This blog post was updated on August 4, 2021.
If you want to experience the very best of Louisiana, then Mardi Gras in New Orleans should definitely be on your travel bucket list! Every February, approximately 1.4 million visitors flock to the streets of this beautiful city to celebrate Fat Tuesday — also known as Shrove Tuesday — the day before Ash Wednesday.
Rest assured, planning a trip to these iconic festivities can be overwhelming without the proper research. Just follow these 6 tips and be ready for an epic N’awlins Mardi Gras!
Book Your Rooms Early
Mardi Gras is such a huge deal in New Orleans that people start to browse hotel rooms as soon as August. Planning six months ahead of the festival might sound crazy, sure, but that’s the beauty of it! When booking a room, be sure to pay attention to the small print as some hotels in the French Quarter and Central Business District require you to stay for a minimum of 4 nights. Tip: since parades start in January, don’t stress about arriving on Fat Tuesday. A wider selection of accommodations will be available in January, but booking early is still a must.
Calculate Your Route
Needless to say, all the roads leading in and out of New Orleans will be packed when the carnival kicks off. Therefore, before your arrival, you should download two things: a map of New Orleans and a parade tracker app. These tools will help you figure out where you’ll travel and decide which hours are best for you. As for driving through the neighborhoods, only the locals and hotel guests with a parking pass can get through the French Quarter during the Mardi Gras weekend. Everyone else will be redirected elsewhere…which is when the map will come in handy. If your hotel is a little off the beaten track, make sure to check the schedules for their shuttles. But remember: most of the outer-city hotels don’t run their shuttles during the Mardi Gras weekend.
Dress for The Occasion
Mardi Gras doesn’t stop at wearing colorful beads. If you love dressing up, then you’re in for a treat! No matter where you are in New Orleans, there’s going to be a costume contest for all ages somewhere. Whether you win or not, flaunting your costume with everyone else is always a lot of fun, right? So let your imagination run wild when it comes to your costume, as long as you stick to the one and only golden rule: keep it family-friendly. For more sources of inspiration, it never hurts to look for last year’s costume winners in social media. Fun fact: wearing masks in New Orleans is illegal year-round, except on Mardi Gras.
You may also like: When is the Best Time to Visit New Orleans?
Know Your Krewes
A krewe is exactly what it sounds like – a crew! Every year, local clubs and organizations throw Mardi Gras parades. And no two parades are alike during the carnival season. Each krewe is trademarked with a unique parade theme as they traverse down the streets of New Orleans. Different themes mean they’ll have different trinkets to share with the crowd. Some of them might hand out stuffed toys for the children. Others might toss out monogrammed toilet paper into the crowd – yes, you read that right. That’s what the Krewe of Tucks did back in 2014 with their very own toilet bowl float. Pretty cool, right?
Find a Good Place to Watch
There are good and bad spots for taking in the grand view. If you know the parade is going to be a long one, avoid the middle of the street (or neutral grounds, as locals say). Otherwise, you’ll be trapped there until the parade ends. On the other hand, standing in the neutral grounds can actually be a good way to enjoy shorter parades up and close. Balconies and some coveted perks like private bathrooms offer the best viewing points, but most of them require tickets for entry. They have a tendency to sell out quickly, too. You know the drill…book early!
Pack The Essentials
So, you just booked some cheap flights to New Orleans. Well done! But that’s half of the journey. Prepping a bag with everything you’re going to need can be just as important! Add a go-to cup to your bag, but leave the glass containers at home. The go-to cup will help quench your thirst, and you bet it’s lighter than toting around a few water bottles all day long. Bring an empty pillowcase or trash bag for all of the ‘throws’ and beads you’ll catch. Your neck will thank you later. A lot of places don’t accept credit cards or electronic monetary apps, so carry some cash with you and remember to keep it hidden away from pickpockets. Last but not least, don’t forget about the hand sanitizers and baby wipes because soap isn’t always guaranteed at some of the porta potties…