With Fat Tuesday just around the corner on March 5, now is as good a time as any to educate visitors on proper attire, protocols and general behavior during New Orlean’s most hyped and honored tradition.
It’s a Family Affair
Forget what you’ve heard. Unless you keep your bacchanalia confined to Bourbon Street (where you’ll definitely see beads and topless folk of all kinds), the vast majority of parties and parades are geared toward the whole families – littles are very much included in the festivities!
Just try to Keep Up
People in New Orleans take their partying seriously. Very seriously. It’s not for the faint of heart. You can burn out if you roll into the city early and have a few too many late, late nights. Save a little something for Fat Tuesday, the day when the best parades are on and the spirit of New Orleans is shining its brightest. Locals know to pace themselves so follow their lead. Hydrate, sleep, revelry, more hydration, more sleep….and repeat.
You Don’t Need a Ticket for This Ride
Many a tourist has been snookered by “gentlemen” hawking “tickets” to some of Mardi Gras most prestigious parades. If this happens to you, you’re getting played! All of the parades during Mardi Gras are 100% free – the various social clubs around the city (Krewes) spend all year and countless dollars preparing for the events surrounding the holiday. The events that do cost money are the Carnival Krewe Balls. These parties are well worth the cash, and most of the money raised goes back into the community as the Krewes have a philanthropic mission.
New Orleans dining is some of the best in the country. This is the one time of year where waits will almost certainly drag on for hours, so you better reserve in advance if you’re dying for a classic Commander’s Palace dinner, you’d better have booked it (months in advance).
Head Uptown for a Prime Spot on the Parade Route
There are two reasons you might not want to be downtown to catch a parade. First and foremost, the parades start on St. Charles Avenue in uptown and this part of town is generally thought to be a less crowded place to perch (and even get up close and personal with the floats). None of the parades even go through Bourbon Street – it’s far too narrow for the floats! Second, float riders toss treats of all sorts at folks along the parade route. The best stuff tends to go fast – if you want to catch some cool swag, you’d best catch the parade early along the route.
Stay Out of the Way
There are very few ways to anger a local faster than to obstruct a float. That’s right. Along most of the streets on a parade route, people can mix and mingle with the festivities. That may sound awesome (or terrifying for some people), but if you’re someone who really likes to “get in the mix,” just remember to stay out of the way and don’t bend over to pick anything up. It’s the surest way to get whacked on the head or plowed into by other revelers.
Crash a Party
Many people open their homes to partygoers during Mardi Gras – at some of the toniest addresses in the city. It’s true that not every house is “open,” but if the door is open to the street, it generally means you can come on in and join the fun.
Respect the Streets
Is this one a little vague? Well, it’s a problem every year. People are enjoying themselves at the largest street party in Louisiana, and sooner or later someone has to use the restroom. Unfortunately, the lines are long, and not everyone waits. We’re not sure of the exact stats over here, but the New Orleans police department does a brisk business in ticket writing during Mardi Gras – just writing up people who “couldn’t wait” and decided to relieve themselves on the street. Don’t be that guy (or girl).
Don’t Bother the Police Horses
Huh? Yes, you will see a fair number of beat cops in New Orleans on horseback. This one is common sense, but you’d be surprised at how common sense goes straight out the window when it meets up with its frenemy, alcohol. Just don’t touch, poke, or in any way aggravate a police horse. These are powerful animals and a spooked horse can be a very dangerous weapon.
….Don’t Forget the King Cake
It’s a tradition you can’t skip. Gambino’s and Randazzo’s cook up classic versions, and a more upscale favorite comes from Tartine. Order them in advance for $20 (or pick one up at Rouses (the local supermarket) if you forget!
For other awesome festivals to attend, check out Around the World in 12 festivals!