Forty Pounds of Beads in Your Carry-On Bag
Tips for planning your Mardi Gras vacation
The air is filled with anticipation. The talk around the water cooler is excited. The entire city’s mood is lighter than it was a week ago. Some of it is due to the incredible Saints victory over the Panthers and the upcoming game against the Vikings. Most of it is due to the spike in king cake consumption that comes with the arrival of Carnival season. It’s Mardi Gras y’all!
Planning a trip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras can seem daunting. How can you possibly cram all of that fun into a week, or worse yet, a weekend? The locals know Mardi Gras is a marathon, not a sprint. But on vacation the FOMO is real. Here are a few suggestions to get the most from your trip.
Make Your Reservations Yesterday
Have you heard that we love to eat in New Orleans? Carnival time is especially busy for restaurants with friends, family and colleagues making lunches, brunches and dinners part of their annual traditions. If you have your heart set on a specific restaurant, make your reservation now if you haven’t already.
When making your reservation, be flexible. Online options like Open Table can help you see a range of available times, but it doesn’t really account for New Orleans hospitality. I find it’s better to call the restaurant and speak to a human. The person on the other end of the line is an expert and will know how to best accommodate you. Worst case scenario, if you can’t get a reservation at your top choice, ask that person where they suggest you should try next. They won’t steer you wrong.
Pack for a Thirty Degree Temperature Swing
There’s a saying around here that goes: “If you don’t like the weather in New Orleans, wait 15 minutes. It’ll change.” Mardi Gras means a lot of time spent outside so know your comfort zone and pack accordingly. Our average high temperature for this time of year and through Mardi Gras day is 63 degrees Fahrenheit. Our nighttime lows will be in the 40s. That being said, it could be 36 degrees, or it could be 80 degrees. It might rain all day, or just for the 10 minutes you happen to be walking from your hotel to your fancy dinner reservation. Check the forecast, be prepared and if worse comes to worst, you can always go shopping. Those Thing 1 and Thing 2 t-shirts need to go home with someone.
Not All Parades Are Equal – Research
Did you know very few Mardi Gras parades actually move through the French Quarter? The floats got too big to fit. Did you know you simply have to smile and cheer in order to be thrown beads from the riders, and that you absolutely should keep your shirt on? These facts and many more can help you choose the best parade during your vacation. Every parade is put on by a different Krewe, or membership group of revelers. Each Krewe has its own history, traditions, throws and personality.
Mardi Gras expert Arthur Hardy creates an annual printed Mardi Gras Guide that can be ordered online and his website also provides a lot of great Mardi Gras history, parade profiles and a who’s who of the royalty each year. Another good resource is Mardi Gras New Orleans. It has details on each parade Krewe, schedules and route maps.
If you have a smart phone, you should also consider downloading a parade tracker app. They tell you where the front of the parade is in real time, include weather reports and show full routes and schedules. Search “parade tracker” in your app store and look for New Orleans television affiliates WDSU or WWL. Don’t accidentally download the Fox10 app unless you plan to be in Mobile, Alabama.
It’s always a good idea to have an outline of your vacation. Not a to-the-minute itinerary necessarily, but a basic idea of what you want to see and do during your travels. Plug in everything that has a defined time first like your arrival/departure, meal reservations and parades, then see what you have to work with. If you really want to see a lecture at a museum at 10 a.m., it probably isn’t wise to stay out until 4 a.m. the night before. Then again, laissez les bons temps rouler!