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Top tips for experiencing Mardi Gras in New Orleans

It hasn’t escaped me that I haven’t posted on my blog since June last year. There have been many reasons for this, largely health related that I might eventually come to write about on here when I’m feeling a bit braver. And then earlier this year I was over the moon to find out I was pregnant! Along with this and being super busy at work, the blog had to take a back seat. But now, between feeds and nappy changes, while the little man is napping, I’m determined to get back up to speed. Will we get to go out for as many nice meals and holidays as we did pre-baby? Will we cook/bake as much at home? Only time will tell…

But in the meantime, I thought I’d kick things off with a blog post I’ve been so excited to write about since February this year. MARDI GRAS IN NEW ORLEANS! It was without a doubt, the best place we’ve been to, and one of our favourite holidays of all time. It has completely stolen my heart – the people, the food, the general atmosphere. It was electric! I’m following lots of local accounts on Instagram and with each post I’m yearning to go back!

Quite a few people have since asked us for hints and tips for themselves or to pass on to friends and colleagues, so I thought it would make sense to make this a ‘top tips’ style blog post. If you have any other questions that I haven’t answered, just let me know in the comments!

How do you get to/get around in New Orleans?

British Airways introduced direct flights from London fairly recently which made it super easy – we even got upgraded to business class on the way out, the first time this has ever happened to me, which made the holiday even more special. I booked a taxi (I say a taxi, in typical American style it was a HUGE black stretch number!) with Viator which was seamless, with the driver meeting us at arrivals with a name board. Once in New Orleans, we mostly got around by walking or via Uber which was really reasonable.

Where should you stay in New Orleans?

We stayed at the Old No 77 Hotel which we booked via Mr & Mrs Smith. It’s a boutique hotel just into the warehouse district and a 10/15 minute walk into the middle of the infamous French Quarter. For us it was the perfect balance, close enough to feel in the midst of the action without being kept up all night from the sounds of the parties outside (as I’ve been told is often the case in the French Quarter). That said, if you’re going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, you should expect to join the parties! And our hotel was right at the end of most of the parade routes (more on this later). We loved our stay at Old No 77 – it had a trendy warehouse vibe without being too ‘hipster’, and it was fairly reasonably priced per night.

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How long do you need in New Orleans for Mardi Gras?

Our trip to New Orleans was for a full week – we wanted to get the full experience of the parades as well as getting to do all of the touristy stuff, try as many restaurants as possible etc. Most of the tourists we met in New Orleans were Americans visiting from other neighbouring states – it felt a bit like an adult’s ‘Spring Break’ for people living in that part of the country. They were amazed we were staying there for a full week – they wished our livers luck!! And there certainly is plenty of drinking if you want to – this is the city that apparently created the cocktail after all. Thankfully we visited right before I got pregnant so I could make the most of it.

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One of my favourite drinking experiences was a visit to Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone – a merry go round bar that actually rotates. Slowly of course, but after a cocktail or three, you start to understand why the word ‘merry’ is in the name! There’s obviously only a set number of seats at the carousel but there are other tables in the bar and you can wait until a spot opens up.

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My recommendation for Mardi Gras would be to pace yourself – they serve pretty big measures in New Orleans compared to London and I did wake up one morning with a rather stonking hangover (and a hazy memory of the night before!). I guess it’s all part of the fun though! And beware of the luminous ‘hand grenades’. Trust us, your stomach will thank you, we got some funny looks from the locals who knew better…

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Where are the parades and how do you watch them? Where is the best place to stand for Mardi Gras?

I’ve since learned that there seem to be parades all year round in New Orleans – they have a parade for every occasion and I just love that! Mardi Gras celebrations generally start in January but they ramp up in February in the couple of weeks to Mardi Gras day itself (Fat Tuesday). We arrived a week before and then left in the evening of Fat Tuesday, which meant we got to see all of the main parades.

The city (including local schools, colleges etc.) is divided into ‘Krewes’, and each Krewe has its own theme. So each parade (and there are a few each day) is completely unique and has a different style and atmosphere. We thought we’d just go and see the biggest and most famous parades but we ended up going to as many as possible because they were just so much fun!

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They take place in various parts of the city, although the majority of the main parades are downtown, which is where we were staying. There was a brilliant free app which listed all of the parades and tracked them in real time, so you could see where the first float was – this was amazing because it meant you could go for lunch/dinner, then see where the parades were on the app and go and get a spot!

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Throughout all of Mardi Gras there are raised stands on the side of the road with seating and you can purchase tickets online for these – we never found a need for them as we always managed to get a good spot on the roadside. However, I’d recommend getting seats for Mardi Gras day, and booking well in advance as they will sell out. We soon discovered that locals and savvy/crazy tourists set up camp on the main streets the night before to get a good spot for the main Krewes on Fat Tuesday – we spent a lot of time wandering around trying to find a good view point, and that was around 9am!

Instead, we ended up heading into the French Quarter and found there was a hive of activity going on around every corner. Locals created their own ‘mini Krewes’, dancing through the streets to live music. There was a drag fancy dress contest taking place in the gay quarter with huge crowds. Glitter was literally being sprinkled from the balconies. It was incredible and something that will stay with me forever!

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What are the Mardi Gras ‘throws’?

Each Krewe have their own items which are made especially for that particular year, so they’re a great keepsake from your Mardi Gras experience, and are thrown from the floats down to the crowds. This can vary from the well known beads and necklaces, to cups, bags and much more. You’d think that these items are for the kids – think again! Some people can get very competitive, and you end up getting into the excitement of collecting new trinkets. Each Krewe also has a special number of ‘handmade’ throws and so if you catch one of these, you’re very lucky. I was over the moon to catch a hand decorated sleep mask from the Krewe of Morpheus (the God of Sleep). This was also right at the end of the parade route near our hotel, so you don’t need to get a spot right at the beginning of the parade to get your hands on one of these. It’s something I’ll always treasure. The most popular throws are the decorated coconuts from Krewe of Zulu on Fat Tuesday (and hence the need to reserve a spot on the parade route to try and get one of these).

This is just a snapshot of my enormous haul of goodies, all of which were unique to 2019 Mardi Gras – they’re currently sitting in a bag in my bedroom, I’m trying to think of a way to display them. If anyone has any ideas, please let me know!

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You’ll also spot lots of celebs in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, many of them appear on the floats. We saw Harry Connick Jr who is heavily involved in Mardi Gras, quite a few US TV stars (including Mario Lopez aka AC Slater from Saved by the Bell, be still my childhood beating heart!) and even the Impractical Jokers who Tim and I are mildly obsessed with – there’s a video on my phone of us screaming up at them on their float and getting beads chucked at us by Q!

What should you wear for Mardi Gras?

The traditional Mardi Gras colours are purple, green and yellow/gold. I wanted to go all-out so I bought some coloured clothes in the UK to take with me, but I soon found there are plenty of shops selling anything you could possibly want, from tops and hoodies to head dresses. People really go for it, so don’t ever worry that you might be over-doing it. This was me on Fat Tuesday…

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There’s also the question of the weather, and this is a tricky one – we experienced all weather types when we were there. It went from hot and humid, to sunny and blue skies but freezing cold. My advice would be to pack a bit of everything for visiting in February, especially some warmer jumpers/jacket for the evening. Something waterproof is also recommended in case the heavens open during one of the parades. If the weather is really bad, on rare occasions, they might cancel a parade. This is such a shame as so much work, time and money goes into each of the floats, dances etc, but it only tends to happen in extreme cases – while we were there, one was cancelled but due to extreme wind (a safety concern for the huge floats). 

Which is the best jazz bar?

New Orleans is synonymous with jazz and we’d planned to go to one of the jazz bars around bourbon street, but we got so caught up with all of the parades and our various restaurant bookings that we didn’t end up making it to one. However, one of the reasons we weren’t too disappointed about this is because there’s incredible live jazz everywhere you go. On our first morning we wandered into the French Quarter to find somewhere for breakfast and a coffee and stumbled across Cafe Beignet where a live band was playing outside at 9am in the morning! If you do want to go to a bar though, I’ve heard very good things about the Spotted Cat Cafe

Where is good to eat in New Orleans?

You guys must know me by now – I’m going to do a whoooole separate post about this! But what I would say is make sure you book in advance – everywhere is stupidly busy for Mardi Gras as you’d expect.

What else is there to do in New Orleans during Mardi Gras aside from the parades?

I’m also going to do a separate post about this. We went on a tour of two of the plantations (Oak Alley and Laura), we did an airboat alligator swamp tour (SO much fun!) and there was also plenty for us to explore in New Orleans itself.

Let me know if you have any questions for now, and I’ll follow up shortly with the two posts above. I honestly can’t stress how much fun Mardi Gras is. If you’re even remotely considering it, DO IT! You won’t regret it, it’s a holiday that you’ll remember forever.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Dining in New Orleans | Got To Be Gourmet

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