There ain’t no party like a Mardi Gras party! Chances are if you are a NOLA local or if it’s not your first rodeo when it comes to celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, then you may need a little hand holding when it comes to what to expect when enjoying all the Big Easy has to offer.
A little guidance and explanation can go a long way to answer those all-important questions like ‘What is Mardi Gras?’, ‘What’s the history of Mardi Gras?’, ‘What happens in New Orleans on Mardi Gras?’.
If you want to really celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans, then take a look at our helpful guide which reveals all.
What is Mardi Gras?
Mardi what now?! We have heard this phrase over a thousand times, but it’s one of those terms of phrase where we all think we know what it means, so let’s get things back to basics. Are you sitting comfortably? Then let’s begin!.
You might remember from your Tricolore GCSE French days that ‘Mardi’ translates to Tuesday in French. ‘Gras’ is French for ‘fat’, put it together and Mardi Gras literally translates as ‘Fat Tuesday’ and is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday.
Mardi Gras reflects the practice of the last night of eating rich, fatty foods before the start of Lent where many of us give up some of the things that we love to eat.
When is Mardi Gras?
As the date of Ash Wednesday changes every year, this naturally changes the date of Mardi Gras too.
It’s typically in February or in early March at the latest and as Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, and for Catholics that live in New Orleans, Lent means sacrifice, so Mardi Gras is the last shindig before Lent.
But of course, one day of partying in New Orleans is simply not enough (as you will soon discover!)
What’s the difference between carnival and Mardi Gras?
First and foremost, Mardi Gras is a day in isolation, but it forms part of the overall carnival season. The season when it comes to Mardi Gras in New Orleans begins on the Feast of Epiphany on January 6th.
The carnival season is typically between one and three months long and is a series of carnivals which are made up of events like balls, parades and similar.
There are small parades that take place leading up to the main 12-day parading period. But the bigger ones take place in the last five days that make up the main weekend (from Thursday night until the morning of Fat Tuesday) when the largest parades in New Orleans run back-to-back.
What is a ‘krewe’ and what do they do when it comes to carnival season and in particular Mardi Gras?
A krewe (pronounced the same way as ‘crew’) is an organisation that puts on a parade and/or a ball for the Carnival season in New Orleans. The Mardi Gras is the big one though!
The Mardi Gras krewes date all the way back to the mid-nineteenth century when the first parades started rolling through the streets of the Big Easy.
There are in excess of 75 + krewes and each of them has their own objectives and vision for what they want to achieve for both Mardi Gras and the carnival season as a whole.
Tell me about the parades? What can I expect?
The history of the New Orleans krewes date back to the 1800s and they are credited for establishing the Mardi Gras in New Orleans traditions that we know and love today. One of the most important krewes – The Krewe of Rex dates back to 1872. Typically, the Rex parades take place on the day of Mardi Gras, and the King of Rex is the official King of the Carnival.
When it comes to the other parades, they are predominantly large parades and after showcasing their wares, they host lavish parties and feature celebrity kings.
You can see a wide selection of parades of around 80 + each with their very own theme rolling through New Orleans throughout the Carnival Season, but the biggest, most elaborate and most exciting parades take place during the last weekend that leads up to Mardi Gras itself.
Is Mardi Gras suitable for families?
If you are celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans with your family, you are in luck as it’s predominantly family-friendly.
There are lots of parades and activities that are family-friendly. Whilst you want to enjoy the fun, there are some parade-watching spots that are ideal for little ones – head over to St. Charles and Napoleon Streets for the best views. There are also lots of parades with brightly coloured floats and marching bands that are ideal for the whole family.
Is there such a thing as a dog-friendly parade?
If you happen to have your four-legged friend with you or are borrowing someone else’s pooch, then you are in luck!
There are a number of not just dog-friendly parades, but animal-friendly parades at the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
What is a throw and how can I get in on the action?!
Historically, the krewes whilst on the floats of the parade would toss out ‘throws’ made of plastic like beads, plastic cups, and toys to the watching crowds.
Whilst a few remaining krewes still do this with the likes of beads and doubloons, the more eco-conscious are opting to throw more environmentally-friendly and handcrafted throws as well as old favourites like stuffed animals, zulu coconuts, nyx purses and bizarrely toilet brushes (yes! You read that right!)
What can I eat at Mardi Gras?
Two words – King Cake. It’s the most sought-after things to eat during Mardi Gras and is one of the ‘must eat’ things when celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
There are lots of amazing bakeries where you can get your ‘king’ fix – we love the Cake Cafe, and most bakeries and even grocery stores will have their own variations.
Crawfish is also one of the most popular things to eat along with gumbo, beignets, sno ‘balls and Po’ boys. Why not check out some of the best restaurants in New Orleans via our handy guide?
Orbzii Insider tip: The list of the city’s best restaurants will see you in good stead, but be sure to make reservations well in advance for the more popular spots as tables will fill up quickly, just as the rest of the city does this time of year.
What else to do in New Orleans during Mardi Gras?
There’s always lots to do when celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but on the big day itself, you can wander around the French Quarter and eyeball some of the incredible costumes that are on display.
Why not sit with a cup of coffee and people watch whilst listening to the sweet music of the brass bands that play in-between the floats at the parades.
Being in this area is a real buzz, but if you need an MGTO (Mardi Gras Time Out) then head over to the tranquil City Park where you can enjoy some relative peace and quiet which is one of our favourite things to do in New Orleans.
Of course, the nightlife in New Orleans is always EPIC, but especially so during Mardi Gras!
Orbzii Insider tip: Make sure you carve some time out to visit the Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. It’s the perfect place to decompress and see the incredible sculptures on display.
What do I wear to Mardi Gras in New Orleans?
Mardi Gras in New Orleans is all about the costumes. There’s no obligation to wear a costume, but more people do than don’t wear one. Dress to impress and anything goes here – and we do mean anything!
If costumes aren’t your thing then why not opt for wearing one of the traditional Carnival colours of gold, green and purple.
Whether you go the whole hog with a fabulous costume, or if you just wear one of your favourite outfits in festival colours, make you wear comfortable shoes as there’s a lot of walking and standing around when watching the Mardi Gras in New Orleans.