So it is Mardi Gras weekend, and you are ready to celebrate! Unfortunately, the party is over before any real fun can begin. You find out your friend booked a hotel room 15 miles away from where you need to be, you overpaid for it, you didn’t bring any cash for the bars, and you have been drinking since the airport and haven’t had a bite to eat. After you finally make the cab ride to downtown after endless traffic, you are overcome by the visions you have in your head of Mardi Grass stereotypes and start yelling at girls to show you their goods. Before you know it, you have a black eye, you’ve thrown up your many Hurricanes and Hand Grenades, and you are being arrested by the good old NOPD for urinating in public at Jackson Square. This is all, of course, after you were already pick pocketed and your only finances and identification for the weekend have vanished. After you waste your time sitting in a cell sobering up, your friends officially decide you will never be invited anywhere ever again.
While Lemony Snicket may enjoy your failure at a fun-filled debaucherous weekend, these rookie mistakes are sure to be ones you wish to avoid. While I am by no means a veteran to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, as this year was my first, I have compiled some tips my veteran friends suggested, as well as those I took away after my weekend experience.
Here are my 10 DOs and DON’TS for Mardi Gras New Orleans.
1.) DO: Plan Ahead. – We booked our hotel over 6 months in advance, but some even plan a full year in advance. Most of the hotels in walking distance of the French Quarter hotels require minimum 3, 4, or 5-day stays. Make your reservations early, and if you planning on packing people in a room, make sure to call about hotel security around Mardi Gras. Some hotels – annoyed with drunken people asking to use the toilet – often enforce hotel key room checks or wristband checks for entrance. It is also not necessary to get a room directly in the French Quarter. Making the cross over canal st. during a parade can be tricky, if not impossible, and you don’t want to be stuck and unable to get a cab ride before you need to leave.
DON’T: Stress. Mardi Gras weekend is meant for celebration and carefree fun. Do not stress your vacation away. So it’s Februrary, and you have officially not booked a hotel but want to go to Mardi Gras anyway? Don’t give up! It will by no means will be easy, but call hotels non-stop and there are often cancellations. We met a group of guys who booked their hotel only a week in advance within walking distance to the French Quarter due to a cancellation. In all fairness, they paid a hefty amount for the last minute booking, but it’s definitely possible. Another option is staying in the outskirts such as in Mettarie and driving early into downtown to celebrate the festivities. Most of my friends had a hotel in the outskirts and saved their money for other things for the weekend. Although it is nice to have a hotel nearby to crash to, it isn’t a necessity. If you are planning late, be realistic. Be happy with what you get and stay optimistic and in good spirits. Above all else, don’t complain.
2.) DO: Rally. Mardi Gras is definitely portrayed as a nonstop party, and for many, it is. Do your liver a favor and do not overkill yourself. Most people start in the early mornings with a mimosa or bloody mary and pace themselves for the rest of the day. Don’t poop out before it even hits midnight. I guarantee the streets will be crowded until the sun rises. Although you might not be able to rally hard every day of your stay, definitely try your best to pace yourself as best you can. This is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.
DON’T: Forget to Eat! Line your stomach while you are roaming the streets of New Orleans. Don’t make my mistake of eating an early dinner at 5 pm, drinking at night and catching the next early plane back home only to knock out and sleep until 5 pm the next day. I went 24 hours without food due to exhaustion and my body was definitely numb for an hour or two incredibly angry at me until I finally ate. Grab some beignets at Café Du Monde, a po’ boy for lunch, and some gumbo, crawfish etouffee, or jambalaya for dinner. Street food is everywhere, but if you want to sit at a famous restaurant along the parade root, get reservations where they are accepted. It will be a fairly long day so make sure if you are planning on eating only street food, you have some hand sanitizer or wet wipes to clean up. There are many people that get sick following the weekend.
3.) DO: Keep Hydrated. – Similarly to Don’t #2, keeping your body happy whilst drinking and roaming the streets is always a necessity. Water and sports drinks are your friend. Although this was not an issue during our stay, it is also known to get fairly hot in New Orleans as well. If you are watching parades during the day, pack on some sunscreen and keep a bottle of water handy.
DON’T: Pee In The Street. – While it important to keep hydrated, it is also important to keep mindful of where you can go to the bathroom. The streets are pretty grotesque as it is. Do not contribute to its stench. Oh. Also, you’ll get arrested. Cops put up with a lot of crude behavior during this madness of a holiday but public urination is something they will not turn a blind eye to. Most of the bars and restaurants will allow you to use their bathroom after you buy a drink or you can directly pay for them. We didn’t dare venture into the porto-potties, but they are available if you have some tissues on hand and are adventurous enough.
4.) DO: Arrive Early. – Whether your prerogative is to hit the bars or catch a parade, do so early. Find your parking – legally – and grab a space. Parade spots go quickly. Some annual goers actually stake out their spot at 6am for the infamous Bacchaus parade that doesn’t start until 12 hours later. There are parades throughout the day that keep them happy, but arriving early is a must. As for bars and clubs, cover charges usually begin later into the night. Get there early enough and you will beat the $5-$20 cover charge.
Don’t: Get Lost In The Crowd. Crowds are endless during Mardi Gras. The largest free party of the year draws millions of people from across the world, and it is very possible to be completely sober and still lose your group. You might easily get distracted by someone’s costume, or lack there of. The sites at Mardi Gras are distracting. Intoxicated people doing regrettable things is even more distracting. Designate a meeting spot, divide hotel room keys, and keep phones charged. Some people also had whistles or noisemakers that seem handy after reflecting. Our group also brought out a mini-megaphone one night that was a great investment. Don’t bother trying to call your lost friend due to the signal and noise, but text messaging takes less reception and will be your best bet.
5.) Do: Check Out The Parades. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is known for some fairly raunchy things, but parade going is definitely still family friendly. Parades do not even make it into the French Quarter, and we were surprised by how fun they actually are to witness. Each “Krewe” interacts with the crowd and throw trinkets – ranging from beads and bags to cups and stuff animals – toward the jumping crowds in the streets. Make eye contact with a krew member and you’ll be sure to get some prizes. If you want even more attention, make a sign displaying how far you came! There was some people we met that came all the way from Panama to be there. If possible, bring a tote or bag to put all of your prizes in. If you try to wear all that you catch, it will get very heavy, very fast. If you’re lucky, they’ll even throw bags your way.
DON’T: Buy throws. As said earlier, the parades are easy access to catching throws. With the exception of a very unique or large throw you wish to keep for yourself, your cash should be saved for drinks. If you want to get lots of throws, make sure you catch the parades, especially those in the day.
6.) DO: Check the Weather. Mardi Gras happens despite any rain, shine, or blizzard. Be prepared with some layers. Ponchos and umbrellas can also be purchased at hotels or almost any store on the street. If you have one of your own, make sure to pack it.
DON’T: Bring Anything Expensive. There are pickpockets that work during the Mardi Gras season. Keep your wallet, your ID, and other important possessions in a safe area on your body, a.k.a. not your back pocket. I brought a minibackpack one night and my girlfriend bought a fanny pack (tackiness is definitely encouraged during Mardi Gras). If you don’t have either of those, small sports drawstring backpacks work as well or don’t bring anything at all other than some cash, your ID, and phone.
7.) Do: Dress Up! Perhaps it is the kid inside me who loves dressing up, but it definitely makes the day more fun! Official colors are purple, gold, and green, but anything goes. Whether you design shirts with your friends, get body painted, or throw on some masks, get into the spirit! Whatever your outfit is, make sure you choose wisely because you will likely be wearing it up to 12 hours so dress comfortably! If you decide to go the extra mile and wear something completely original and unique, there are even costume contests around the city. If you are completely not into dressing up for the occasion and refuse to even throw on a mask, enjoy crowd watching the many people who do.
DON’T: Forget to Pack Wisely. Layers, Layers, Layers. Packing is essential for New Orleans. Not only is the weather often unpredictable, the streets are filthy. The streets of the French Quarter are unrecognizable by the end of the night, each night (although I will say the next morning, it looks like a clean up fairy completely shines up the place until the sunsets yet again). From vomit and beads, to trash and beer, the streets are grotesque. Pack some solid shoes to walk in. I brought a pair of cheap Target boots (with some insoles) that I didn’t mind getting trashed and some rain boots. Do not wear flip flops or sandals. Your feet will feel disgusting by the end of the night. I had socks and boots on, and I still felt the need to vigorously wipe my feet down once we got back to the hotel. If someone in your group is bringing a bag, have some hand sanitizer, wipes, snacks, chapstick, and snacks handy. Umbrellas and Ponchos are another good piece to pack in your luggage just in case, along with sunscreen. Lastly bring an array of clothes. Everyone’s Mardi Gras experience is different, and your first night’s experience will likely determine your next outfit.
8.) Do: Plan your transportation. The French Quarter during Mardi Gras weekend is closed to most traffic unless you are a resident or have a hotel. Parking lots are pricey so plan accordingly, and taxis are not as easy to get this time of year. Most hotels on the outskirts of the French Quarter have shuttles throughout the year, but they often do not run during Mardi Gras weekend. Call your hotel and check your options. Due to parades, traffic changes quickly and you do not want to be stuck on the wrong side of a parade if you have somewhere to be at a certain time. Public transportation can even be worse in terms of schedule changes or if they choose to run at all. Plan ahead and figure out how to get back!
Don’t: Get a Parking Ticket. Be careful where you park! Common sense is sometimes difficult when you do not know which routes parades take. Do not double-park or park in driveways and especially on the Parade route within 3 hours of a parade! Your car will get towed away and/or you’ll receive a hefty fine that will cost more than a night at your hotel room. There are also Mardi Gras apps that help you get to know your parade routes.
9.) Respect the police and the rules. There is the open container law but no glass or bottles are allowed. Make sure to transfer drinks into a can or cup. If you’ve broken a long you weren’t aware of, don’t react irrationally. Also, don’t be the drunk couple we saw who got taken down to the floor by 4 POs. They were taken down after flashing, back lashing, back talking, and aggressive behavior. Give these cops a break. These guys work especially hard during this massive celebration and tolerate things they usually wouldn’t otherwise. They have to deal with long shifts, traffic accidents, lost kids, drunks, fights, parade duty, and tons more we probably don’t know about. Be nice or stay home.
DON’T: Be Risque outside of the French Quarter. New Orleans during Mardi Gras is still a family friend place. Only in the French Quarter will you see the majority of the raunchy stuff. There might be some people who get too over the top outside of the French Quarter–don’t be one of those people! You’re in a family area.
10.) DO: Venture outside of the French Quarter Mardi Gras is a citywide party so make your way outside of the French Quarter and off of solely partying on Bourbon St. The parades start in uptown, and Canal Street in Mid-City has plenty of unique bars of their own. I think that is one thing I really want to do the next time I am in New Orleans, explore some more things further from the French Quarter and Jackson Square.
Those are all the tips this time around. Hopefully, there will be more posts on Mardi Gras to come! For others that went, what do you recommend?
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