A bucket list, if you’re not familiar with the term, is a list of experiences you’d like to try before you shuffle off this mortal coil. One that was on my list until last year was seeing the Mardi Gras Carnival in New Orleans – an unparalleled orgy of excess, featuring fantastic music and food, wild behaviour and a party atmosphere like nowhere else.
I strongly recommend a visit if you ever get the chance, and suggest you make use of the following pieces of advice to ensure you have the best time possible.
The parades, which are the highlight, run for a few weeks. In 2014 the dates are 15th February to 4th March.
Most hotels start taking bookings around August, nearly 9 months before Mardi Gras. That means if you want to go this year you’re going to struggle to get accommodation anywhere in the vicinity of New Orleans. But do try, because cancellations happen right up until it starts, so you may get lucky.
The traffic in some parts of the city is beyond ridiculous during Mardi Gras to the point where it’s not even worth bothering to drive or get on the bus as you’d be quicker walking. Some people suggest using bikes to get around – this is a good idea, but don’t bring a valuable one, and lock it up securely.
Study Your Route
Decide beforehand which place(s) you want to stand and watch, and get there nice and early because the best spots fill up very fast. Some people arrive hours before to ensure they can see everything, and many even bring a ladder along to get the best view of all.
You’re going to be on your feet for most of the day, standing, walking or dancing, so make sure you’re ready for it. Bring snacks and drinks along as restaurants and cafes get very busy. Also check the weather forecast and bring sunscreen or a waterproof as necessary.
Learn Your Krewes
Most floats in the parades are run by Krewes, individual organisations that are responsible for creating costumes and decorations. They all have interesting names and histories, and you can watch out for them as they pass by.
Bring An Empty Bag
The Krewes will spend most of the parade journey tossing trinkets such as plastic jewellery and doubloons, and stuffed toys, into the crowd. You’ll acquire masses of goodies during the day – I remember when my Dad went on one of his regular America holidays back in the 80s he brought almost a full suitcase of it home. They make fun souvenirs.
If you’re bringing the kids along, just be sure and avoid the French Quarter as this is where the more risqué behaviour takes place. Anywhere outside of this area should be fine though.
If you’re planning to meet friends during Mardi Gras, arrange a time and place because finding someone in the crowds is next-to-impossible, and you’ll struggle to hear a mobile conversation over the noise.
Be Careful At Night
Especially around the French Quarter. As at any major event, unfortunately crime is heightened and although the police at Mardi Gras have a good reputation for crowd control, petty theft is common. Don’t bring too many valuables, and keep wallets and phones secure.
This is a carnival – the more outlandishly you dress the better! It doesn’t matter how crazy your costume is, someone else will be wearing something that can top it. Competitions are run for the best outfit too so you may even win something.
Listen To The Music
Beyond the parades themselves there are dozens of live music shows all day long, in areas such as the RiverWalk and French Quarter, from free street gigs by amateur musicians to paying performances.
Biog: Rob loved his experience at Mardi Gras 2013 and aims to return in 2015 with the whole family.