investigate the above ground graveyards (New Orleans is below sea level, so holes fill up with water fast).
There’s plenty more to tell, but you’d best get packing if you don’t want to miss the party. But do take a few minutes to click through the web for deals and tips on restaurants, hotels, motels, attractions, and more for Mardi Gras New Orleans. Then, as the locals say, “Bon Temps Roulette (Let the Good Times Roll)!”
Lance LaHara writes unique opinion pieces on life topics for Pulse MEDIA International (PulseMed.org)