Mardi Gras and New Orleans

June 6, 2013 at 10:34 pm

What you see concerning Mardi Gras on TV every year is the tip of the Carnival iceberg. And if you’re up for a wild party, mostly traveling through equally raucous crowds along Bourbon Street, there you are!

But Carnival and Mardi Gras in New Orleans is so much more, a slice of Americana steeped in Louisiana culture.

The season of Carnival begins on Jan. 6, otherwise known as the Epiphany or Twelfth Night of Christmas, the day the Three Wise Men brought gifts to the Christ child. The “season” lasts until the day of Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. In a nutshell, Carnival and Mardi Gras is living it up before giving it up.

New Orleans Street car on Canal Street

New Orleans Street car on Canal Street

“Carnival refers to the season of merriment which always begins on Jan. 6,” writes Arthur Hardy in his annual “Mardi Gras Guide,” a must for visitors. “Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is the single culminating day of Carnival.”

During Carnival season, there are elaborate balls, parades, Mardi Gras Indians (as seen on the HBO series “Tremé”) and special events happening in New Orleans, ranging from the traditional to the absurd. The fun begins Jan. 6 with the Phunny Phorty Phellows traveling up St. Charles Avenue in a decorated streetcar proclaiming the start of Carnival and The Joan of Arc Project resembling something more medieval walking through the French Quarter.

King Cake with Baby and Champagne

King Cake with Baby and Champagne

Most of the fun revolves around the numerous parades that roll through city and suburb streets. Only a few walking parades happen in the French Quarter due to its narrow streets so most will follow established parade routes. Carnival is made up of dozens of “krewes,” organizations that either put on a ball or a parade — or both — and they are the ones who are standing in costumes on floats throwing beads, trinkets and doubloons (aluminum coins) to the crowds.

Mardi Gras Masks

Mardi Gras Masks

Parades routinely happen on weekends in Carnival, then offer a final 10 days of solid parades leading up to Mardi Gras. Because of the Super Bowl occurring in New Orleans this year, the parade schedule is slightly altered. Parades will be rolling the weekend of Jan. 25-27, Friday and Saturday, Feb. 1-2 and Wednesday, Feb. 6 through Mardi Gras Tuesday, Feb. 12. There are three “super parades” featuring double- and triple-decker floats and celebrity royalty: Bacchus, Endymion and Orpheus.

On Mardi Gras day in New Orleans, visitors can enjoy the traditional Zulu and Rex parades, following by an endless stream of costumed trucks. Rex is considered the king of Carnival and his meeting with his queen later that night signals the end to the season. Zulu is a predominantly African American parade created during segregation to both allow blacks to parade and mock the once all-white festivities. Other special events happening on Mardi Gras day are the Mardi Gras Indians, another African American tradition; special walking clubs like Pete Fountain; and the Gay Mardi Gras with its elaborate costume contest on Bourbon Street.

Since Carnival is a winter holiday, it’s important to dress for any kind of weather. Winter in New Orleans ranges from freezing to sunburns, so dress in layers and be prepared for anything! If you costume on Mardi Gras day, the same rule applies.

Jackson Square in the French Quarter, New Orleans

Jackson Square in the French Quarter, New Orleans

Accommodations fill up fast for Carnival, and prices tend to be higher during this time. Restaurants also pack in the crowds so make reservations if possible. Since this is a time to be on the streets having fun, staying at the finest hotel is not necessary, but if you can find one on a parade route that’s a plus, for both the convenience of walking out your door to the parade and an available bathroom.

Many people assume New Orleans Carnival and Mardi Gras to be an adults-only holiday. Obviously, it’s not advisable to bring children to the French Quarter during this time — at least not the bawdy areas such as Bourbon Street. But Carnival, with its parades featuring bands, krewe members throwing trinkets and beads and the festival atmosphere surrounding it all, is perfect for children. The trick is to enjoy the parades in the more family-friendly areas. The best spots for families include the beginnings of the parade route in New Orleans or the parades that roll in the suburb of Metairie.

 If you are interested in visiting New Orleans or the surrounding area, check out our New Orleans Vacation Package and start planning your next vacation!

Cheré Coen is a Lafayette, La., travel writer and author, but a native of New Orleans. Her latest book is “Exploring Cajun Country: A Tour of Historic Acadiana.” Follow her at

Travel Tips and Activity Ideas for Thanksgiving

October 14, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Autumn Leaves at ThanksgivingLet’s admit it: American Thanksgiving has changed drastically from a hallowed day of giving thanks and celebrating the pilgrims’ discovery of North America, to a commercialized occasion for eating egregiously and flailing over football. However, one thing that has not changed about Thanksgiving, held on the fourth Thursday of November, is the tradition of Americans spending time with their loved ones — consequently ramping up travel business by driving or flying hundreds of miles per capita over a mere four days.

Travel tips
Because Thanksgiving is a hectic time for travel, we suggest finalizing your plans now. Advance tickets and accommodations are more available in October than they will be even in early November. Furthermore, planes will be stuffed like a traditional turkey with all the passengers jetting cross-country, so pack light to eliminate checked bag fees and ensure you have space in the overhead bins. Roads will be more crowded on Thursday for trips under 100 miles, so consider driving on Wednesday for short distances. Likewise, airport and road traffic will be heavy Sunday, so plan accordingly!

Thanksgiving Traditions

Thanksgiving - Travel Tips for the Holiday

Turkey Trots and Football
Americans often gain several pounds from November to January — after all, can you really refuse Nana’s third offering of mashed potatoes with gravy? Tripwolf’s blog paints a caricature of the typical Thanksgiving post-prandial state: “TV and movies don’t usually show the very unsexy parts of Thanksgiving where you’re watching football in a half-comatose state after having covertly unbuttoned your jeans.” So get out of that house or hotel!

Burn off those two (ok, three) slices of pumpkin pie by finding a Turkey Trot run or race near you. This is great for family bonding and guilt reduction, and many events allow you to run for a good cause. Check’s event listings for a race in your city. You might also opt to start a friendly game of (American!) football in lieu of watching the NFL game on TV with 39 million others — to kill time while the chefs are in the kitchen!

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York - Snoopy Balloon

© musicwala

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York
The famous parade of performers, floats and giant cartoon characters is a Thanksgiving tradition for many families as they anticipate the evening meal. For those not in New York, catch the parade on TV from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Thursday. For a good seat when viewing in person, layer up, arrive as early as 6 a.m., and sip on hot chocolate while you wait. For less stress, head to the Museum of Natural History at Columbus and 77th on Wednesday around 4 p.m. to watch the giant balloons being inflated!

Black Friday and Cyber Monday
On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, try your luck alongside the millions of others nationwide who will line up early for store sales beginning at 5 AM, but be safe! Overly enthusiastic shoppers have been known to trample and fight others just to get their deal. Cyber Monday, an online discount shopping event following Thanksgiving weekend, should prove slightly more calm!

Travel Extras

What are your plans for Thanksgiving? Any advice for the best travel at this time of year?