First Carnival Parade?
A simple guide for first-time parade goers
Imagine a small-town Memorial Day parade traveling down Main Street. There’s the homecoming queen on the back of a 1968 Mustang convertible. The 22-piece high school marching band just passed playing the fight song. The Rotary Club is handing out lollipops to kids and the entire parade is over in approximately 12 minutes.
That is not how we do Carnival parades in New Orleans.
So forget all that. If you are watching your first parade this year, consider some of the following advice:
Choose at least two different parades to watch.
You can’t visit New Orleans and really experience a parade when you have only witnessed one. Each parade krewe has a different theme, ethos, throws, and invites different bands and dancing groups to participate. So when you are planning your itinerary, be sure to check out (http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/schedule.html) day parades, night parades and even Metairie and West Bank parades. How many beads can you fit in your suitcase? On that subject…
Don’t hog the throws.
It’s really exciting to catch free stuff. We’ve all been there. But ask yourself, “Do I really need this strand of plastic? Am I going to treasure this fuzzy stuffed seal?” Plan to keep a signature throw or necklace from that parade krewe and whatever else suits your fancy. But also remember to share. And if you do bring too many beads back to your hotel, ask your concierge where the closest Mardi Gras bead recycling bin is located. Local nonprofits like Arc of Greater New Orleans (http://www.arcgno.org) collect and resell them, keeping beads out of landfills and providing revenue for a good cause.
Rent a bike and see how the locals do.
If you are visiting during Carnival, you are likely staying downtown of I-10. Canal Street can be a great place for parade watching, but if you want to see what a lot of locals are up to, rent a bike and ride up St. Charles Avenue or head to Mid-City for Endymion. There, you will see family reunions, high school reunions, groups of kids playing on the neutral ground (median of the road), and children sitting on ladders as far as the eye can see. The ladders are a point of contention amongst New Orleanians. Most people with a child aged 2 to 10 love them. All others hate them. But it is definitely a unique cultural practice.
Plan to be at a parade for at least two hours. Shop locally and bring beverages and food with you. Don’t be surprised to see people grilling on side streets. And if you arrive unprepared, you can always ask to buy a beer, hot dog or jambalaya off your neighbor. Don’t be surprised if they won’t let you pay for it.
Put your phone down.
Parades in New Orleans are thrilling. They are an experience unlike anything else. The driving rhythms of the insanely talented marching bands make it impossible to stand still. The thumping music of the dance groups do the same. Catching (and ducking from) beads and assorted throws is a varsity-level sport. But take it all in. Don’t rush through it. Be kind to your fellow revelers. Absorb the artistry of the float design and decoration. Admire the beauty of the costumes. Watch the way the beads arc through the air and especially watch other people’s faces as they have the time of their lives.