The Pussyfooters marching group makes its way down the parade route as part of the Thoth Parade. Photograph by Paul Morse Photography.
A festive spectacle full of tradition and flair, Carnival season in New Orleans can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. To help those traveling to the Big Easy make the most of their Mardi Gras experience, we asked The Scout Guide New Orleans Editor Taylor Morgan to share insider tips for navigating the celebration like a local. From the best way to get around to to-go cup etiquette, here’s what to know before you go:
Make a Lunch Reservation. Friday lunch in New Orleans is a big deal, and the Friday before Fat Tuesday it is one of the highlights of the season. Locals descend upon the French Quarter dressed to the nines (coat and tie for men, dresses for women), and begin their day with a milk punch and a delicious creole meal at one of New Orleans’s finest institutions like Arnaud’s, Brennan’s, Antoine’s, or Galatoire’s. After lunch, everyone gathers at the Old Absinthe House before heading Uptown to enjoy the parade on St. Charles Avenue.
Travel by Bike. It’s virtually impossible to get around New Orleans efficiently during Mardi Gras, so my best recommendation is to take to the streets on two wheels. In addition to being a good way to navigate blocked-off streets, biking will allow you to take in the full scene, and you’ll be free to stop along the parade route wherever you like. If you’re staying Uptown, call Mike the Bike Guy, who has a shop right on the parade route at Napoleon and Magazine Street. If you’re staying downtown, try Crescent City Bike Tours or Dashing Bicycles.
Grab a To-Go Cup. Yes, you can in fact walk up and down the street with an alcoholic beverage in hand in New Orleans. We just prefer when the cup is plastic.
Appreciate the Artistry. Mardi Gras floats are truly works of art. Many organizations spend years developing thematic concepts, and artists spend hours decorating the floats, which can nod to anything from political satire (national or local) to the many ways carnival is celebrated throughout the world (this year’s parade theme for Rex).
Plan Your Costume in Advance. Mardi Gras is a marathon, not a sprint. Whether you’re there for a week or a long weekend, by the time you wake up on Tuesday your creative juices will probably be fried, so have your Mardi Gras garb planned well beforehand. Not sure what to wear? You can’t go wrong with purple, green, and gold.
Give Kids a Leg Up. If you’re traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras with kids in tow, make sure they get a good view of the action. Call Clement Hardware in advance and reserve a Mardi Gras ladder and ladder box. These perches are the perfect vantage point for pint-sized parade-goers.
Look for Signs of Royalty. Pay attention to the flags people fly over their homes, as they are signals to Carnival royalty. Pins also serve as emblems—Kings, Queens, and Krewes bestow the custom accessories to their favorite people, and women will adorn themselves front and back. After all, for locals, Mardi Gras is all about who you know.
“Hey Miss, Throw Me Something!” Speaking of who you know, if you watch the Iris parade on Saturday, hold up a copy of The Scout Guide when float 13 rolls by and I’ll do my best to shower you with beads. The oldest New Orleans women’s organization, Iris is celebrating 100 years of riding this year, so it should be an especially exciting ride.
Can’t Make It to New Orleans? Host a King Cake Tasting Party at Home. If being in the Big Easy for Mardi Gras just isn’t in the cards this year, order a few king cakes and follow these instructions for joining in the fun.
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