Since Saturday, countries all over the world have been dancing and partying the nights away in the streets and at backyard barbeques to bring in the Lent season that started yesterday, Ash Wednesday. Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is definitely on my bucket list, but this year I was lucky enough to go to the “biggest free party” in the States: Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay for the official Mardi Gras Day, Fat Tuesday, but it was an experience none the less.
A year ago, I was incredibly jealous of my friends for hitting the freeway immediately after school to take the drive to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Living in Houston, Mardi Gras is a huge temptation as it is only a few hours away. This year, I was determined not to miss it. We looked into hotels last August and found the Best Western on Magazine St. near the French Quarter for around $250/night. Although we could split the room multiple ways, Tiffany is lucky enough to still be on her family’s Hilton Rewards card and they were able to use their points to book us the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel on Common St. I was able to transfer the room to my friends who had not yet booked accommodations so it worked out well for all of us. In exchange, I used my Southwest Reward miles to get Tiffany’s flight over to NOLA. I was also even able to get my flight paid with miles since the flights were so cheap from Houston.
We didn’t know much of what to expect and we all packed fairly random things. I forgot pajama t-shirts, Karem completely forgot any shirts, and Tiffany packed a plethora of things at random, including a tutu we made together for a festival last year. When I arrived, I was quickly greeted with some beads at the airport and a “Happy Mardi Gras!”. Tiffany compared it to getting lei-ed in Hawaii without the beautiful flower scent.
As soon as I made it to the room, I found Karem and Tiffany power napping before the first night’s festivities. I took the opportunity to finish up my lesson plans for the following week, along with the Hunger Games Part I quiz I was going to give on my return (Tuesday was definitely going to be a quiz day). When I finished, I decided a nap wasn’t a bad idea and crashed with Tiff. When we awoke, we prepared for cold weather as we watched some Disney Channel. I never realized how much Disney has changed. I never did get to see what happened to Radio Rebel, but I’m going to assume she was revealed and had a cheesy and happy ending, as it should be. I had bought some masks from a Houston party supplies store so we put them on to look more festive despite our fairly simple – and warm – attire for the night.
We headed out for some grub and found a small diner that served some quick gumbo and jambalaya. We lined our stomachs for the night. After dinner, we had some fun with the parades and Tiffany and Karem quickly caught a handful of them. After crossing Canal St, which is a feat in itself, we finally made it to Bourbon St. The crowd was fairly tame still this early in the night, and we stopped at a few bars, had some cheap drinks, and walked the streets. After dancing the night away and bar hopping, we made it back fairly early, a little before 3am, as we wanted to rest up for a longer night Saturday night.
After a full night’s rest, we woke up and headed to find some breakfast. We walked by Luke’s, which was the most desirable looking café along the street. Not only did it have a copper ceiling, but they also had quaint wooden benches and a cute bar. I had some of the most delicious pancakes I have ever had – it was something about the butter pecan cream or that I was starving – and Tiffany and Karem ordered some shrimp n’ grits.
We made it back, watched some Titanic (can’t wait to see it in 3D!), and got ready for another night out. Karem was heading out on an early flight Sunday morning so we were determined to make this last night with all 3 of us a blast. This was also the night most of my friends would be in town for the night, and I definitely wanted to try and meet up with them!
Karem had a Poison Ivy costume she had used before – very appropriate for both Mardi Gras and her tattoos – Tiffany had a tutu and a fanny pack, and I rocked some highlighter colors and a princess backpack. With Tiffany’s help, we both had a self-created mask via glitter.
After being hesitant about the pouring rain, I got an umbrella from the hotel and the girls put up their hoodies. We trekked through the rain toward Bourbon around 5 pm and slowly made our way to Bourbon Vieux, the balcony near St. Joseph, above Cajun Cabin. I originally bought the tickets as Tiffany’s engagement gift, but because our better halves couldn’t join us, I gave Karem one and let my friend Darryl (+3) use the other. They proved to be an incredibly worthwhile investment.
The food was delicious, there was open bar, and the balcony access was even better. In addition to tossing beads to bystanders below, Tiffany and Karem even thought of a game: skitties. We thought we had more than enough beads to pass out since we had a trash bag full of them, but we were no where near as prepared as the folks who brought suitcases filled with them.
We made the most of what we had, and we had skittles. We had an endless supply of skittles and we tossed them to people below to catch in their mouth, sans hands. If they caught them (surprisingly a lot of people did!), Karem graced them with some skin). I also brought along a mini megaphone to use from the balcony. It definitely saved our voices from some screaming. What was also nice about the balcony was that we had free access to come and go as we please. That little green wristband was all we needed for an amazing night.
After 1 am, we had to get off of the balcony. We ran through the streets, siren in hand, and made our way to the end of Bourbon. We carried a ton of our stuff with us including a bag of heavy jackets. It was referred to as the Target Santa Clause bag so we eventually made our way back to the hotel to drop things off and just didn’t make it out again. It turns out that way sometimes.
Sunday morning, we woke up and were determined to make it to the famous Café du Monde. On our way there, we caught even more beads as the carriages passed us by. We passed Harrah’s casino and eventually made it to the famed beignet location, but not before we saw some street performances.
Despite the line, it moved quickly because apparently the guy that warned us “the line leads to nowhere” was correct. It worked out fine though because after the confusion, Tiffany flagged down a server and got a table. We were quickly served with some delicious beignets and Tiffany grabbed a café au lait. It was so delicious, we even decided to buy some beignet mix. It was then Tiffany realized her favorite brand of beignet mix was actually from Cafe du Monde! It is a small world indeed.
After breakfast, we walked the streets and made it to motorbike way and the shopping center. We stepped into Urban Outfitters for new flats for Tiffany and toured the ins and outs of the French Quarter. Every street in the French Quarter had something unique to offer from antiques, to bikers, to street performers and unique bars.
We eventually made it back to Bourbon. Bourbon St. is definitely a different experience in the day. In fact, we didn’t even recognize it at first! It was a completely different type of fun! Maybe we simply didn’t notice them the day before, but we saw even more people in costume and living up to the festivities. Karaoke was in every bar and the streets were actually pleasant to walk through (not the trash filled mess it was a few hours ago). No one was flashing but beads were being thrown from every direction. The French Quarter in the day is still a lively and fun experience that should not be missed.
Before we made it back to Bourbon, we walked to the port to take in the view. Before we had a chance to leave, a strange Asian man came and wanted to take a picture with us. It was because we’re Asian? It happens.
By the end of the afternoon, we stopped for some parades and – although we agreed throwing beads is a lot more fun – had a blast yelling and jumping for beads. We eventually had so many we had to find a bag for them all. We caught stuffed animals, beads, tokens, and even a triton! It took us awhile to find our way back to the hotel (the parades cause some serious road blocks) but we eventually made it.
We came back to the hotel for an early dinner at around 5 at the club access of the hotel thanks to Tiffany’s family. We loaded up on rice and fried chicken. When we went back to our room, we were planning to take a nap, but we instead got sucked into The Voice. I haven’t watched it consistently all season, but it is definitely an addicting show.
By the time we got dressed up, it was in the middle of the Bacchus Parade. We decided to take in our last parade together, make some new friends, and catch even more beads. We met Patrick, who doesn’t drink and 2 fellow Asian girls who wanted to take a picture of us because we are also Asian. Didn’t I mention earlier that it happens?
For our last and final night, we headed back to Bourbon. We ended up getting a free balcony offer on top of Rick’s Saloon, Etage lounge. It’s definitely unexpected since the entrance is at the side of Rick’s Saloon, but they even had a mini red carpet to make the walk up the stairs look less creepy. The actual lounge was pretty nice though – in comparison to other Bourbon St. bars – with some antique style furniture. The balcony definitely was the highlight of the lounge and our Sunday night. Thanks Andrew for inviting us up! We met some young’ins from Northwestern who made the long 15 hour drive. I now understand how people make the huge trek to Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Next year, I will likely be likely coming from Cali to relive the massive event. We had our fill on drinks, jello shots, and daiquiris for the night and by the time it was all over, we headed back to our room for one last final sleep and woke up to only memories.
Until next time New Orleans…
You might also enjoy:
10 for Tuesday: Tips for Mardi Gras, New Orleans
No Accommodation? No Problem. Oktoberfest in Munich.