We were new to the Mardi Gras scene this past year and since we were in NOLA for a whole month, we learned A LOT and were able to attend a bunch of parades. We also made a bunch of mistakes and had lots of “Next time, we’ll…” moments. Learn from our mishaps. Here is a quick start guide of some good tips if you’re planning on bringing kids to enjoy the Mardi Gras festivities.
Mardi Gras = Fat Tuesday. It’s called Fat Tuesday because it’s the last day of feasting and revelry before the Lenten season (which for Catholics begins on Ash Wednesday, the day after Fat Tuesday).
Mardi Gras celebrations don’t just occur on Mardi Gras though, they run through the carnival season which goes from Epiphany (in January) through Mardi Gras. Parades typically pick up a few weeks before Mardi Gras with the oldest and biggest Krewes running the day-of.
Learn more about Mardi Gras history here: https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/mardi-gras
- Krewe: An organized group that runs a parade, usually with an annual theme.
- Throw(s): Things that are thrown by parade participants to those in the crowd (beads, themed items, cups, stuffed animals, etc.). The common thing to shout during a parade is “Throw me something mister!”
- Sidewalk side: People who watch the parade from the side of the street where the sidewalk is.
- Neutral ground: People who watch the parade from the side where the grass/median is.
It’s a bit of a rivalry between locals — people are very specific about which side they prefer (Sidewalk vs. Neutral ground).
TYPES OF PARADES:
There are two main types of parades. Those with floats and those without.
Parades without floats:
Pros: You can get up close and personal with the participants. They’re more likely to walk up to you for photos and to give you throws (particularly when you’re with kids).
Cons: No floats (so no big art pieces) and their throws are not as elaborate as the bigger krewes. They also don’t last as long as the parades that have floats.
Krewe of Cork (celebrates wine & food – runs through the French Quarter)
Krewe of Barkus (people dress up with their dogs – runs through French Quarter)
Krewe du Kanaval (bright and colorful; we got maracas as one of the throws – runs through the French Quarter)
Parades with floats:
Pros: Lots of big beautiful floats with different themes each year. The parades are longer and the throws are usually bigger and better. Lots of krewes have their own themed throws.
Cons: It’s usually very crowded and unless you come early, expect to be in the back. You’re also going to be competing with many other people for good throws and sometimes people can get aggressive.
Krewe of Chewbaccus (Star Wars/Sci-fi themed)
Krewe of Muses (lots of light up items, celebrity floats, collectible throws – decorated shoes)
Krewe of Nyx (collectible throws – decorated hand bags)
Krewe of Orpheus (beautiful floats, check out their open house at Mardi Gras World)
Krewe of Endymion (high end light up floats, celebrity floats)
That’s FloRida on the top of that float
Krewe of Zulu (they have decorated coconuts. Though we weren’t as impressed with their floats, their costumes were great.)
Parades we avoided with kids: Krewe Boheme and Krewe du Vieux.
Parades that we considered “border line” — meaning some of the floats could be considered offensive: Krewe of Bosom Buddies, Krewe d’Etat and Krewe of Tucks.
WHAT TO BRING:
- Water and snacks. If you move to go buy snacks, you’ll lose your spot so bring what you want to eat and drink.
- A carrier or wagon for little ones who may be tired and a fold out chair for the adults. Locals often bring tricked out ladders that have chairs up at the top so the kids can sit there and catch throws.
- A blanket for chilly weather.
- A bag to put your throws in.
- Sunscreen & sunglasses for daytime parades.
- An umbrella or rain ponchos, just in case. Weather in NOLA can be fickle.
- Hand sanitizer/Wipes. Trust me. Bring it with you.
- Cash. Lots of pop-up vendors will sell things you may need along the way but they don’t take credit/debit cards.
- Neighborhoods: The French Quarter is lovely. Plan to be out of there by 5pm or so which is when the bars start picking up and things get a little more rowdy. During the day it’s fine. The Garden District is always lovely. Uptown is primarily residential so it’s a great place for families.
- Get an app: Download a parade tracker app for your phone. An app will show you where the parade is along the route so you can figure out how long until it gets to where you are.
- Weather: Check the weather and prepare for delays if the weather is scheduled to be bad. You can sign up for text alerts through the Mardi Gras website.
- Get there early: Plan to be there at least an hour before a parade starts if you want good seats, particularly for the larger parades.
- Know where to park it: There are lots of road closures for the parades so be sure you find a good spot to park otherwise you’ll be circling forever. Also know that if you go to the end of a parade route to wait for a parade, it’ll be about 2-3 hours from the start time before it gets there.
- Tailgating: If you’re going to set up with chairs, etc. and essentially tailgate, do it on the neutral ground side. People get mad if you do it on the sidewalk side.
- Restrooms: Be prepared for there to be no bathrooms. If you’re concerned plan a spot on the parade route that is near a restaurant/coffee shop.
- Throws: If you don’t care about catching throws, get yourself a spot at one of the patios off of Canal street and watch from there. Fogo de Chao has a balcony that you just pay food & beverage for and it’s a great spot for viewing the parade. Just be aware that Canal St can be grittier than other spots. If you *are* planning to catch throws, a net on a pole or something long and tall to catch throws is what we saw locals bring along. Lots of krewes love throwing stuff to kids so make sure that if your kiddo wants some throws that the krewes can see them. Also, you’ll probably get a TON of beads. There are places around the city where you can drop them off after Mardi Gras if you don’t want to keep all of them.
The view from Fogo de Chao (inside the restaurant and up on the balcony).
That’s it! Bring the kids and have fun! <3