Each year, more than 4 million people arrive at New Orleans from around the world to be part of what is often advertised as "the greatest party on earth" - the Mardi Gras, il Shrove Tuesday or party of Carnival, which is celebrated almost everywhere, but which certainly in New Orleans, in the state of Louisiana, has a very special flavor.
A very long party, which begins in January (after the Epiphany), and which culminates with Mardi Gras Day - the day before Ash Wednesday. During this period, festive floats, men in costume, music, dancing and singing are the order of the day. The confusion is such that it can be difficult to visit New Orleans during this time. So here are our tips for organize a stay during he Mardi Gras.
- The Best Time to Enjoy New Orleans Mardi Gras
- How to plan a stay for Mardi Gras
- What if it's too late?
- The paths of the allegorical floats of the New Orleans Carnival
- How to organize transport and travel
- New Orleans Carnival: Parking Tips
- Get there early!
- Mardi Gras for Families
- Carnival behind the scenes
- Finally, a bit of history: the tradition of celebrating Marid Gras floats
The Best Time to Enjoy New Orleans Mardi Gras
The New Orleans party, as mentioned, is quite long, it lasts about a month and so you will probably have to choose the period to enjoy the celebrations. Parades and celebrations are almost everywhere and intensify especially in the last 2 weeks and especially on weekends, but perhaps the climax of the party is in the last 5 days (starting from the Friday before Shrove Tuesday).
How to plan a stay for Mardi Gras
Most hotels in the Central Business District and the French Quarter require a minimum stay of 4-5 days and rooms are booked constantly starting in August. In summary: book as soon as possible!
What if it's too late?
If you are reduced at the last moment for book a hotel however the last word is not said, there are still hopes! In the days leading up to the celebrations, hotels receive numerous cancellations of reservations, and they also have a waiting list to use as soon as a room is canceled. To succeed you will have to spend some time on the phone, calling and calling back, but in the end your persistence could be rewarded!
In any case, waiting for the last moment to book is not a good idea. If you don't want the minimum overnight stay required in most hotels it is possible that establishments that have not yet filled all the rooms will eventually decide to remove the minimum threshold, however there is no guarantee in this regard.
Finally, remember that the parades and celebrations begin well before Shrove Tuesday, and in those days the hopes of finding vacant rooms in New Orleans hotels grow considerably.
To search for accommodation we recommend 2 links:
Accommodation in the Mardi Gras area
Advice on where to sleep in New Orleans
The paths of the allegorical floats of the New Orleans Carnival
To better organize yourself, it is better to know the path followed by parades of allegorical floats. The journey of each single Mardi Gras parade involves crossing St. Charles Avenue and the Central Business District (the only exception is the Endymion wagon, which travels a particular street). Very few parades make their way into the French Quarter due to the old historic part of the city, so those who want to see one up close would do well to leave the neighborhood and go to Canal Street.
One thing that all Mardi Gras parades have in common is that the chariot leaders throw various objects at the crowd. Among these, the most sought after are the beads of Mardi Gras and plastic doubloons with the date and theme of the krewe for the year (members of the Zulu krewe make beautifully hand painted and decorated coconuts). Although city law makes it illegal to dispose of these artifacts, the condottieri are allowed to hand them over to you. A Zulu coconut is probably the most coveted and prized prize of the parade, and if you're lucky enough, you'll have one to show your friends when you return from your trip.
How to organize transport and travel
If you are coming from a suburban hotel, remember that the French Quarter during the Mardi Gras weekend it is closed to vehicular traffic. Only residents and hotel guests with special parking passes can pass police barricades. Outdoor car parks are expensive and fill up fast (get there early!) And remember: taxis are harder to find at this time of year.
It is a good idea to take one city map and study the areas to visit. New Orleans is a "checkerboard city," with safe neighborhoods just blocks from less recommendable areas. Your hotel concierge will help you with travel times, traffic and parking.
If you are staying in a suburban hotel, don't rely on it too much when it comes to getting around; it is true that some hotels have shuttles to New Orleans, but it is equally true that they are often not used during the carnival season. The traffic during this time it is incredibly congested and standard routes are often blocked to redirect the flow of traffic.
Using public transport can also be complicated: timetables and itineraries of buses and trams they change often during the season, so before leaving the hotel, it is good to plan in advance, inquiring not only on how to get there but also how to go back.
One means to take seriously is the bicycle, which will allow you to access areas where cars are not allowed or where parking is difficult.
New Orleans Carnival: Parking Tips
Do not park in:
- double row
- strade private
- in front of fire hydrants
- within 15 meters of the curves
- too far from the curb
- on the parade route within three hours of the start of a parade
Your car will be removed and you risk a fine of biblical proportions!
Get there early!
The parade paths may seem empty, but the streets get crowded quickly. For the biggest parades and weekend evenings before Mardi Gras, stop about four hours early to get a good seat.
If you arrive late, do not move the empty chairs or stairs you find along the parade route to create a good seat. Families tend to find themselves in the same place year after year, and neighbors know their places quite well. Someone is always looking at that point, trust me! If you move a chair or a ladder, it won't go unnoticed.
Mardi Gras for Families
Contrary to popular belief, Mardi Gras is suitable for families, just be careful to avoid the most uninhibited krewe (for example the Krewe du Vieux) and settle in the most suitable areas, avoiding the French quarter. Most families gather around St. Charles Avenue, halfway between Napoleon Avenue and Lee Circle. If you move to this area you will surely find many families dedicated to picnics with a lot of barbecues along the whole route of the parade.
The area that the media gives the most prominence is the French Quarter, however this area is not the real core of the celebration, but rather an area where the most uninhibited behaviors are tolerated.
Carnival behind the scenes
There is a very unique way to enjoy New Orleans Mardi Gras, a behind-the-scenes tour that will allow you to learn its secrets, also suitable for families and available in Spanish. For more information go to this page.
Finally, a bit of history: the tradition of celebrating Marid Gras floats
In 1857, a group called Mystik Krewe Comus (krewes later), made a torchlight procession complete with floats that illustrated the themes of mythology and classical literature. After the American Civil War (1861-1865), many new krewes, or clubs, began to join the parades and offer gifts to the crowd (candy, colored balls, etc…). There Krewe of Rex, which dates back to 1872, is today the most prestigious club in Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and it is this group that gave life to the traditional coronation of the King of Carnival (for further historical information click here).
Today, Mardi Gras has become a notable tourist attraction, a must-see in New Orleans, with hotels and restaurants booked months (sometimes years!) In advance and with all the jazz, blues and Dixieland bands in the state. who gather in this charming city to celebrate on every street corner, in bars, hotels, parties and masked balls.
All this explosion of colors suddenly deflates, inevitably ending at midnight. When the clock strikes, Lent begins and the party ends, with the police arriving bringing with them another parade: that of the street sweepers who come to clean up the streets.