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Help a Mardi Gras First-Timer

If you’ve lived in New Orleans long enough that you say “Carnival” instead of “Mardi Gras,” you know how to navigate New Orleans’ favorite season.

But if you’ve invited a friend who has never celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans before, chances are your out-of-towner is going to need some guidance. Here are a few tips for introducing your guest to Mardi Gras. We asked Jennifer Lotz of the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau to share some expert advice.

Alert your guest of the attire. In other parts of the country, Mardi Gras is simply celebrated with purple, green and gold beads. Tell your friend that costumes are common in New Orleans so he or she can plan accordingly. Lotz suggests telling your guest to bring comfortable shoes because there’s going to be a lot of walking.

Make a plan for transportation. Try to walk as much as possible. Walking is more convenient and it’s a great way for someone new to get a sense of the Mardi Gras atmosphere. “Talk to locals as you walk down St. Charles prior to the parade,” Lotz says. “It’s not uncommon for a local to offer you a cool beverage or a piece of King Cake.”

Explain the lingo and laws. There are lots of terms and rules in New Orleans that seem obvious to locals but a lot of out-of-towners don’t know about. For example, it’s OK to carry an alcoholic drink throughout the city, as long as it’s in a “go-cup.” Make sure your friend isn’t walking around with glass. Lotz also advises pointing out terms such as “sidewalk side” and “neutral ground side” so your guest can find you if you get separated.

See a famous parade and a smaller one, too. Your friend will want to see famous parades, such as the Krewe of Endymion, Krewe of Bacchus and Krewe of Orpheus, but let him or her know about other parades, too. Check out the Krewe of Mid-City (which actually parades Uptown) or relative newcomers, the Krewe of Nyx. If you find yourself in the French Quarter on Fat Tuesday, keep an eye out for the less formal but equally jubilant groups, such as the Society of Saint Anne, the Ducks of Dixieland, Krewe de Lune and Mondo Kayo. Also, tell your guest that he or she doesn’t need to see every single parade. “Mardi Gras is such a traditional time in New Orleans,” Lotz says, “and any parade is really going to give you the authentic experience that visitors are often looking for.”

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